Breaking the stereotype of the female Twilight fans, John went to see the film adaptation this weekend, and here’s his review.
Starring: Kristin Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Peter Facinelli, Sarah Clarke, Jackson Rathbone, Cam Gigandet, Anna Kendrick, Kellan Lutz, Taylor Lautner, and Elizabeth Reaser
Screenplay by: Melissa Rosenberg
Based on the novel by: Stephenie Meyer
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
SYNOPSIS: Isabella “Bella” Swan (Kristen Stewart: Panic Room, Catch That Kid) finds herself having to deal with a complete change of scenery when she moves in with her father in the secluded mountain city of Forks. Though she has no problem integrating herself into her new life, she begins to feel a seemingly dangerous attraction to the emotionally distant Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Edward finds himself allured by Bella, and he can’t seem to stay away from her. It seems like love at first sight which would be a wonderful thing if it weren’t for that one irritating obstacle. The one where Edward just so happens to be a vampire… a sparkly one.
ANALYSIS: In the months leading up to the release of this film, the vampiric love story Twilight and its subsequent novels have skyrocketed in popularity from practically nowhere. Memory serves back when those reluctant to read Stephenie Meyer’s book series heckled it in their presumptuous ways. Some of the more irate labeled it as “masturbatory teeny-bopper fantasy.” I myself even approached this film with hesitation. At first glance I was thinking, “What could this film do that wasn’t already done (so extremely well) on Buffy?” What inevitably pushed me towards the film is the recollection of what I had written in regards to my earlier review of Wanted, in which I said, “When it comes to movies, curiosity can be your best friend.” Since I was definitely curious to see what all the hype was about, I decided to take the plunge.
No, I never read the books. I decided to approach Twilight similarly to the way I approached Harry Potter. Basically I saw the movie first, and if I really liked what I saw, then I would happily give the books a try. With Harry Potter it paid off. Unfortunately, despite the fact that there is much to enjoy in the film version of Twilight, I still don’t have the desire to kick back and crack open the books. I’m totally cool with sticking to the films. After all I’m sure Stephenie Meyer didn’t write the books with a twenty-six year-old Doctor Who addict in mind for her target audience, and I can live with that. In seeing the film, I was at least happy that I didn’t feel alienated. I also think another reason I avoided reading the books was because I didn’t want to keep drawing parallels between the book and the film, which is what you tend to do when you see a movie based on your favorite book. I wanted to analyze the film and the film alone.
I think the first thing the producers of this film did right was selecting Catherine Hardwicke to direct this film. Hardwicke made a fantastic debut on the scene with a film called Thirteen which was a sobering film about an early teen who succumbs to peer pressure. Hardwicke’s direction of this film was as vivid as it was shocking. It was clear that she understood the psychological intricacies of early-teen angst. What Hardwicke injects into Twilight is actually the essential thing that keeps this story consistently interesting: the temptation that young people feel towards forbidden fruit. Anyone else would have run away at the idea that Edward was a vampire, but Bella is drawn in not just by Edward himself, but by his entire world. By the end, she is ready to drop everything and be with him forever. On Edward’s side, he has met someone who he wishes to protect with every pseudo-beat of his heart, but he fears the temptation that every time he gives in to the passion and the heat, he will freak out and want to feed. It’s very clear that Edward knows the cost of turning Bella, and it’s clear that he knows that she is not ready to be turned. Nor does he want to turn her at this point. Hardwicke’s handling of this element of the story is so vibrant that you really can feel the heat and the tension as the two lovers inch closer and closer to each other and then pull away almost immediately. Though Buffy and Angel had their own tensions, it was never like this. Edward doesn’t want to run the risk of feeding on Bella, while Bella has to cope with the evident danger of the relationship.
I will say as an actress, Kristen Stewart was never one I’ve felt had a lot of range. She never seems to adjust her facial features to emote anything more than looking dazed, disaffected, and stoned. Fortunately she seems to work past it (with Hardwicke’s help) and has superb chemistry with her co-star. Pattinson, on the other hand, shows a bit more dynamism than we were allowed to see in Goblet of Fire. He definitely shows potential to be an exceptional actor with considerable range. I’m definitely going to credit him for the way he handles many of the complexities of Edward’s plight. Also on a side note, Pattinson claimed he never got formal training to do an American accent. From what I see here, he doesn’t need any. Under Hardwicke’s direction the two leads confidently carry the entire film through some pretty murky waters.
I also think another bit that made the story particularly interesting was Edward’s family. Of course they are all vampires, but surprise, they’re roundabout vegetarians. Which, by vampire terms, means they only feed on animals, not humans. “Humans are friends, not food.” Sorry, couldn’t resist the Finding Nemo reference. Anyway, I like how the Cullen family actually embraced Edward’s actions and encouraged his relationship with Bella. It was even a bit surprising to see how most of the Cullens were equally as protective of Bella as Edward was. Of course, when I say “most” of the Cullens, I mean that one of them feels differently about the whole thing, namely Rosalie (Thirteen Writer/Actress Nikki Reed). She certainly seems to have some rancor towards Bella for reasons which never get explored. According to Twilight-ers (as I will label the fans from here on in) Rosalie’s beef will be explored in subsequent novels. Unfortunately this comes at the cost of making this film feel complete, which on a storytelling front is where the film’s primary shortcomings lie.
The thing that has worked so well with each installment of Harry Potter, both on the screen and on the page, is that each book/movie feels like a complete standalone story while at the same time hinting at something bigger to follow in the next story. In the case of Twilight, the story sets up a variety of plot threads which, at this point, never get explored. When the credits roll, the film feels unfinished. As a result, any newcomer who is unaware of the existence of the subsequent novels will feel jaded because of the plot lines that are ignored. If you want to create a bigger fan base, you’ve got to give the newcomers a bigger bone than that Rosalie is seemingly emo, and Bella’s childhood friend may have a bone to pick with vampires. I’m sure Stephenie Meyer intended to use these as hooks for readers to come back for the next story, but you need to give us a bit more than angry glances and eloquent jabs to get us asking more questions. The only cliffhanger thread which felt complete was the hint that James’ girlfriend is still out there and is understandably perturbed at what happened to her vampy boy toy.
On the visuals side, the cinematography in this film is very beautiful. It captures a sort of melancholy grace to the story that really sells the atmosphere. I also applaud the use of handheld cameras, which I always feel boosts the realism. I would say the main hiccups in the look come from the visual effects. Now I’m not sure if it’s because the film only had a budget of thirty-million or because Catherine Hardwicke was not used to the idea of staging action sequences, but the movie’s attempts at being spectacular fall spectacularly short. The final fight between Edward and James feels very rushed, like Hardwicke didn’t want to waste her time with that part of the story but knew that some sort of a confrontation was obligatory. In a movie of this genre you want to capture the viewers’ imaginations. You want to make their eyes open wide with awe. With Twilight it feels more like they are saying, “Shame on you for wanting to see some ass-kicking when there’s a love story involved.”
So I will say that my reservations about Twilight were, on the whole, unjustified. The core story is appealing, the characters are for the most part extremely clever, and there are some intriguing plot developments which I’m sure will be explored in later films. What’s in the film’s favor is that those points are enough to make me inclined to go see the sequels. I just hope that the filmmakers learn from their mistakes and keep working on the trouble spots. Given the inevitable box office bank this movie is going to make, it’s very clear that we may get a chance to see those wrinkles ironed out.
PS. I forgot to mention, my sole gripe about Meyer’s vision is that there is absolutely nothing she could say or do which will ever justify the fact that vampires stay out of the sunlight because they sparkle… and apparently make tinkerbell noises when they do. Was it because Meyer didn’t want to bothered to use lethal sunlight as a plot point?
ESSENTIALLY: Contrary to prior claims from stuffy critics or insecure males who didn’t want to take the bullet for their g/f’s, the film never alienates the uninitiated, and the film intrigues with its handling of a complicated romance between a teenager and a vampire. That doesn’t change the fact that, plot-wise, the resolutions of many threads are unsatisfying.
FINAL GRADE C+