Page to Screen: Twilight (2008)

Twilight
based on 
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

If you’ve not heard of Mystery Science Theater 3000, get thee to Wikipedia; it’s sort of a fundamental text in my life. In fact, Mike and the ‘bots (I’m a Mike girl) have taken their riffing to new heights with RiffTrax, which does riffs in the form of podcasts, which means they get to mock whatever they want. (In the old days, they had to buy the rights!) The top-rated riff on RiffTrax, in fact, is Twilight, and that’s how I watched Twilight for the first time. Since then, I’ve watched it with the riff, with my own film depreciation group, and listened to Down in Front’s commentary on the film. And yet, it’s only recently that I realized I should totally review it for the blog. Uh, whoops?

Twilight is the story of Bella Swan, a teenage girl who moves away from her harebrained mother in Arizona to her police chief father in the small town of Forks, Washington. As she adjusts to her new life, Bella meets and is entranced by Edward Cullen, the youngest son of an enormously gorgeous and talented family. But Edward is not entranced by Bella in turn… or is he? As Bella attempts to navigate Edward’s mixed signals, she stumbles across two secrets—the first is that Edward and his family are vampires. The second is that she’s in love with him. Does their relationship have a chance, even as the body count in Forks rises?

Ah, Twilight. A few years ago saw me traumatizing everyone I knew (or didn’t know—sorry, Natalya’s roommate) with the story of Breaking Dawn, Bella’s bruises, institutionalized werewolf pedophilia, and all. It’s basically the text upperclasswomen at my college use to teach the underclasswomen critical analysis of pop culture (if they didn’t come in swearing up a storm at it already). Now I tend to feel a kind of bizarre fondness for the thing; not that it’s not hugely problematic and I don’t have the notes for a paper on how the series is about Bella’s identity dissolving, but that it’s just so gloriously weird in its badness. I repeat: institutionalized werewolf pedophilia. Heck, I’ve even been known to defend Bella, although what exactly I’m defending is unclear… in any case, Twilight and I have settled into a comfortable, yet fundamentally awkward, relationship.

The first novel isn’t actually that bad; aside from some of the more stalkery aspects of Edward’s affection towards her (“This is like if I went on a date with a tiramisu”, I told my film depreciation crew), it’s by no means good, but it’s harmless teenage fluff. For what they were given, this movie is actually decent. It’s certainly got its problems, but most of those are carried over from the book, not inherent to the film production itself. It’s something that holds your attention, tries to punch up the source material without straying too far, and has its own unique flavor. Half of this, I feel, is due to Catherine Hardwicke’s direction, as the woman gets teenagers on a cosmic level, and the other half is Melissa Rosenberg, the screenwriter who adapted the novel into the screenplay. Like The Hunger Games, Twilight improves upon the removal of the heroine’s internal monologue; while Kristen Stewart is legendarily mumbly and lip-bitey, her Bella feels slightly more like a person. The mark is still missed, but she at least shows interest in other things, like her friends. The tension of the plot is bumped up, as we actually learn there’s murder afoot quite early on. There’s some fun moments with the vampires; I’m awfully fond of the gag where the vampires, who can’t eat, throw everything into making Bella dinner, and everyone I’ve ever watched the movie with likes the graduation cap art. Frankly, while the movie is still teenage fluff (he still sparkles, for the love of God, complete with a windchime sound effect, because I guess glitter makes that sound?), it’s better teenage fluff than the novel.

It also helps that the cast seems to be giving it a game try without taking themselves too seriously; Nikki Reed and Kellan Lutz, in particular, don’t have characters central enough to merit total seriousness, and I’m fond of Emmett in the way that I am generally fond of bears. Billy Burke is fantastic as the grumpy police chief, scowling his way through the world (especially at vampires that make googoo eyes at his daughter), and it’s always nice to see Rachelle Lefevre get work (Big Wolf on Campus represent!). The soundtrack, plucked from a lot of what Meyer was listening to as she wrote Twilight, is also fantastic; mmm, Muse. Ultimately, it’s a bad movie that’s a lot of fun to riff with a group; in fact, I’d recommend it as a beginning movie to riff. I imagine the rest of the series goes downhill very fast, just like the book series, but I can’t find it in my heart to actively hate this movie.

Bottom line: Twilight, the film, is a decent to good adaptation of a pretty crap, if mostly harmless, novel. A great movie to riff with friends.

I rented this movie from my college library.

6 thoughts on “Page to Screen: Twilight (2008)

  1. Thought you hit this pretty spot-on, both with your perspective on the book and the film. When I reviewed Twilight, I was tempted to give it a ridiculously low recommendation, but then I thought, “this would be a fantastic lens through which to examine feminism (or lack thereof), even though Meyer clearly didn’t intend it.”i actually think it brings up so many uncomfortable and problematic issues that it could be a really promising conversation starter for intelligent readers.

  2. >>>I’m fond of Emmett in the way that I am generally fond of bears.

    Hahaahaha, this is my favorite part of your review. I disliked this movie totally much — there are so many pauses. So. Much. Pausing. If you cut every pause in this movie in half, it would be too short for movie theaters.

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