Saturday, November 22, 2008

Twilight Movie Review

I was a part of the midnight madness that was the Twilight movie premiere. Although outside the target demographic, I packed into a theater of tween-Twilighters (one of whom dressed in full werewolf costume and was heckled by Team Edward for it) and sat in eager anticipation of the movie version of the uber-popular book.

I was not prepared to like the books but by page 20 of the first, I was completely sucked in. All four books now sit on my bookshelf, happily read and often loaned out to others. So, I wanted to like the movie. No, the leads were not who I pictured to play Edward and Bella, but I was keeping an open mind. In a spirit of female solidarity, I wanted director Catherine Hardwicke to knock the film out of the park. Sadly, the movie is a bunt at best.

It just doesn't work, and I've spent the past 24 hours trying to figure out why.

Unfortunately, the problem sits squarely on the director's shoulders. The gritty realism of independent films Hardwicke captures so well (see Thirteen for a stellar example) doesn't work for the romantic story of a vampire and his tasty, mortal girl. Twilight is dark, yes, but not gritty. And placed in the understated independent film-esque atmosphere, the leads flounder. They're left to rely on long looks that end up looking more like glares than longing. However, the realism does work well for some of the supporting characters: Billy Burke as Chief Swan and Gil Birmingham as Billy Black, for example. But 15-year-olds everywhere haven't piled into the theater to see Bella's dad, so the support helps but doesn't save the film.

Overall, the casting is problem. Nevermind that choosing real people to play beloved book characters is a losing proposition (even Gone With The Wind had its casting critics). Rob Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are fine as the leads, not great, not bad, just fine. Bella's mortal highschool chums fit their roles well. Even Peter Facinelli as Dr. Carlisle Cullen is fine (if you can get over his being an eerie doppleganger of Tom Cruise's Lestat). But casting hits the skids with the films villians. James, Victoria, and Laurent look more like punk-teen models off of a Gaultier runway than blood-sucking fiends. The fact that they travel with their very own smoke machine is the only way we know to be afraid of them. And Jackson Rathbone as Jasper Cullen better have been cast for the pedigree his last name implies because his constant look of panic is funny and his teased, dark blonde hair looks too much like Edward's (the teen audience screamed when he walked into the lunch room thinking he was Edward; they booed when they realized it wasn't). If a film is only as good as its villians, Twilight fails miserably.

And then there's the money. According to E!, the movie was made for 37 million and every penny pinched shows. In the hands of a more creative director, the lacking funds might not have mattered. For instance, the low-budget Fargo under the direction of the Coen brothers was iconic and haunting. Two things Twilight should have been. Instead, Twilight's special effects are downright lame. Scenes that should be impressive--like Edward's tree climbing and forest flying--become laughable. When Edward stands in the sunlight, he looks just like any other boy standing in the sun. Nothing special there. And the werewolf legend montage looks more like trick-or-treaters at Halloween than menacing werewolves. Someone needed to explain to Hardwicke that "special effects" mean more than speed framing and smoke machines.

What really makes me angry is the tragic waste of potential. Twilight should have been the perfect storm of the built-in book audience of Harry Potter and the over-the-top romance of Titanic. This film should have broken records and added all ages to the Twilight fan-base. Instead its loyal fans were treated to a bargain-basement version of their beloved story. The movie does stay true to the book, and because Twilight has sold millions of copies world-wide, the film should do well at the box office, guaranteeing sequels. But the fans and book deserved better.

The bottom line? Twilighters are better served by saving their $10 on a movie ticket, using it to buy the soundtrack (which is fantastic) and re-reading the book instead.

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