Until recently, I had little reason to watch Twilight for a number of reasons. Not having read Stephanie Meyer’s novels of the saga, I was blissfully ignorant of their seemingly addictive effect and thus had zero motivation to assess whether director Catherine Hardwicke’s film adaptation lived up to the apparently thrilling yet heart wrenching story offered in the book. Also, I have seen a grand total of one other vampire film in my life, and was hesitant to use the little free time I do have watching a movie in a genre that I clearly do not know much about. Third, I am a 23 year old graduate student with no particular attachment to Robert Pattinson, not a giggling pre-teen—or her mother, for that matter—who feels compelled to squeal at the very glimpse of his scruffy haircut in a magazine. However, over the last year, as I witnessed girls of various ages around me drop like flies in their obsession over the film and franchise, my curiosity got the better of me. I therefore justify my first Twilight experience with a review of the film and, in a "part 2" post, some ideas as an objective viewer as to why it has appealed to such a widespread, mostly female demographic.
Initial apprehensions over my unfamiliarity with the books disappeared almost instantly as I realized that my illiterate 3-year old cousin could have followed the plot without much problem: shy, attractive Bella Swan (Kristin Stewart) abandons sunny Arizona for the drizzly chill of Forks, Washington, where she finds herself inexplicably captivated by shy, attractive classmate Edward Cullen (Pattinson), who seems determined to maintain his distance. After Bella’s relentless prodding into the secret behind his mysterious demeanor, he reveals that he in fact belongs to a family of “vegetarian” vampires who restrict their diet to animals rather than humans. However, Bella’s scent is especially alluring for Edward, leading him to simultaneously fall in love with her yet doubt his self-control around her. The more he warns her to stay away, the more she yearns to be with him, until the two are so besotted with each other that even his potential as a bloodsucking killer is not enough to keep them apart.
While the basic premise is easy for us non-Twi-hards to understand, Melissa Rosenberg’s screenplay and Hardwick’s direction are still sloppy enough to ensure that unless one is familiar with the books, they will be baffled by the lack of development of much of the story’s elements. For instance, although scenes between Bella and her father are mostly halting conversations over burgers at a local diner, hardly any attention is spent on exploring their obviously awkward and impersonal relationship; they are as clumsy in their interactions at the end of the film as they are at the beginning. Taylor Lautner as Jacob, Bella’s childhood friend, has a total of about five minutes of screen time, leaving us puzzled as to why he is in the film at all and rendering him quite unnecessary. While ample time is devoted to fellow classmates’ pursuits for prom dates, the love story between Bella and Edward blossoms so fast that it appears forced. Their entire relationship seems to progress over the course of a week at most, so that when Edward insists that Bella is his “whole life now” or she claims that she has fallen “completely and irrevocably in love with him,” the declarations come across as ridiculously melodramatic rather than romantic—especially considering that the lovers are seventeen years old. Clearly, the film stumbles into to one of the classic traps of novel adaptations, attempting to cram in so many disparate components of the book to please fans that it is eventually unable to come together as a cohesive, flowing narrative. It is irksome to feel as though, in order to understand or appreciate the movie, one must surrender to the cult-like society of obsessive Twilight fans; Hardwicke unfairly assumes that we will either have read the series or will stay tuned for the sequel—neither of which should be a criteria for simply wanting to enjoy a film.
As for those who are unfamiliar or uninterested in vampire films, they really need not worry—the genre seems to be used merely as a disguise for what is essentially a teen drama, skewing quintessential features of vampirism in order to portray the Cullens in an idealistic light. While sunlight is usually fatal to vampires, in Edward’s case its effect is to give his skin a brilliant glimmer, which only makes him more beautiful to Bella. His vampirism is portrayed more as an exotic addition to his good looks than an actual threat to Bella’s life. There is not a single mention of holy water, crucifixes, or even garlic; the traits of classic vampirism are further distorted by the Cullens’ various eccentricities, such as Edward’s mindreading skills or his sister’s ability to foresee the future. Vampirism is used here simply as a reason for Edward to restrain himself from giving in to his desire for Bella; had it not had anything to do with the film, we would still be left with basically the same story: a determinedly chaste adolescent romance. Thus, viewers expecting another Nosferatu or Dracula will be utterly disappointed by Twilight’s lukewarm allegiance to the vampire genre.
Even more disappointing, however, is the depressingly abysmal acting put forth by virtually every character in the entire movie. Stewart broods her way through the film with exactly one facial expression, delivering her lines without the slightest hint of inflection. Robert Pattinson’s intense staring and grimaces of love-induced anguish come across as constipated rather than passionate. In a film centered on the romance between two such young people, actual chemistry is crucial for us to respect and believe their emotions. Add to that the fact that one of the lovers is a vampire, and it becomes even more important that they play their relationship convincingly enough for us to take them seriously. Yet, there is such a dismal lack of spark in Bella and Edward’s interactions that his insistence that she is like his “own personal brand of heroin” is laughable*. With a supporting cast of overzealous high school classmates, parents who try too hard, and not-so-scary rival vampires, the entire film becomes an exhibit of embarrassingly amateur performances.
So what is it that makes Twilight click with girls everywhere? Stay tuned for my attempt to answer that question in Twilight Review: Part II
*not to mention a leading contender for "Stupidest Movie Line Ever."