Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Twilight: The Movie

Despite having been a shrieky, obnoxious teenage girl myself only six years ago, I have limited patience for large packs of squealing hormone bombs, so I waited for a 10 p.m. Sunday night showing before venturing out to see Twilight. The theatre was pretty empty. Two or three clumps of giddy but well-behaved young girls, two couples on a double date, and one older woman who I initially thought was saving seats for three of her friends, but who I realized later just brings a boatload of crap along to the movies and spreads it out among the empty seats around her. (Don’t take this to mean that Twilight will see an inevitable audience drop-off in the coming weeks – while it certainly might, my movie theatre is almost always that empty at shows that are before 4 p.m. and after 10 p.m., which is why I usually go before 4 p.m. and after 10 p.m.) I mention all of this only because I didn’t get the Mystery Science Theatre treatment that other filmgoers got when watching this. All the line readings were allowed to ring earnest unaccompanied by laughter, which was sometimes painful, sometimes less painful than I expected.

By now, you probably know more about Twilight than you ever wanted to, but in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past two weeks, a recap: Bella, age 17, moves from Arizona to Washington. There she meets Edward, age 17 (give or take a century), and his family of “vegetarian” vampires, who feed only on cuddly woodland animals. These vampires are more in name only than full-out Nosferatu – they don’t sleep in coffins (they don’t sleep at all), garlic doesn’t repel them (but they’re no more inclined to eat it than they are any other human food), and sunlight doesn’t harm them but they have to stick to shadows anyway because their non-human status will be given away by how their skin sparkles in the sunlight (more on that later). Bella and Edward fall in love because Edward is super dreamy and Bella smells inexplicably extra-tasty compared to other humans. Which is all fine and well until they run into a trio of less progressive (Republican) vamps who see Bella as more of a snack than a romantic interest, and so it goes. That book spawned three sequels, with ever-increasingly-complicated mythologies, half-hearted romantic rivalries, and a fanbase of squealing hormone bombs and their daughters. So how does the series fare in its first big screen outing?

Twilight as a book-to-film adaptation succeeds because it manages to stay true to its source material while still making concessions that allow it to work as a film in its own right. The trio of non-“vegetarian” vamps who scuffle with the main characters in the film’s climax appear only at the end of the book as almost an afterthought when the author realized she needed more conflict than Edward’s feeble attempts to stay away from Bella. Melissa Rosenberg wisely weaves the baddie vamps more throughout the entire plot, giving the story a firmer trajectory. Scenes and characters are artfully collapsed in such a delicate manner that will prevent both devoted fangirls and off-the-street newbies from having aneurysms, as enough of the source is protected while still streamlining it for the masses.

The casting is spot-on (although I may be biased as I read the books very recently, long after having seen countless trailers and read an interminable number of articles, so I certainly read it with these actors already in mind). It was well-acted throughout, and the chemistry between Robert Pattinson as Edward and Kristen Stewart as Bella sizzles and carries the movie nearly entirely. Pattinson said in an Entertainment Weekly article that he played the part of Edward as manic depressive despite attempts to make the film more comedic. I was worried that this clash would give the movie a weird tone, but it works surprisingly well. The movie earns a few laughs on its own terms (and not just at the expense of the cheesy effects and turgid romantic lines) while Pattinson’s performance lends it more gravitas than it rightly deserves. Kristen Stewart’s Bella is appealing, whip smart, sarcastic, and vulnerable, even if she is seemingly incapable of ever closing her mouth. The supporting cast of Bella’s high school classmates and Edward’s vamp fam are all very engaging, though none of them get nearly enough screentime. It’s hard to fault writer Melissa Rosenberg and director Catherine Hardwicke for making the movie so Bella-and-Edward centric, as they are the core that the rest of the series will be built upon, but some more balance might have been found. Luckily, the sequel has already been greenlit so they’ll get another crack at giving the audience more exposure to the other characters. (The movie is a major win for the relatively new Summit Pictures – it was made for about $37M and grossed $20M this weekend, the highest gross for a solo female-directed film to date, making it a win for those who want to see more female-helmed movies do well, too.)

The movie does have a few roadblocks that may stand in the way of it becoming a lasting mainstream hit. (Make no mistake, it will absolutely live on in the hearts of the current crop of young girls the same way Titanic and Baz L.’s Romeo + Juliet live on with my generation, and the way Pretty in Pink and Say Anything live on with the generation before mine.) The cheesy special effects, for starters. The movie was made on a limited budget, so much is forgivable, but it wasn’t necessary to have little jingle-jingle sounds accompanying the shots of Edward’s skin sparkling in the sun. Although I do have to give the movie credit for finally making the “vampires sparkle in the sun” thing make somewhat organic storytelling sense to me. When I read it in the books, it seemed utterly ridiculous and made me suspect the author had spent a little too much time out in the sun herself. “Hm, vampires bursting into flames in the sun is so clichĂ©. Instead, my vampires will sparkle like diamonds!” Hey, I had a minor body glitter addiction in the summer of 1996, I can relate. But throughout the books the vampire skin is described as smooth, cold, and hard like stone, and sure enough, the movie effects did remind me of the way some polished marble and limestone can sparkle in the sunlight. So maybe there was actual rhyme to Stephenie Meyer’s reasoning in that detail. Or maybe she’s just a little loopy.

The movie also has a tendency to resemble a music video, which I’m sure is no problem for the target demographic but might frustrate older viewers. And I can’t say I agree with the reduction of key scenes depicting Edward and Bella falling for each other into montages of them talking, leaving us to infer that something deep is transpiring but not giving us any tangible proof of such. Granted, this is not something the book properly explored either – it’s a love-at-first-sight kind of deal for the pair, which I am not against as a rule in the star-crossed lover genre. Romeo and Juliet didn’t exactly have a heart to heart where they compared their politics, moral values, and life’s hopes and dreams before pledging undying fealty to each other, and that’s fine. But one semi-poignant conversation would go a lot further than hinting at conversations the audience can only infer are poignant. For all we know, Edward and Bella could be cooing “You’re so pretty!” “No, you’re so pretty!” “No, you’re so pretty!” to each other.

Finally, there are certain things that might seem swooningly romantic to the Clearasil set but might make older skin crawl, like when Edward confesses to breaking into Bella’s room for the past few months to watch her sleep. It’s a testament to Pattinson’s charm that I didn’t flee screaming from the theatre at that point, because I already have a paranoid streak and OCD urge to check and re-check all my windows before I go to bed each night.

Still, as with the book it’s based on, it’s easy to look past the cheesy or unsettling parts of Twilight and get sucked into the romance and adventure. There’s plenty to satisfy the ardent fans, from near-slavish devotion to preserving purple-yet-beloved lines from the book to little easter eggs like Edward recreating the iconic book cover and a cameo by the author in a diner scene. For everyone else, it’s a solid flick, entertaining and well-paced with a bevy of great actors inhabiting charming roles. It might not be The Second Coming of Potter – this fact is underscored by the trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that’s attached to Twilight, which took over Potter’s original release date when Potter got pushed back to next summer – but it’s worth parting with $10 to see, even in this economy.


Sex Mahoney for President said...

I hate this hideous double standard. Sure, when a hot, effeminate vampire breaks into a bedroom room to watch a teenage girl sleep, everybody swoons, but when i do it the judge calls me a monster and I limit my blood drinking to small woodland critters, too.

I'm not saying I'm dying to see this movie, but I probably will. Just not for a while, especially since the AVN nominees have been announced and all the porn studios have put a stop on their "award" releases.

Still, I don't know how I feel about vampires that remained clothed. I prefer the naked kind.

Body glitter... Ha.

Sex Mahoney for President

smd said...

The whole movie is filled with double standards. The other day I accidentally stepped into the path of an oncoming vehicle on Lexington Avenue, and not only did I have to save my own damned self without hot vampire assistance, but no one called me endearingly clumsy, I just got screamed at in Farsi by the cab driver whose parked hood I had to jump onto to avoid getting flattened.

And trust me, you don't want these vampires to be naked, because the jingle-jingle sound the FX dudes add when they glitter is really annoying even in small doses.