Twilight is leaving you in the lurch, ladies—at least, that’s what new research is claiming. Ahead of Eclipse’s Wednesday release, a new study suggests the third film is suppressing the book’s romantic fervor in favor of action-packed battle scenes and, in the process, devaluing its female fans. Why? As the study puts it, because Hollywood “doesn’t confer cultural legitimacy on texts until they are embraced by men, not just women.”
Zing! That’s harsh—but does it hurt because it’s true? Consider: though Eclipse in its book form is chiefly about Bella’s romantic struggles, the movie is an action-packed CGI-fest about an army of oozing vampire terrorists poised to battle a werewolf-vampire alliance. According to the new book Bitten by Twilight: Culture, Media & the Vampire Franchise, a collection by three University of Missouri communications professors, the previous two movies were faithful to the romance-heavy content of the books. It includes analysis of the marketing campaigns for the three Twilight Saga films: whether the trailers and other materials emphasized action or romance, and whether those emphases matched up with the books. For Eclipse, they didn’t.
Viewing a trailer might not seem like heavy-hitting scientific inquiry—but the professors claim that marginalizing romance in Eclipse has implications beyond peeved fans. The books and the first two films have enjoyed tremendous, unforeseen success on the strength of voracious female audiences. But the holy grail of studio marketers is the “four-quadrant hit”: a movie that appeals to audiences both old and young, both male and female. Most summer franchises are built for boys (Transformers, Iron Man) with hopes that girls will tag along, and those geared toward women have been utterly ineffectual at sustaining interest to men (think Sex and the City 2). Twilight isn’t just in scant company—it’s virtually alone as a movie brand that ladies built. Despite that success, the attempt to lure male viewers is, the researchers say, just another reminder of how little Hollywood values women. “What we think is disappointing is that here is this chance: you have women and girls who are already totally into these books,” says Melissa Click, who teamed with Jennifer Stevens Aubrey and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz on the collection. “And instead of really catering to them, you’re sort of marking your success by how many guys attend,” Click says, adding that this standard doesn’t go both ways: “People don’t report whether girls go to Transformers, because nobody cares if girls go see Transformers.”
There aren’t yet any metrics on whether an action-packed Twilight film means more men will attend, other than informal data collected by movie-ticket sites. By those measures, male attendance has very slightly perked up: whereas 96 percent of Fandango.com’s online respondents identified as female for Twilight’s November 2008 debut, that number dropped to 92 percent this month for Eclipse, according to the site. (New Moon, which opened in November 2009, clocked 93 percent.) “When the producers hired director David Slade—known for tough stuff like 30 Days of Night and Hard Candy—it was clear they were going for an edgier Twilight picture,” says Harry Medved, spokesman for Fandango. “Word of mouth is spreading that it’s OK for guys to see this movie.” That doesn’t mean they’re going of their own accord, though—they might just be plus-ones. The site reports that Eclipse’s “date-night appeal” is up compared with the previous films. Only 11 percent (Twilight) and 20 percent (New Moon) of ticket buyers said they would attend with a date in the past, according to the site; now, more than a quarter of prospective attendees (around 28 percent) intend to go on dates, according to a survey of 1,000 Eclipse fans. (Summit Entertainment, the studio behind Eclipse and the two prior Twilight Saga films, had no comment.)
As for the movie itself, how hard is Eclipse trying to turn Twilight into a male-friendly action franchise? (Spoilers ahead!) The third of five installments is certainly edgier and more battle-scarred than its predecessors—it opens with an alleyway attack on a young guy, and much of the movie is concerned with gathering strength for an epic battle scene. The terroristic band of newborn vampires and their leader resemble The Dark Knight’s Joker and his cronies, and the violence (the murders of two children, for example) is more unsettling and less cartoony than in the previous films. Not that there’s not plenty of romance, too. Flower-studded meadows and florid poetry make appearances, as do some chaste, soundless kissing and an antique diamond ring, proffered in exchange for Bella’s hand in marriage. There’s also a halted, grandiose speech from Edward, who, after putting the kibosh on some dangerously racy necking, rattles off the merits of waiting until marriage. Sipping iced tea on the porch is invoked as a proxy for premarital sex. So in one way, at least, Eclipse is not at all action-packed.