Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Twilight (2008) Review

Not Exactly a Sparkling Achievement

I never imagined the day when I would willingly push myself into actually seeing Twilight, even just to get a little perspective on the whole spiel. But sometimes, a new factor pops onto the radar that finally persuades a person to go along with some dreaded task. For me, this factor came from a source that I never would have expected it to come from. This source happens to be New Moon, the second installment in the Twilight series. The factor is its newest trailer, which premiered at the 2009 VMAs (although it has been overshadowed by the Kanye/Swift incident). This trailer, while still containing many of the elements that make it a Twilight movie, contains the right mix of plot, action, suspense, emotion, and visuals that make it look like a genuinely good movie. I thought, “Wow, I’m actually looking forward to this,” something I would never have thought to happen. And here-in lies the problem...I would have to watch the first movie before I move onto the much better-looking sequel.

Plot Synopsis: When Bella Swan’s free spirit mother leaves Arizona to go on a road trip with her stepfather as he trains for minor league baseball, she moves in with her father up in Forks, Washington. While she is typically a loner and is now the new girl in town, Bella settles in with a respectful group of friends who quickly welcome her in. Bella also takes notice of the Cullen family, who are mysterious to the other students and only come in to school on overcast days (Ok, in this movie that is almost every day). She takes a particular interest in Edward, who strangely looks interested in her but also constantly avoids her. But when Edward miraculously stops a car from running over Bella, she becomes suspicious of his humanity. Eventually, she deduces that he is a vampire but still pursues him. Despite the hunger he feels around her (the vampire kind), Edward relents and the two begin dating. While this is happening, a trio of vampires named Laurent, James, and Victoria are picking off some of the resident citizens, and present a threat to Bella and Edward’s relationship.


It was a tough beast to wrestle with, but by the end of the climatic battle, Twilight turned out to not be the unwatchable wreck that I was dreading. But boy, does it still have a pile of problems. Let's start with director Catherine Hardwicke, whose style is a bit more eccentric than your typical blockbuster director’s. Hardwicke attempts to be stylish, moody, and atmospheric, but ends up with a mish-mash that works occasionally, yet is often heavy-handed. The dreary, color-drained visual palette fits with the Pacific Northwest setting, but intrudes on the story and characters. It makes sense too when Bella says that Edward is very pale, since he is a vampire, but when every other character and Bella herself look just as pale as the vampires, the differentiation loses its effect. It just becomes a distraction when EVERYONE (except the Native Americans) looks pale and lifeless, even the normal humans. Hardwicke’s inexperience in the special effects department is also painfully obvious. The super fast speed used by the vampires becomes unintentionally humorous in a couple of scenes, such as when the Cullen family plays baseball (please, don’t ask) and the final fight scene. Also, the sparkle effect that occurs when Edward is exposed to the sunlight isn’t very smoothly integrated or imaginative.

Yes, vampires apparently now sparkle in the sunlight. They don’t burn up or experience extreme pain; they sparkle like a disco ball. I just cannot get over how embarrassingly awful this idea is. Now, I have no problem with tweaking the vampire mythology slightly (such as how they now have reflections), but could Stephanie Meyer have thought up a worse way to alter such an iconic aspect of vampires when she wrote these books? This extends into the occasionally inane dialogue, which I assume is lifted from the book for the most part. “Your scent; It’s like a drug to me. It's like you're my own personal brand of heroin.” This is supposed to be romantic? There are some fine moments where the writing shines through elegantly, but we have to contend with quite a few howlers to get to those. Because the movie only hits the PG-13 rating, Bella and Edward’s love is restricted to a little hooking up and LOT of staring. I’ve seen my share of angst-filled teenager movies, but by God quit staring at each other and just do something! I guess it fits in with the context that Edward must keep his emotions and passion at bay, but it grows tiresome and annoying (sometimes funny) very quickly.


Our leads don’t improve things much with unremarkable performances. Kristin Stewart seems to be sleepwalking through the role of Bella and doesn’t display the promise she showed in previous roles. Bella is a very tortured character, but Stewart’s lifeless performance fails to achieve the kind of sympathy and balance that makes us care for her. Robert Pattinson fares better as Edward, who makes the most out of the less-than-impressive writing. Sure, his acting ability doesn’t match his good looks, but Edward is the core focus of the story and Pattinson holds it together for the duration of the movie. Faring much better is the movie's supporting cast. Billy Burke and Taylor Lautner are the best of the bunch as Bella’s father Charlie and her Native American friend Jacob, respectively. I’m actually looking forward to see how Lautner handles his fleshed out role in New Moon, because he definitely has potential. The group of friends that Bella hangs out with is also very fun, sometimes funny, to watch and provide some nice moments of comic relief. Less impressive is Cam Gigandet as James, who comes off more as a punk rocker posing as a vampire than a true creature of the night.
Overall, I expected to hate Twilight the movie with every fiber of my being, but some positives kept the boat afloat and provided some bare entertainment. Just don’t expect me to ever sit through it again. Maybe New Moon can improve things. Unlikely, but you never know.


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