Movie Review: Twilight
You may remember that my thoughts on Stephenie Meyer’s oil-strike Twilight were less than glowing. In point of fact I pretty much hated the book.
So it may come as a surprise to hear that I actually quite liked the film adaptation. I know it surprised the hell out of me.
Both screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and director Catherine Hardwicke deserve medals for what they’ve done here. Twilight was going to make money no matter what they did with it, even if it was the most ham-fisted gag-worthy hackjob imaginable (exhibit A: the book). And yet the movie has the fingerprints of filmmakers who both 1) know what they’re doing and 2) care about doing it right.
They didn’t just take the paycheck and run. You can tell that they wanted to make a good movie even given its guaranteed success. There are a few missteps here and there — a bad shot choice, a clunky line of dialogue — but overall the movie is shockingly solid.
The primary triumph of the film over the book is that we don’t have Bella narrating. So she may be writhing in emo angst the whole time, but we don’t have to hear about it, and her performance was not directed that way. In fact, aside from her first day at her new school, Bella is actually a rather pleasant, if occasionally preoccupied, character.
She makes new friends immediately as she does in the book, but it quickly becomes apparent that these are the dorky kids reaching out to her out of empathy, and she accepts their friendship rather than being endlessly annoyed and inconvenienced by it.
The dialogue is believable and the performances are completely convincing. Even though I think Robert Pattinson is less handsome-at-first-sight than the movie wants us to think he is (a character even insists that he’s “totally gorgeous, obviously” while we look at him in close-up), his performance grew on me and by the end I was willing to accept him as the romantic lead. Though they still should have done something else with his hair.
And I mean, this stuff could easily devolve into saccharine muck. Easily. But the performances are steered away from melodrama and actually come off really natural, including and in some cases especially the supporting characters. Bella’s friends ring extremely true and Bella’s father, though he really has fairly minimal screen time, nonetheless somehow manages to be a complete character so that you really feel for him when Bella has to break his heart toward the end.
Edward and Bella’s professions of undying devotion to each other are kept to a minimum, and when they do come, they actually work. When Edward tells Bella “you’re my life now” as he sends her away to protect her, in the book that’s all he’s been saying the last hundred pages and we’re tired of hearing it. But in the film, it’s a solid moment and we realize that yeah, he’s immortal and has probably done most of the things he’s ever wanted to do — being genuinely in love, maybe for the first time ever or maybe just in a century, would be the only thing to live for.
I have to give the director credit on that score, too. I checked out the shooting script and there are a number of scenes where other characters are talking about how Edward has just really come back to life since meeting Bella and how much she matters to them because she matters to him. They were obnoxious scenes in the book and, though there are fewer of them in the script, Hardwicke had the sense to leave them out of the final product entirely. She opts instead to let what we see of them together, combined with that single open admission on his part, make the case. That’s smart, confident filmmaking, and it works.
Even things that I thought were kind of absurd in the book made sense in the film. The sparkling vampires took a lot of flack, but in the movie the scene where he reveals Mr. Sparkle is tied to a scene where he tries one more time to warn her about the trap that he sets with everything he is:
Beautiful? I’m a killer, Bella. This is the skin of a killer.
His arm juts into A SHAFT OF LIGHT, sparkling again.
I don’t believe that.
Because you believe the lie. The camouflage. I’m the world’s most dangerous predator. Everything about me invites you in – my voice, my face, even my smell. As if I need any of that…
He’s suddenly BEHIND her — then IN FRONT of her —
then by a tree, DARTING so fast, we only see where he lands —
As if you could outrun me. As if you could fight me off.
He abruptly rips off a LARGE TREE LIMB, then THROWS it against a tree trunk with explosive force.
Bella flinches, but holds her ground, unshakable.
I’m designed to kill.
It’s a strong scene, and in its context, the sparkling makes perfect sense. I don’t think the sparkling effects were very good — I don’t think any of the effects were very good, come to that — but Rosenberg managed to take the ideas in the book and make sense of them in a way that the author herself failed to do.
Same with vampire baseball. Like I said above with Bella being Edward’s whole life, these guys and gals are immortal. What the hell else are they going to do with their time, mope around in the darkness? I’ll take the baseball and like it, if those are my options.
Rosenberg also manages to take the few flashes of actual inspiration in the book and expand upon them. I actually thought the notion of the victim becoming obsessed with seducing the vampire was a clever inversion on the usual lore, but it seems like Meyer didn’t know what she had there. There was one flash of it in the book that was enough to shake me out of my ennui and disdain and actually start turning the pages again with interest, but then she dropped it and hardly played with it again at all. Rosenberg does a much better job of keeping that thread alive throughout the second half of the film.
Instead of the Bad Vampires simply appearing and fucking shit up towards the end, as in the book, the screenwriter introduces a subplot of a string of grisly deaths by “animal attack” that Bella’s father, the police chief, is investigating. It’s a small thing but it helps the story feel more cohesive.
And we actually get the climax where Edward must suck the venom out of Bella without succumbing to vampire blood-madness. It’s not quite as intense as I would have wanted (or as I would have done it), but hey, at least it’s fucking there.
One more thing that the movie has that the book doesn’t: Carter Burwell’s haunting score. The music in this really augments the energy, the tension, and the mood of every scene, and again manages to set this a cut above the level of tweenybopper cash-grab movies for which this could easily and comfortably have settled.
Compared to the book, Twilight is an amazing filmmaking achievement. Taken on its own, I think it’s a solid entry into the pantheon of vampire flicks, and I’ll even go as far as to say better than a few of them — it’s certainly not as goofy as The Lost Boys and not nearly as dull as Underworld.
So there you go. I liked the Twilight movie. And Thor help me, I’m actually planning to see New Moon. I’m even kind of looking forward to it.
In the meantime…
I guess I’ll have to go read it.
- Brian, who bit the bullet and watched it with me, will probably never get over the fact that Bella doesn’t give her father a hug during the denouement scene where he sends her off to prom. If anyone needs one after the events of the film, he does, and even though we don’t spend much time with him we care about him as a character. Good again on the filmmakers for making us care, but bad on them for not giving Chewie his medal.↩