Saturday, November 22, 2008
It is with no small amount of pride that I admit my hatred for Twilight. A book of stunning incompetence even by the standards of children’s literature, it has taken the world by storm and resulted in a massive franchise supported by one of the mot rabid fanbases ever seen. I find myself not so much looking down on those who love it but genuinely confused by the notion of anyone liking such an insufferable pile of tripe. Ergo, I secured tickets to a midnight showing Thursday night, in the hopes that if I threw myself at this thing hard enough, maybe I could gain at least an understanding of it, if not an appreciation. Or dash my brains out; whatever works.
The plot is legion by now: shy girl Bella (Kristen Stewart) moves to Forks, Washington to live with her police chief dad (Billy Burke) and enters into a relationship with gorgeous vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson). They cannot have sex because if he isn’t focused he could snap and have a little drink. Along the way she becomes the most popular girl in the school and has to run from more dangerous vampires with her new beau.
Pattinson has the challenging task of playing two roles: that of Edward Cullen, and his hair. Edward’s coif fills the screen on more than one occasion, so disheveled it adds at least three inches to the actor’s height. I suppose I can forgive his wacky hair considering that Edward the vampire cannot look into a mirror. Assuming that he has no reflection of course; Meyer’s vampires stray so far from established lore that her version of a mermaid would probably consist of a man in diving flippers. All you need to know is that the Cullen clan are pale, sport bizarre hairdos and sustain themselves on raw animals. In other words, they’re French.
Kristen Stewart acquits herself nicely as well. This isn’t the first time she’s played a shy, reserved girl (The Messengers, Speak), so she hardly has to stretch her chops. I’ve heard criticisms of both the leads, that they were stiff and spit out terrible dialogue. What do you expect? It’s Twilight: blaming the actors for being dull is like blaming the drive-thru worker at McDonald’s because your coffee is hot.
And what of the romance of Twilight? I fail to see any at all, actually. Bella loves Edward because of his intense desire for her, while Edward’s feelings for her are just that: Desire. Lust. Why does he want her so badly? Because her scent is more potent than any other human’s. That’s right, he’s in love with dinner because it smells delicious. Look, I like steak, but I’ve never gotten the urge to run off to Vegas with a porterhouse. These characters are not in love, at least not with each other; they are simply in love with love. You may laugh, but if the characters in Twilight were 20 years older the book would have been published with Fabio on the cover.
More than once, Bella asks Edward to turn her into a vampire, but he flatly refuses. Why, though? In this film there seem to be no consequences. Sunlight does not kill, the urge to kill can be so easily contained that Bella and her intoxicating aroma can stroll into the Cullen house and not one of them even thinks of biting her. Even the evil tracker vamp James fails to show the darker side of immortality because he comes and goes in a matter of minutes.
In adapting Stephenie Meyer’s novel, director Catherine Hardwicke has made it far worse than its source material, which is impressive if you have enough schadenfreude. Melissa Rosenberg’s screenplay managed to take all of the interesting bits out of the novel and leave an excruciatingly dull film with one-liners so bad they loop back around into unintentional hilarity. It doesn’t bother to examine the characters; the reason why Edward loved Bella was always absurd, but Rosenberg just cut the whole thing out and acted like it would help. Instead, it makes Edward look like a stalker.
And Hardwicke, who never met a project she didn’t ruin with pretentious camera work, shot the film like an extended music video, even though there was barely enough action to fill the trailer. When Edward reveals his secret to Bella, the camera zooms out and circles them like it’s surveying a great battle. The effects look ridiculous, the chases lack suspense, and the romance makes the exchanges between Anakin and Padmé in the Star Wars prequels sound like poetry in comparison.
The only thing I found truly entertaining about the movie is that all the crazed fans who stormed the theater that night seemed to hate it. They laughed at every failed joke and even dramatic reveal like it was a George Carlin routine. The initial furor, applause, and squeals at the beginning died into bored chatter and a light smattering of appreciative golf claps when the credits rolled. I’ve always been at odds with Twilight fans; when I admit my loathing more often than not I hear “What?! You have no taste in books,” a statement containing more irony per square inch than a bake sale raising money for diabetes research. But now old wounds can heal at last; the negative reaction it’s gotten from even die-hards will push them towards the middle, and us on the other side of the spectrum will head over to console them, embracing our prodigal sons and daughters (and don’t think it’s just girls who like this, by the way, I’ve seen a fair number of book copies in guys’ hands). “Hush, child,” we’ll whisper as they cry into our bosoms, “you home now.”
I found the movie (and to a lesser extent, the book) to be a collection of conflicting ideas. It paints its protagonist as a strong heroine, yet she must always be saved from danger. It is an abstinence parable and yet is such an overt sexual fantasy that I can hardly believe it is so heavily marketed to children. By offering no downside to vampirism, it removes the drama of Bella’s desire to be turned and leaves a sitcom “will-they-won’t-they?” feel. Twilight the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too, and instead it just dropped the cake on the floor and started crying. The unfortunate actors buoy the mess just enough to rise above the level of legendarily bad, but they can’t shoulder the weight of this shoddily-written world.