Eugene Weekly : Movies : 11.26.08


Sparkle Motion
Twilight vamps into theaters
by Molly Templeton

TWILIGHT: Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer. Cinematography, Elliot Davis. Editor, Nancy Richardson. Music, Carter Burwell. Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Taylor Lautner and Peter Facinelli. Summit Entertainment, 2008. 122 minutes. PG-13.

Edward (Robert Pattinson) feels pretty

Once again, a movie has done the supposedly impossible: surpassed the book on which it’s based. Two years ago, Alfonso Cuaron made the sexist, mediocre Children of Men into something amazing. Now, director Catherine Hardwicke has taken Stephenie Meyer’s overwrought teen vampire romance Twilight and turned it into a film that, while inconsistent and occasionally downright laughable, improves considerably on the novel, particularly in one key way. It spares us the narration of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), the high school junior who falls dangerously in love with a mysterious classmate, the impossibly beautiful Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), even after she discovers he’s a vampire. In print, Bella was prone to countless thoughts like, “I couldn’t think of anything, except that he was touching me.” In the film, Bella blinks with distracting frequency, but she also tones down the worshipful blankness. Sometimes.

That “sometimes” is the central trouble with Twilight. Sometimes, it’s almost a good movie. Sometimes, the actors playing the Cullen clan — Edward’s ageless, adopted vampire family — have decent hair and makeup instead of obvious wigs and pasty white stuff on their faces. Sometimes, we get a scene with Bella’s father Charlie (Billy Burke), a warm and slightly baffled father who means well, drinks Ranier and cleans his guns on the dinner table. Sometimes, the film adds something downright clever (an art piece made up of the younger Cullens’ graduation caps) instead of something tired (desaturated blue light around the undead Cullens; jumpy editing to give the impression of vampire speed). Sometimes, the sweet flightiness of Bella’s friend Jessica (Anna Kendrick) makes up for the sourpuss jilted-prom-queen pout on the face of Rosalie Hale (Nikki Reed), Edward’s bitchy sister. Sometimes, Edward and Bella’s unconvincing push-pull relationship — she’s irresistible to him because of her scent, but he might hurt her, so he pushes her away; she kind of gets that he’s dangerous, but he’s just so amazing she can’t help herself — results in a scene in which Bella, momentarily, acts like she has a thought in her head that’s not about Edward’s beauty. 

But for the movie to be consistently good would be asking too much from the source material. Twilight is a source of endless debate, especially online, where scathing critiques appear just one LiveJournal page over from professions of love and devotion for Meyer’s now four-book saga. Detractors take issue with Bella’s passiveness, with Edward’s controlling ways and with Meyer’s clunky writing; fans fall for the romance, the notion of the perfect, stunning, totally magical guy falling in love with the seemingly ordinary girl. If one theory about Harry Potter’s overwhelming popularity is that it’s the wish-fulfillment fantasy of finding out that you really are special, you can shift that easily to Twilight, which is the wish-fulfillment fantasy of finding out that you’re romantically special — to a superpowered immortal who has to work very hard to control himself around you (metaphor alert, yes, good, you caught that).

It’s possible to speed through the book in a weekend and find yourself on the side of the mockers as soon as you’re done — partly because when it really comes down to it, the best thing about Twilight is not reading the book, not seeing the movie, but taking part in the phenomenon. It’s reading blog entries counting Meyer’s overused words, or blogger Cleolinda Jones’ Twilight wiki, which tracks her own responses to the books as well as all the ways the online fandom has gone batshit crazy over them. It’s finding Robert Pattinson’s politely baffled quotes about over-the-top fans and the book’s author; most recently, it’s snorting over a USA Today blog which boasts thousands of comments in which dead authors and fictional characters appear to chime in on Twilight (“I read Twilight and now I can’t get into Narnia” — Susan Pevensie). If you’re already a Twihard, you’ve seen the movie twice; if you’re utterly disinterested, you’re not going to. But if you waffle, keep in mind that the best part of Twilight is not the part where Edward sparkles in the sun (for “sparkles,” substitute “looks sweaty and dusted with glitter”) or even the surprisingly entertaining game of vampire baseball. It’s following the conversation online and joining in the big pop culture crazyfest. Oh, and looking at Edward. ’Cause he is totally pretty.    




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