Late last year, I watched the 10th Aniversary of Twilight for a friend’s birthday.
I’m not normally a fan, but when you’ve been friends for 20+ years, you make sacrifices. While sacrificing myself on the alter of boredom and trying desperately not to listen to the self-proclaimed ‘Twimoms’ behind me cooing over Robert Patterson and a pre-legal Tyler Launtner, I realised something.
Twilight, as a film and without the context of the books, is actually a good movie.
Once I recovered from the shock of my realisation and the movie was over, I felt obliged to actually think about this strange relevation. Why did I like it better, and what made it stand out from the others? What made it worth watching, and why, after seeing it five times in the theatre back in 2008, had I come to dislike the franchise so much?
A large part of the credit has to go to the director, Catherine Hardwicke.
The Twilight films had different directors, and it shows in the finished product. It should also be noted that as the movies went on, Stephanie Meyer, the author of the series, became a lot more involved in the process, unhappy about the changes to the source material that the directors were making.
Hardwicke is a fantastic director, and has made several other very good films. ‘The Nativity Story’ has a place of honour besides ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ as the only Christmas movie that I watch every year. 'Red Riding Hood’ is another movie that I saw multiple times in theatres, and still watch semi-regularly.
‘Twilight’, for all it’s flaws as a book adaption that must keep to the source material, is no exception to her skill. The body language and background, the non-verbal actions and the way the actors are introduced and positioned, and the interaction between them, all give a depth and meaning that was largely absent in many of the later films.
Another significant reason is that ‘Twilight’ was, for all intents and purposes, an Indie film.
At the time, the Twilight series had a very loyal, but very small, following. No-one yet knew whether the movie would flop or be marked to continue for the whole series. None of the actors were big-name stars at the time, and most of them were total unknowns.
Robert Patterson was best known as having played Cedric in the fourth Harry Potter Film. Kristen Stewart and Tyler Launtier had played main roles in ‘Zatura’ (better known as “Jumanji in Space”) and ‘Sharkboy and Lavagirl’, respectively; both decent, but fairly unremarkable movies.
Twilight launched the careers, or was the Big Break, of several of the actors, but at the time of filming, few of them were household names, most having had recurring roles in TV shows.
Having to work on a smaller budget, and with no confirmation of whether it would end up a standalone film or not, forced the actors and film-makers to put a lot more effort into everything. There was no “Oh, they’ve read the books, they know the background.” They couldn’t say “Oh, it can be explained in the next movie.”
Everything had to be either verbalised, or clear from the subtext, body language or background action. Storylines had to be wrapped up, but with enough of an opening to continue into a potential sequel. This made for a much better movie than the over-reliance on CGI, open endings and Director Musical Chairs of the later movies.
The characters were also very distinct and most of them do a very good job.
Charlie’s lines in the first few scenes establish him as someone who wants to be a father to the teenage daughter he hasn’t seen for more than a week or so over the summer in years, but has no idea who she is as a person, or any idea where to start building a relationship. He’s clearly trying, and very obviously cares about her, but Bella is a stranger to him, and his inexperience as a parent isn’t helped by the fact that Bella is seventeen, not a young child. The scenes in the hospital and when Bella announces that she’s going on a date with Edward genuinely made me cackle in the movie theatre.
Eric, Mike and Tyler manage to show their competitive interest in Bella in only a few lines each and their body language when interacting with both her and each other. I rolled my eyes at their antics in benign amusement, rather than wondering if the writer had ever actually met a teenage boy.
Likewise, Jess shows herself as well-meaning, but flakey and a bit self-centered. Your average teenage girl, in other words. Angela is caring, friendly, and a touch socially awkward, and both have a distant, but genuine friendship with Bella.
Jacob comes off as a teenager with a crush on a pretty girl he knew when they were kids, but none of the entitlement or expectations that show up in later books/films. He’s funny and likable, rather than aggressive and pushy. Billy comes off as an old friend of Charlie’s who definitely knows more than he’s telling, again with only facial expressions, body language and a few lines.
Likewise, the Cullens also manage a good showing, even if the acting can be a bit wooden in places. Edward acts like an eternal teenager enduring his first crush, uncertain of how to react when he can’t read Bella’s mind. It’s very clear that he hasn’t been in a relationship before, and most of his screw-ups appear to come from inexperience, rather than arrogance. (A lot of Edward’s more controlling moments are also cut out) Because of this, the relationship between Bella and Edward is far more believable and natural. They actually talk and interact, rather than just sighing over each other, and it is honestly adorable to watch.
Carlisle is shown acting as a doctor multiple times, Esme as caring and motherly, Alice as friendly (and the visions were depicted far better than in later movies), Jasper as cautiously reserved, Emmett as a casual jock, and Rosalie as standoff-ish out of concern for her family, rather than hating on Bella for no reason. It’s what the books were trying to portray, with far more limited success.
The Storyline itself also comes to a satisfying conclusion, with Bella’s narration concluding the arc (in case the studio didn’t go forward, a la Eragon, Percy Jackson and countless other adaptions that didn’t do so well) and Victoria’s dramatic appearance/exit as the closing shot before the credits setting up a potential sequel, but also a nice ending.
This is not to say that Twilight: the Movie was without it’s flaws.
It still had to stick to the source material, even if it played fast and loose with some of the fine details. The source material, not to put too fine a point on it, was not good.
The characters were bland, and it’s a testament to the actor’s skill that they were able to pull them off so well. The plot and writing were something I’d expect of a high-schooler’s first epic fanfiction, rather than something that actually went to print. It stands up ok as a casual read, but anyone who studies it in depth is going to be very disappointed.
Blogger Das Mervin, among others, does an excellent take-down of the series. (Put aside a few days worth of spare time to read it; covering all four books in detail takes a while.)
Still, it was worth watching again, and I almost regret the times I trashed the series as a whole. The glasses of Nostalgia help.