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Twilight (2008): Review, part 3

This is part three of a three-part review of Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight (2008). Whereas parts one and two examined the literature preceding the move (and books), part three shall focus mostly on the movie, itself.

I won't say I actually liked Twilight, the movie. It just wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I expected pure, unadulterated torture (after all, I'd seen people excoriate this movie as being utter dross). It made sense, too, because the book was so poorly written (and generally books that predate films critically surpass their adaptations). Yet, when I watched Twilight, I actually enjoyed it... for what it was. I wouldn't rank it up there with Casablanca (1942) or The Wild Bunch (1969) but I wouldn't rank it as low as the novel that came before it.

At the same time, Twilight is no Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Given which of them is better I'd side with Ed Wood. Why? Because heinously-bad movies are their own, special kind of joy! To this, Twilight as a movie is effectively average. It's the kind of thing one would watch on late-night cable. Being drunk or stoned might add to the experience, but I don't feel it required, here. There's enough to appreciate here that one can waive mandatorily drinking themselves into a stupor beforehand, in a desperate attempt to shield one's fragile mind from the utter inanity.

As for the heroine of the movie, Bella—some people talk about her as though she were intolerable; I wasn't entirely bothered by her, as played by Kristen Steward. She's quiet, disinterested, and booksmart—essentially how I was at that age. She might not smile much, and seem socially awkward, but then again, so was I, at twelve. It might seem odd that she's so popular. I merely chalked that one up to age. The lads around her are just starting to reach an age where they suddenly and confusingly become interested in the opposite sex. Many put on smiles and talk to Bella because of how they feel... and because high school pressures us to act that way. It's a phony environment, centered on hokey rituals of love that aren't meant to last. Point in fact, high school relationships generally don't. They simply exist to provide kids with something to do, while their bodies are growing.

I merely saw Bella as a target for this kind of indiscriminate, teen-boy affection. It's not as though she's hit on by the king of the school, either. She's not John Hugh's idea of the "princess" from The Breakfast Club (1985). Instead, she becomes the interest of Edward, a member of the Cullen clan—uprooted, distant misfits. They're effectively nomads, like she is. If the girls around her enjoy Edward, it's because he's different. If the guys don't, it's because they're interested in Bella. If the dialogue isn't the best, it's because it's delivered by a bunch of kids who are meant to sound like kids actually do (the adults in the movie were serviceable, I thought).

I wasn't shocked—no more than I was when I watched John Carpenter's Halloween (1978). With it, Carpenter co-wrote the script alongside Debra Hill, his girlfriend, at the time. According to Debra, in the DVD's commentary track, Carpenter handled "the dark stuff," she, the girly. To that, the dialogue in Halloween is no less cringe-worthy in spots. However, that's also the point: kids are supposed   to sound like that. I can attest to this: Once, while sitting in a street-corner cafe in Chelsea, my hometown, I listened as two teenage girls walked in, spouting all manner of insipid nonsense. None of it was Oscar-worthy nor scripted. Fancy that.

Twilight  was a cold-looking but nicely-shot movie, for the most part. There were neat little visual tricks, involving light, smoke and mirrors, each displaying a level of photographic skill I wasn't expecting (not much, to be honest). Furthermore, it was consistent. It didn't elevate the movie to stratospheric levels, quality-wise, but did give me a lot less to nit-pick than I had in mind, originally. For example, when the villain is revealed, in a close-up, the camera pulls back and sways, showing us that it's a reflection we see, not him. In fact, they're inside a hall of mirrors, much like Robert Clouse's Enter the Dragon (1973). I was so engrossed by the fact that I was enjoying myself more than I had planned that I actually failed to remark on the fact that vampires aren't supposed to have reflections to begin with (then again, they're not supposed to sparkle, either).

Another shot I enjoyed was when Bella and Edward have to trick Bella's father, to protect him. First, we see Edward at the front door of the house, on the porch. Then, in one take, the camera rises to the second floor and we see him standing inside Bella's room before she steps inside and shuts the door in her father's face. I wasn't expecting that level of craft, at all; the book certainly had none of it. To watch the movie and find merit where I expected none to be was like accidentally finding a five-dollar bill in my pants pocket. It doesn't amount to much, but there's really no downside, when it happens: "Oh, neat: five bucks!"

Parts of the movie had a dream-like feel, largely thanks to the neat camera work and consistently-enjoyable music. When Edward plays the piano, the camera swoops and drifts in somnambulist, underwater fashion. I half expected "Hello Darkness, My Old Friend" to start playing, like it did in Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967) when Dustin Hoffman scuba-dove into his parents' swimming pool (to that, Edward is essentially Twilight's Mrs. Robinson, seducing Bella Swan—except his intentions are more honest than the former's).

Yes, there are occasional moments of not-so-good special effects, but by and large, these are minor and brief—reminiscent of similar kinds seen in much-older TV shows like Smallville (2001) or The Secret World of Alex Mack (1994). Likewise, the movie itself was pretty quick, in terms of pacing. The material isn't original or sensational, but it flies along. Kristen Stewart's flat, overdubbed narrator may leave something to be desired, but so did Harrison Ford's, in Blade Runner (1982). Neither harmed their respective film all that much because neither had much screen time.

Did Bella's relationship with Edward make sense? Well, yes and no. He's a killer. He says as much ("As if you could run from me!"). But killer—as in Ed Gein "killer"? He doesn't radiate that kind of threat (then again, neither did Gein, but Hitchcock still modeled the innocuous Adrian Bates after him). Concerning Bella's attraction to Edward, I found myself thinking of Ray Liotta, in Goodfellas (1990): Enraged, the jealous Liotta smashes a rival guy's face in with his revolver before handing it to his future wife. She holds it, stunned, and her voice narrates, "I know there are women like my best friends, who would've gotten outta there the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn't; I gotta admit the truth: it turned me on." To that, we don't always choose who we love, and the reasons don't always make sense. In any case, Edward is tall, strong and honest, and as much as I'd like to bash on Robert Pattinson, I have to admit, I've seen much uglier men.

Would I watch the movie in my free time? No. Did it deserve its success? I don't know, did Goosebumps or Nickelodeon? They did well because there were plenty of young adults who needed something to watch that wasn't going to have parents writing letters to their representatives, in Congress. The same idea applies to Twilight. It was the "safe" movie parents could drop their daughters off at and not worry about them being "ruined" by what they saw. It is what it is.


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