Kevin's Review: Twilight - Do You Care That It's Bad?
by Kevin Powers
November 20, 2008
Every now and again a movie comes along and is labeled as "critic proof", which basically means that despite whatever critics might have to say about it, fans will still see and enjoy it regardless. The last one that I know of was Sex and the City: The Movie. Not a great film, but I doubt many cared. The latest to join this impervious crowd is Twilight. You're probably aware of the extensive fan-base that surrounds Stephenie Meyer's books. It's impressive by all accounts, and downright scary to some. Given the immensity of fandom, I probably won't deter anyone from seeing the film by describing it as tedious, eye-rolling, clipped, and in some instances, downright poor. If you care to know why, then read on.
If you abstract the central story of Twilight, it's actually not a bad tale. A young girl named Bella (Kristen Stewart) falls in love with the dreamy, mysterious guy at her high school named Edward (Robert Pattinson), who turns out to be a near-century-old vampire. Going a layer deeper, Edward must battle his animalistic instinct to feed on the girl, because against all odds, he cares for her and she, knowing who he truly is, isn't afraid of him. Other layers to the story that also prove interesting include Edward's vampire-vegetarian family who exist out in the open; the small band of roaming predatory vampires; and the long history between the vampires and their American Indian neighbors, who just might be werewolves. As a package, this definitely isn't a bad story. Twilight is just executed in a way that muddles the intrigue and fun, and relegates the story to squarely a female, teenage romance and not much more.
And this what I was afraid of before even seeing the film. Obviously the books are targeted at this young adult, female crowd and perhaps, given that books leave some elements to interpretation (and you can skip pages ahead if things slow down), the romantic, sappy nature of the story doesn't come across as heavy-handed in print. But in the film, I don't know how any guy or girl above sixteen (and that may be generous) can stand the extended fumbling between Edward and Bella and the longing virginal stares. Sadly, this dance occupies about 75% of the film. When you hear Edward say things like, "and so the lamb fell in love with the lion," and Bella replies, "what a stupid lamb," you really are reminded of how unsophisticated and awkward these scenes really are.
Stewart and Pattinson seem so much better than this stilted dialogue. It's almost a blessing when they actually stop talking, but not by much. The looks and wooing body language are nauseating, especially one long scene where they're laying in the grass staring at each other. Or the odd scene of Edward playing a piano in a dark room that's lit like something out of a music video. Many viewers in the audience - yes, girls in their early teens and younger - seem to positively swoon at every move Edward makes. It started to feel like director Catherine Hardwicke knew the exact strings of these young adolescent hearts to pluck.
Before suffocating in the thick fog of flirtation (not unlike the fog that allows Edward to go out in the daytime), a group of three vampires come into the story motivated by the need to feed and cause trouble. This definitely upped Twilight's tempo, but how this plays out is another reason why the movie falls short. In the span of two minutes (maybe) following this troupe's introduction to the main plot, the film does a 180 degree turn and goes an entirely different direction, literally. Decisions are made, realizations come to light and acceptance of the new state of affairs all happens quicker than Edward can run.
Equally sloppy are various parts of the film's editing. In one frame Edward takes a mouthful of neck, and in an immediate other his face is clean of blood. In another, Edward and Bella are talking and in the course of a short conversation they go from dry to wet to dry again. Edward apparently can't go out in direct sunlight because a vampire's skin sparkles "like diamonds" (according to Bella), but there are clearly scenes when his character is galavanting around under clear skies. I ordinarily wouldn't point out instances like this because all films have them, but in Twilight they're painfully conspicuous. And don't get me started on the "special" effects - defintiely not special by any stretch of the imagination.
If Twilight were a series on the CW, I think it would be a fine, if not good, production. Like I said, the premise (at least) has bite, and Pattinson actually edges into supernatural believability (thankfully outpacing his hair). But as a full-fledged, two-hour movie, the stakes are much higher, and Twilight simply comes across as amateurish, laden with eye-rolling tedium. Not that my criticism really matters, mind you. Fans will still flock to see the film, and I'm sure a good majority will somehow enjoy it. Meyer's franchise is as impervious to critiques as Edward is to dying. However good the books may be and however deep the fan-base may go, Twilight the movie is nevertheless a disappointing experience.
Note: To confess, I actually went into this film with an open mind and even a bit of excitement, despite earlier misgivings. And even though a fellow critic who joined me for the screening walked out after 20 minutes, I continued to give it a fair shot. In the end… well, you can see what I think about it.