Twilight (2008)

Author: J.T. Jeans
Submitted by: J.T. Jeans   Date : 2011-11-18 16:22

Written by: Melissa Rosenberg
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Produced by: Mark Morgan, Greg Mooradian, Wyck Godfrey

Reviewed by: J.T. Jeans

This review contains MODERATE SPOILERS for the film Twilight.

Back in 2007, the vampire sub genre was practically dormant. The occasional independent flick came and went, but for the most part, vampires had fallen out of the mainstream. Lost Boys: The Tribe couldn't drag itself into the theatrical market if its life depended on it, the Underworld franchise had lost a lot of steam, and one-shots like 30 Days of Night, while successful, were scarcely setting the world afire.

But all of that changed when Paramount lost their option to Stephenie Meyer's romantic vampire novel, Twilight. For better or for worse, Twilight would rekindle the country's interest in blood-sucking monsters, bringing with it a new wave of vampire fiction -- both on and off the screen. One's mileage may vary, particularly given the specifics of the content, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself here.

I'm going to come right out and say it: Twilight isn't an awful film. There. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get right down to it.

Our story begins with 17 year old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) delivering a bland monologue about the specifics of how she wants to die. It's rarely a good sign when a story opens with these sorts of prophetic monologues, it takes a writer of particular skill to make it work, but thankfully it has very little to do with the actual plot, and the monologues in general thin out later in the film.

So we follow Bella as she travels from the sun-scorched cityscape of Phoenix, Arizona to the rain-soaked forests of Forks, Washington. Bella's mother (Sarah Clarke) has fallen head over heels for a minor league baseball player, and finds herself in a bad emotional state when faced with separation from her husband while he's on the road. Bella suggests that her mother ought to travel with her hunky baseball stud, and Mom decides to do just that, but not before dumping her daughter off on Charlie (Billy Burke), Bella's emotionally distant father (who also happens to be Sheriff in Forks).

Bella proves to be rather emotionally distant herself. Without reading the novel or the script, it's hard to decide what exactly the writers are going for here, but it's clear that Bella is a hardcore social introvert. Generally in these teen-driven romantic melodramas, the new kid in school is awkward by virtue of the school's hostile reaction to them. Not so here: Bella is instantly popular. She puts forward no effort whatsoever to be likeable or approachable, yet she draws the crowds like a honey-coated streaker draws bees and bears. If she were anymore aloof she'd float away into outer space, but that doesn't stop her somehow befriending Jessica (Anna Kendrick), Angela (Christian Serratos), Mike (Michael Welch), Tyler (Gregory Tyree Boyce), and Eric (Justin Chon). And on top of that, she also finds herself the object of Mike, Tyler and Eric's affections.

My question is: Why? Why do these guys want so badly to be with Bella Swan? I can just about stomach all these kids instantly accepting her into the gang -- stranger things happen in high school, there's no doubt about that -- but Bella isn't exactly cream of the crop dating material. Sure, she's pretty. But she's got the personality of a lawn sculpture. There's nothing interesting about her, and considering she's so far lost up her own backside, how would any of these boys get to know her in the first place?

Of course Bella has no time for the misguided affections of her classmates and scarcely manages to interact with them on a purely sociable level, but she finds herself strangely drawn to the Cullens, a group of adopted foster siblings who are paired off in romantic relationships: the waiflike Alice (Ashley Greene) and silent-but-observant Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) represent couple one, while snooty Rosalie (Nikki Reed) and powerhouse Emmett (Kellan Lutz) represent couple two. Then we have the lone wolf Edward (Robert Pattinson), who appears to take an instant and intense dislike to Bella. This gets Bella's attention in a way affection doesn't, and she sets out to discover why the enigmatic Edward goes out of his way to stay away from her.

From this point on, it's pretty typical teenage melodrama angst: Bella stalks Edward, Edward stalks Bella; Bella nearly dies, Edward saves her life; Bella demands answers, Edward rejects her... but continues to stalk her just in case she happens to get set upon by demented college co-eds. Eventually, with the help of Jacob (Taylor Lautner), Bella manages to piece together the mystery: Edward is in fact a vampire.

A sucker of blood. A vicious monster. A killer of people.

Except that he isn't any of those things. Not really. The Cullen family patriarch, Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli), is a compassionate killer, who has spent the better half of 300 years building a family from dying patients. He teaches them to abstain from drinking human blood -- the moniker of vegetarian has become a private family joke -- and they travel the country, setting roots for as long as is reasonably possible before moving on and repeating the cycle.

Edward does not kill people, except for maybe young sweet Bella: something in her scent drives him wild, draws him like a shark to chum, and he keeps his distance from Bella for fear of losing control of his animalistic nature around her. As Edward puts it, "You're my own person form of heroin." Upon discovering that she's fallen irrevocably in love with the beast that yearns for her blood, Bella is all too happy to accept the danger if it means being in the arms of the man she loves.

Whilst all of this is going on, a coven of vampires (Cam Gigandet, Rachelle Lefevre, Edi Gathegi) work over some of the Forks locals, drawing the attention of local authorities. Upon discovering the Cullens during a game of thunderstorm-disguised super strength baseball, the tracker of the group (Gigandet) gets a whiff of Bella, setting his blood-lust meter at 11, and sending the Cullens on a desperate mission to protect Bella from becoming the coven's next human meal.

As I said up top, I don't think Twilight is an awful film. It's clearly designed to appeal to a certain demographic -- 14 year old girls on the cusp of puberty, and 50 year old house wives who're nostalgic for the simpler days of youth -- but there's plenty to like in the film. Director Catherine Hardwicke brings a lot of energy to the production, and cinematographer Elliot Davis does a damn good job of making rural Oregon look cool, wet and brooding. I'm actually quite keen on the visual style of the film, I like the heavy implementation of dull blues. The special effects aren't really anything to write home about -- the movie was produced on a relatively moderate budget -- but they're also underplayed and manage not to be as over the top as one might expect in this kind of film.

The sound design is strong as well. Mileage may vary depending on one's tastes in music, but the soundtrack and score are perfectly suited to the material we're seeing on screen, and once again it doesn't seem to strive to stand out from the pack. There's nothing grotesquely over the top or out of place. The film sounds really good in Dolby Digital 5.1, and the dialog is perfectly clear coming through the center channel.

The cast are, for the most part, well suited to the character. Ashley Greene manages to stand out from the pack, which is saying something when you consider how very little she has to do in the film. Peter Facinelli plays a warm, sympathetic father figure to the Cullen clan and is extremely likable in spite of his vampiric nature -- you can see from what little screen time he has why these people would allow themselves to be embraced into his brood -- and the rest of the Cullen clan are perfectly suited by the actors that play them. Robert Pattinson has clearly got some chops. With stronger material coming at him from the screen writing side of things, I reckon he would really knock it out of the park. He's one to keep an eye on.

The weak link in all of this is Kristen Stewart, although in fairness to her I'm not convinced that it isn't partially down to the script. Bella is meant to be our window into this world, but she's so bland that it's hard to identify with her. And then there's the issue of the characterization. Given the audience for this film predominately consists of 14 year old girls, I find it a little concerning that Bella appears to base her sense of self value entirely on whether or not Edward wants her. She's not happy unless he's openly vying for her attention -- and in some cases for her blood -- and it just doesn't strike me as positive role model material.

When it comes to gore and skin, you're better off looking for that somewhere else. This is the sort of tame horror flick that knows what audience it's shooting for, so if you're looking for hardcore gore, you're definitely not going to find it here. There's a bit of blood and a blurry dismemberment, but that's not really going to get the typical gore hounds engine's going. And apart from a bit of cleavage and scanty panties, there's not much going on in the way of skin (and I'm pretty sure it would be underage skin in any case, as this cast is fairly young).

Final verdict: the film definitely has problems. The script isn't terribly strong, the melodramatic dialog verges on trite, and the first half of the film suffers from some serious pacing issues, but the second half of the film is fairly entertaining -- particularly when the Cullen brood are out in force, especially during the baseball game -- the cinematography is tasty, the music is pretty good, and there are some pleasant performances from the ensemble cast. The Blu-ray features a crystal clear 1080p transfer, with strong darks and very little washing out. It's crammed with special features as well, although this reviewer has not had a chance to take a peak at them.

If you're a fan of the novels, well, chances are you've seen this anyway, or you're going to see it in the near future regardless of what I have to say. But if you're reading this having never heard of Twilight and you're willing to give the film a chance without any preconceived notions about "sparkling vampires", you may find something to like in it, too. Rent it!

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