I may not be one of the teenaged devotees of the original vampire romance novel, but having finished the Twilight book days before watching the movie adaptation, I surprisingly have a lot of issues with the film. (Be forewarned Twilighters, if you feel that nothing Twilight-related can be bad, please put away your claws and fangs. This is just one middle-aged guy’s opinion.) Anyway, I was actually kind of excited to watch the movie after finishing the first book. I wanted to see how well the characters were brought to life on the screen. What I experienced was a kind of passionate disappointment. Since I’d already seen the movie trailer before getting into the novel, the actors’ faces were already in my mind and I thought they were a pretty good match for the main characters of Bella and Edward. Unfortunately, the movie on screen was not as good as the movie in my head.
For those of you not in the know, Bella and Edward are the Romeo and Juliet for a new generation (if the Montagues had been a coven of human-friendly vampires). Their star-crossed tale begins when Bella Swan goes to Forks, Washington to live with her police-chief father and meets the aloof and attractive Edward Cullen at her new school. What starts out as a head-over-heels, teen romance (with a touch of dark fantasy thrown in) ends up a full-on vampire story with clashing covens and mortal danger for the lowly Miss Swan (that’s the part that I liked).
Director Catherine Hardwicke is known for her realistic, unpolished depictions of teen life in movies such as 13 and Lords of Dogtown. Even her Nativity Story did not take a glossy approach to depicting Mary the mother of Jesus. So she might seem the perfect one to capture the angst and emotions of Bella (as the novel is told quite intimately from her point of view). Unfortunately, some of her techniques seemed to play against the nature of the story. Many of the early scenes between Bella and Edward were filmed very realistically, with hand-held camera and lots of background sound (without music). This made some of the overwrought dialogue seem contrived in contrast. It’s like she’s trying to give us a sense of what it would really really be like to talk to a vampire, but that whole idea is surreal and refuses reality, so in the movie it doesn’t work well.
What doesn’t help Hardwicke’s cause is the fact that Kristen Stewart (who plays Bella) is very natural and she speaks exactly like a normal teenage person would. So she seems like the only remaining piece from some other film that Hardwicke was originally trying to make before the vampires got involved. On top of that, Robert Pattinson (originally famous for playing Cedric Diggory, the BMOC at Harry Potter’s Hogwart’s) gives a mostly ill-fitting performance as the brooding Edward. I think Pattinson must naturally be more like Diggory because for those few scenes where Edward gets to be charming and smile, he really nails it. It’s the tortured, lonely, conflicted part which is just not up his alley. Again, it doesn’t help that Hardwicke chose natural camera angles and very little cinematic trickery in the early scene when Edward has to resist Bella’s allure to his darker side. He looks like he’s having indigestion or something.
Even after all that, I have more gripes. The Cullen family are supposed to be a super-humanly beautiful group, with physical perfection and a magical glamer. Besides Ashley Greene (who is so perfect that I can’t wait to see more of her) as the lovable Alice, none of the others came close to matching their descriptions. It was especially bad that Carlisle Cullen (the patriarch) and Rosalie Hale (the beauty of the group) had terrible blond dye-jobs with obvious roots. You’d think that they could get good at using hair colour after all the years they’ve been at it (and they all have really bad pale-skin make-up). It doesn’t matter too much in the end, since they didn’t have that much screen time. I guess they lost a lot of their scenes to the build up of the bad guys’ story. In an obvious set up for sequel opportunities (the next of which has already been greenlit — surprise surprise) the movie adds a few quick episodes showing the three baddies: James, Victoria and Laurent, before they meet up with the Cullens and Bella. While I did enjoy the climax of the movie which pits vampire against vampire, you could smell the sequel coming from miles away, the way a vampire smells its … well, you know.
In the end I have to blame Hardwicke’s direction (and maybe some blame to hair and make-up) for the disappointments of this movie. She really got the teenager stuff right, but it’s the vampire stuff that she kind of missed. (Plus the less said about Edward’s Industrial Light & Magic body glitter the better.) Let’s hope that we get new blood for the sequel, New Moon. (3.5 out of 5)