If you don’t have the influence of a teenage girl in your life, or you’ve been living under a rock, you may be unaware of the literary spectacle of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight quadrilogy. It tells the story of Bella who, after moving to a drearily small town, is intrigued by a brooding but devastatingly handsome boy at her new school. Sounds like the plot of a John Hughes film, right? What I forgot to mention is that Edward is a century old vampire. I know, groan, but the book series has sold 25 million copies worldwide in just 3 years and Hollywood, never one to stay off a bandwagon, has fast-tracked the film adaptation. This has of course sent palpitations throughout the teenage girl community.
Now, I confess I was reluctantly introduced to the series and, despite its poor spelling and narrative construction, have become one of many older fans of this pulp fiction. They are engaging and highly entertaining, the epitome of trashy, easy to read romance.
Setting aside any familiarity with the books, the biggest problem with the movie is that while it has captured Edward’s obsessive tendencies and Bella’s weakness around him, they neglected the romance. Edward comes off as a frightening stalker, moody and unstable rather than fiercely protective. Ironically, this has been the foremost criticism of the literary character also, from those not engaged by the romance.
Much of this censure should be laid at the door of the screenwriter. Many scenes have been consolidated and in doing so they have bled the soul out of the story (pardon the pun). Key moments have been merged or simply sacrificed altogether. Gone are the subtle intimations of a mystery brewing, replaced with a mere exposition. Rather than Bella discovering Edward’s secret, it feels plainly revealed. The result is that the foreshadowing is lost, as is the momentum which leads you with the couple towards the culmination of their relationship – the very essence of the book’s appeal.
Hardwicke too must bear some blame with her fantasy lighting and 180o camera sequence. While creativity of technique can be marvellously incorporated they fail in execution here. Once again a film is injured by SFX through lack of camera skill. The superiority of Twilight’s predecessors is their simplicity. While Hardwicke had the benefit of LucasArts SFX, it’s overdone and out of place. Less would be more: the suggestion of speed rather than showing slipstream, silence over score. And yet, this philosophy was used is demonstrating the many voices Edward hears. Unfortunately, in this matter a more literal illustration (e.g. Frodo wearing the ring in LOTR) would have served better than this subtle approach which, on an audience having other things spelled out for them, became lost in the clutter.
In other words the film lacked consistency, inspiration and most importantly, intimacy.
While I hear nothing but praise for Kristen Stewart, I must confess that I see nothing of this personality and flair reflected in the character. Though Bella’s awkwardness is clear, she seems meek and afraid, quivering in Edward’s presence not from an exquisite tension but in fear. While you should be burning for the antagonists to get it on, instead you rather wonder why she doesn’t run the other way if he’s so very frightening. How can you relate to a girl so courageous when confronted by four men in a dark alley who then appears fearful in her supposed-lover’s presence. As a result Bella comes off as a silly, lovesick girl instead of a strongly opinionated young woman boldly pursuing her desired. And don’t even get me started on the orgasmic writhing on the floor in agony... melodramatic muchly... though I will allow that this scene is written from Bella’s blacked out POV in the book and so Kristen didn’t have much frame of reference.
In stark comparison, Robert Pattinson is, simply put, the best thing about this - and that's not saying much at all. However, his portrayal of Edward is reminiscent of Buffy’s Angel (before he got syndicated) – pensive, mysterious and damned sexy. Now, I concede that next to other weaker cast, it was not hard to shine. I was impressed though with how he captured the character’s constant internal struggle with the smallest of gestures and expressions throughout the entire film. Through Rob, the film gained credence with me. Sadly, this was not sufficient for many others.
As an aside you’ve gotta feel for a guy who has portrayed two of modern literature’s “hottest” young men, he constantly finds himself the subject of belligerent teenage girls claiming he isn’t hot enough... While a fan of his, independent to this film (watch some interviews on youtube – his apathy with Hollywood glamour is refreshing!), Twilight simply cemented my regard.
The supporting cast is generally good, and as a tween from the 90s I was stoked to see Peter Facinelli once again grace the silver screen. His elegance as Carslile is something other cast should aspire to. Jackson Rathbone as Jasper was beautiful and his very deliberate but infrequent blinking was inspired.
Scene – Bella is harassed by four drunken men in an alley and Edward comes out of nowhere to the rescue, screeching to a halt into the group. Without even a sideways glance at Bella he commands her to get in the car and then (wait for it) growls menacingly at the posse.
Moment of hilarity – same scene: I laughed my head off when the great roar of an engine turns out to be a Volvo careening around the corner.
Moments – Edward gently lifts injured Bella from the floor with a tender apology and vulnerable look – finally an outward sign of intimacy! Or Edward’s grimace in the final kiss – still struggling. Or Jasper elegantly dancing with the bat in the baseball sequence.
PS – Despite a clear description of Edward’s skin sparkling like diamonds, I confess I felt taking a bit of licence here to make him glow aka Yvaine in Stardust may have worked better.