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New Moon and other dumb films for women


Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in New MoonLove it or loathe it, there is one thing everyone can agree on: New Moon has surpassed all expectations. Personally, I detest this film and all it stands for. Its popularity, not only with teenage girls but with grown women in their 20s and beyond, has me scratching my head like no other movie I've seen in recent memory.

By now we're familiar with criticisms that slam the Twilight series as abstinence-promoting Mormon propaganda, and deplore the low Rotten Tomatoes score of both the original and its sequel. The legitimate feminist gripes with both the films and the book series that spawned them are also well known. They claim that Bella (a teenage girl, played by Kristen Stewart) is a subservient drip, and that Edward (the vampire she loves, played by Robert Pattinson),is a stalking patriarch.

But, even if it isn't good for anything else, the Twilight sequel is useful for this: in a male-dominated industry, ticket sales have exploded for a film aimed at women.

In the US, early online ticket sales broke box office records set by Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films. Thousands of screenings sold out in advance. It grossed $140.7 million on its opening weekend, ranking it third behind Spider-man 3 and The Dark Knight. In Australia, it nabbed the number-one spot, earning $16.1 million.

And lest you think this is just a tween phenomenon, according to Salon.com, 27 per cent of the ticket buyers were women aged 25–34. With an 87 per cent female audience, it is already one of the top money earners of all time despite being in release for a little over a week. As Melissa Silverstein writes on Women and Hollywood:

'This movie could potentially be 'guy proof' meaning they won't need guys to see it for it to kick some box office butt. Whereas the other franchises NEED women to make their numbers.'

If one thing is clear by the light of the New Moon, it is that women really do go to the movies. Why then, does Hollywood repay them by serving up such bland offerings?

The last female-targeted film to generate anything close to this sort of hysteria was Sex and the City. The TV version was brilliantly written and pushed all the right boundaries, allowing its female protagonists to be sexually active without judging them for it. It is also one of the few series that ended on a high note rather than plodding along until it had jumped the dreaded shark.

Unfortunately, it saved that for the movie — although 'jumped the sashimi' may be more accurate since the low moment of the entire franchise is arguably the scene where Sam (a vibrant, independent woman in the series who for some reason morphed into a bored, clingy housewife for the film), covers her naked body in raw fish and lies waiting for her breadwinner to come home and devour her.

Rather than bay for the filmmaker's blood, as I was wont to do, the loyal fans showed up in droves, earning it a total of $408.7 million worldwide. Although the original was nothing short of appalling, the sequel is currently in post-production.

Like Sex and the City, the original Twilight was a cynical attempt to bring a pre-loved story to the big screen. With poor acting (if Stewart is capable of any expression other than brooding will someone please alert the media?), poorer special effects and a laugh-out-loud script that was not intended to be a comedy, it reeked of lazy filmmaking that saw no need to do anything but the bare minimum, knowing it had an assured audience.

And the sequel is no better. In fact, by general critical consensus it is even worse.

Why are smart films for women in such short supply? The female market is hungry for a moving cinematic experience. The success of Sex and the City and films such as Mamma Mia and Bridget Jones' Diary has shown that the Twilight phenomenon is no fluke and that women can be just as fervent in their fandom as men.

Yet studio executives continue to treat these movies as exceptions. Instead of deciphering what makes female audiences tick, they are content to wait for the next runaway best seller to turn into a sure-fire film hit. New Moon could well go on to be the highest grossing film of all time. Surely this is a sign that it is time for Hollywood actively to engage its female audience.

As Silverstein says, 'Hopefully, this success will infiltrate the minds of Hollywood number crunchers and seek out products for the female audience ... If people start thinking and making more movies that star women and are women driven, it can only help women at all levels of the business.'

Maybe then Hollywood will offer up something that is actually worthy of its female audience's devotion. Not to mention their $15.

Ruby HamadRuby Hamad is a freelance writer and graduate from Victorian College of the Arts, where she majored in screen writing and directing. She also holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Economy from the University of Sydney. Ruby currently lives in Sydney where she is developing several feature film scripts.

Topic tags: Ruby Hamad, Twilight, New Moon, Stephanie Myer, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Sex and the City



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Existing comments

I don't think the Twilight series can be used as an example of poor film-making per se.

The Twilight films (I've seen the first, not the second) appear to be accurate representations of the books. (I read all four in the week following Black Saturday when I couldn't sleep - they provided me with some extremely light relief.)

Stewart can't be accused of poor acting for her "brooding" expression - Bella in the books is acutely, broodingly self-centred.

The script may be "laugh-out-loud", but it's following the books, so appallingly and unintentionally humourous that adult fans read them to laugh at them - and then post detailed reviews on the internet to share the fun.

The films may be blamed for not taking the opportunity to improve on the source material, but unlike Sex and the City they haven't let down a "brilliantly written" source.

If adult women are watching the Twilight films with any seriousness, then I don't know why anyone would want to actively engage them.

Avril | 27 November 2009  

ok listen here ruby hamad. this article is soooooooo one sided, did you even take into other peoples' opinions? not everybody thinks like you and hates romantic movies. if you think women want more meaning in their films, why do you think twilight and new moon have sold so well?

natalie and isobel and maddie | 27 November 2009  

Hmm interesting article but here's the obvious answer - Hollywood doeesn't need to make engaging films for women, as your article proves, women will flock to anything that falls into the rom-com category, without considering whether the story empowers or degrades them. Hollywood execs are probably of the 'if it ain't broke' school of thought.

And, in Samantha's defence, she left her man! Happy to be single at 50, she's my kind of role model.

Annette Hill | 27 November 2009  

no i think the twilight saga is amazing i don't think that it is dumb.

isablla | 27 November 2009  

Ruby, did you mean (as I was wont (= accustomed) to do'? Or maybe 'as I was inclined to do'.

Gavan | 27 November 2009  

Having taught this series at University, I tend to understand the hype. So many students (yes, mostly females) could not put it down; but a plot that ensures an insecure young girl and a blood thirsty 'patriarch' fall in love is no more or less passionate in scope than courtly or Shakespearean literature. Myer openly borrows from classics such as Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and from the many fairy tales that so many of us have grown up with, such as Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White – all narratives whose heroines are quite young.

If 'women' are attracted to the Bella/Edward story on the page or on the screen, it's only because they have been so well conditioned to adore the classics and fairytales without questioning their ideologies. Bella is the ideal female heroine who, because of a man, will never grow old or die.

Unrealistic as this may seem, with today's emphasis on Botox, Lipo, and diet's that help you stay young (all of which have replaced the need for love – be it from a male or female), Bella, I think, resonates well with the 'modern (insecure) woman'.

Helen | 27 November 2009  

A movie is realy only successful for one or more of three reasons
1. People who couldn't be bothered reading the book go to see what their friends are raving about, because they have read the book
2. The music and songs
3. It'll give them a lift because of some real problem in their own lives or with the world

New Moon is no different, it's a movie which attracts the women, there's nothing that deep and psychological about it.

1. How can a movie be good without the sex bits
2. Music and songs are moderate to slow with, good diction, easily hummed to provide a warm and fuzzy,
3. At last some good escape from climate change catastrophism

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 28 November 2009  

Ruby, all your comments about this little movie franchise and book series are justified but, seriously, does everyone have to find fault just for the sake of finding fault?
Why can't we just take the movies and books at face value for what they are: entertainment.
It's fantasy. It's fun. It's escapism. I wish everyone would take it for what it is and stop bothering over it.

The only reason anyone cares at all about this little phenomenon is because it's raking in a lot of money. Money makes people take notice.

The other thing that makes people (men) take notice is when millions of women of all ages unite over one common element-whatever that might be and this time in history it's : Twilight! Not since the 60's have so many women banded together for something they loved or believed in and that always worries the men of the world. Why would you encourage the men's high brow rather than stand with the women? Does everyone honestly think that our girls of today are so stupid that they can be so easily swayed and driven back into the 1950s by one little book series and movie franchise? You must not be acquainted with the American girls of today that grace our colleges and universities.

I can't speak for all but a large majority love their Twilight and they also love the fact that they are going on to grad schools to become lawyers, doctors, and hopefully better journalists than you!

C'mon, women! don't let these dominating men try to bring us down again by disqualifying something we love.

We are strong smart women and we love our Twilight! Don't be ashamed. Be proud. Enjoy yourselves with it and get on with your lives!!

MG | 28 November 2009  

When I was a teenager - and well into my 20s - I loved the novels of Georgette Heyer - mostly light, unrealistic, romantic and great fun. I still quite like them, 40 years later. I don't think the the current New Moon craze is as innocent as that, though. Why do girls get off on identifying with someone who is so amazingly passive, who almost wants to be available to her man to slake his lusts on even though it could kill her? I'm with you, Ruby. This is very worrying. And I'd like to know who benefits from this powerful and consistent positive imaging of a passive and idiotically self-sacrificing women? Seriously, now. Whose desires are being served, long term?

Joan Seymour | 29 November 2009  

I'm sorry you don't like the New Moon movies, Ruby, when so many other women do. Perhaps you're just out of touch with what women really want.

Nathan Socci | 04 December 2009  

The movie New Moon was horrible. It was so "hollywood", whereas Twilight was romantic and a few of the scenes that were shot were visually beautiful. I think the only reason the films have been so popular with women is because of the attractive male actors in the film, not because of the story line.

Catherine | 10 December 2009  

Hey well, i am a high school student in central queensland and i think that the opinons demonstrated by Ruby Hamad make in excelent point, because when you think about and really think about it you cant help but notice that she makes a clear point and has excellent and strong point but what i want to know is how yo cant write such an excellent piece and forget to mention the the values it represents and how it influences us

Katherine Jackson | 06 August 2010  

I read the books. They were compelling in an uncomfortable way. I felt like I needed a wash afterwards.

My 19-year-old daughter tells me the movies are "pure fan-service", due to the persistent flashing of what she calls "unrealistic male-model torsos". From what I've seen, she's spot-on.

Do we all really feel this powerless in this day and age? I've puzzled over it, and the vampire genre in fiction (I'm a dog person, so I prefer werewolves ;) ), and can't quite work out what the attraction is. Maybe our lives have degenerated to the point of necrophilia.

Clytie Siddall | 19 December 2010  

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