Four months ago, I had never heard of "Twilight," the first book in the bestselling Stephenie Meyer series. Shortly thereafter, Entertainment Weekly showed up on my doorstep with a cover story on the 2005 novel’s big-screen adaptation, and I felt the urge to see what all the fuss was about. What can I say… although I’m twice the age of this saga’s protagonist, not to mention its average reader, I absolutely hate being in the dark when it comes to pop culture phenomena. To my surprise, I loved the first book, and within six weeks, I had devoured the next three installments (in addition to Meyer’s unrelated tome, "The Host"). All of a sudden I found myself lumped in with millions of teenage girls around the world — nervously awaiting the debut of Twilight, The Movie.
Without giving away too many details, Twilight is a love story — but the twist is that it’s a human girl (Bella, played by Kristen Stewart) and a decades-old vampire who appears to be seventeen (Edward, played by Robert Pattinson) who have fallen for each other. Although Edward’s family, the Cullens, feed only on animal blood, that doesn’t mean that Edward isn’t constantly fighting the urge to sink his teeth into the object of his affection… especially since she has a particularly overpowering scent that drives him wild (and, in some of the movie’s worst scenes, also makes him look like he’s going to hurl). After Bella becomes one of the only people in placid Forks, Washington to not only learn the Cullens’ secret but also be (mostly) welcomed into their family, she must deal with the consequences: endangering her unsuspecting father, baiting other rival vampire clans who don’t subscribe to the Cullens’ "vegetarian" lifestyle, shutting out her childhood friend Jacob, and of course, trying to convince a resistant Edward that she should be "changed" (read: bitten) in order to be with him forever. By the time the end credits roll, the stage has more than been set for the inevitable sequels — it’s not an easy road that lies ahead for Bella and her undead suitor.
That’s the basic story line that led to the spectacular success of the "Twilight" novels as well as to 2,000 sold-out showtimes before the movie’s premiere… but was this much-hyped, two-hour-long vampire-human lovefest even any good?
I should preface the rest of this review by saying that, based on my disappointment over its trailer, I went into Twilight with low expectations. I left with mixed feelings. Some parts of the movie
were significantly better than I had hoped for, while others were embarrassingly amateur.
So let’s get into it…
First let’s talk about the cast and their acting abilities, as so much of the story revolves around unspoken internal struggles. As you’ve probably heard by now, female fans are mobbing Robert Pattinson everywhere he goes. That’s a sure sign that he’s fulfilled his duty to expertly portray the dreamiest of dreamboats imaginable. While some of his expressions (as I alluded to earlier) are a little over-the-top, by and large he was able to capture Edward’s intensely conflicted feelings about falling deeper and deeper for Bella.
Kristen Stewart also does a good job of embodying the story’s plain-Jane narrator. However, if you see this movie and find yourself cursing at some of Bella’s more irrational moments (like when Edward confesses that he’s liable to lose control and kill her… and she responds, "I don’t care"), keep in mind that Bella’s disregard for her own safety isn’t completely unrealistic — have you forgotten what raging teenage hormones can do to one’s judgment?
Surely Stewart and Pattinson wouldn’t have been chosen for the lead roles if director Catherine Hardwicke wasn’t willing to bet her career on how well they’d represent the novel’s lovesick duo. So what was perhaps more surprising to me was the strength of a few supporting cast members, the most impressive of which was Billy Burke as Bella’s father, Charlie.
Although Film Version Charlie looked nothing like the gruff sheriff I’d conjured up in my head while reading the books, Burke was absolutely perfect as the man of few words who desperately wants to connect with his daughter but can’t seem to figure out the right thing to say. His was by far the most poignant performance in the film.
While Charlie was tugging at the audience’s heartstrings, others were desperately trying to lighten the mood. Bella’s small circle of friends at Forks High School could’ve easily faded into the background of this angst-filled drama; instead, they stole every scene they were in. No one who sees the film — whether they liked it overall or not — can deny the brilliant performances of Michael Welch (as jokester Mike) and Anna Kendrick (as frenemy Jessica), in particular. They brought levity to the story and subtly reminded the audience of the carefree life Bella would be giving up, should she choose to stay with Edward.
Unfortunately, not everyone’s acting chops were up to par. I thought Ashley Greene and Jackson Rathbone, who played vampire couple Alice and Jasper, were horrid. This was especially depressing as Alice is a delightful and prominent character throughout the rest of the series. So hopefully Greene will learn to be a little less stiff with her dialogue and someone will clue Rathbone into the fact that he was not, in fact, supposed to look like Beaker from "The Muppet Show."
Now let’s move on to what ruined Twilight for me: its special effects. The effects were like a slap in the face that reminded the audience they were watching a film produced by a small studio (Summit Entertainment). When Edward demonstrates what happens when sunlight touches his skin, I expected to see dazzling rays of light shooting out from all over his body. Instead, as my friend who never read the book said, "It looked like someone slathered a ton of Bonne Bell lip gloss all over him." Everyone in our theater laughed, and trust me, that moment was not meant to be funny.
Then there were the scenes when the various vampires were supposed to be flying or moving at super-speed. Instead of appearing to be agile, graceful creatures who can scale a gigantic tree or run across the country effortlessly, their arms and legs flailed wildly like they were wind-up toys. Sometimes there was a "blur" effect used that made me feel like I was watching a low-budget TV show rather than a feature film. And do not even get me started on their pale skin. The first time Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), head of the Cullen family, appeared, I gasped out loud at how poorly his white, pancake makeup was applied. While subsequent scenes used softer lighting and helped the cast’s appearance immensely, the damage had been done.
Note to the team at Summit: don’t even attempt special effects in the sequels if they’re not going to be flawless, and please get a better makeup artist next time around!
The Bottom Line
Twihards (yes, that’s what the mega-fans call themselves) will be hard-pressed to find fault with the first film adaptation of Meyer’s beloved novels. Edward looked hot – phew! Let’s see it again! Others such as myself, who enjoyed the books but were skeptical about how they’d be handled by Hollywood, will leave the theater wishing that they could un-see some of the cheesier action sequences and moments laden with not-so-special effects, because they’ll have found the movie quite charming otherwise. Women who didn’t read the book will most likely appreciate the romantic plot, but will be a tad befuddled by its pacing (they fell in love that quickly? Bella already wants to become a vampire?) and rightfully critical of its clumsy effects.
Men will probably be unimpressed no matter what — an edgy soundtrack and one lonely fight scene cannot hide the fact that Twilight is a love story that will be most appreciated by female tweens, teens and college students.
Now that Twilight has finally hit theaters, the franchise’s future is dependent not on what any of the critics say, but rather on how much money this first film rakes in. All of those advance ticket sales won’t matter if a multi-week, successful run in theaters cannot be sustained. However, if Bella and Edward’s tale does translate into a mind-boggling haul of cash, then I’ll remain hopeful that the next adaptation, New Moon, won’t suffer from Twilight‘s few but critical gaffes. Who am I kidding, though? I’ll still see it! Bella isn’t the only one Edward Cullen’s worked his magic on — shh, don’t tell my husband.