Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan
Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen
Billy Burke as Charlie Swan
Ashley Greene as Alice Cullen
Nikki Reed as Rosalie Hale
Jackson Rathbone as Jasper Hale
Kellan Lutz as Emmet Cullen
Peter Facinelli as Dr. Carlisle Cullen
Cam Gigandet as James
Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black
Anna Kendrick as Jessica Stanley
Michael Welch as Mike Newton
Justin Chon as Eric Yorkie
Christian Serratos as Angela Weber
Gil Birmingham as Billy Black
Elizabeth Reaser as Esme Cullen
Edi Gathegi as Laurent
Rachelle Lefevre as Victoria
Sarah Clarke as Renee
Ned Bellamy as Waylon Forge
Gregory Tyree Boyce as Tyler
Matt Bushell as Phil
José Zúñiga as Mr. Molina
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
For many, many years Hollywood has been making the majority of their box office dollars with thinly veiled male adolescent power fantasies; painting the day dreams of thirteen year old boys onto the big screen and bringing along all the subtlety and depth you’d expect from that. It’s only good business practice I suppose, they do buy most of tickets, especially as fewer and fewer alternatives can get made. Luckily for us all, Summit Entertainment has arrived to combat the vapid male adolescent monopoly with vapid female adolescent fantasy.
The fantasy of choice is Stephenie Meyer’s insanely popular “Twilight” series, about the star-crossed love of human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) for vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Its popularity is certainly understandable. Bella is an introvert and an outcast in Phoenix, but when she moves to rainy Forks, Washington she suddenly finds herself the popular focus of attention. Particularly for Edwardvisualized in the film as a kind of gothy Calvin Klein modelthe ultimate ‘bad boy’ fantasy. He has dangerous, murderous impulses but he’s ashamed themunderneath the violence he’s very sensitiveand the right girl might give him the incentive to control them. This sort of thing practically invites angst and, whaddyaknow, angst is what we get. It’s all very teenage girly, and probably insufferable to anyone with a Y-chromosome.
But fair’s fair. Characters like Edward are about as likely to exist in the wild as the elusive supermodel/gearhead/comic collector, but that hasn’t stopped us from looking. Everyone’s entitled to their personal day dream, although how interesting your day dream is to other people is usually inversely proportional to how interesting you find it.
However, a writer or director who’s willing and able can exceed the conventions of the adolescent fantasy they find themselves working in. That’s even more essential in adaptations, where a filmmaker can do the source material more favors by being truer to the spirit than the written word. Unfortunately, director Catherine Hardwicke (“Lords of Dogtown”) and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg have decided to stick slavishly to the book, except for ancillary characters and elements of back story that had to be excised to fit the book into a 120 minute running time. The result is a little flat. Edward and Bella are every bit the cliché’s they sound like, although Pattinson is every so often able to break out of the straightjacket of broodiness he’s been stuck with and show some glimpses of real personality.
Stewart, on the other hand, speaks every line of dialogue as a halting question, as if she’s not really sure what she’s saying or why. Bella is supposed to be an introvert, someone still dealing with the emergence of her own personality and unsure about it. Okay, fine. But in execution she comes across as almost autistic in her inability to communicate what she’s thinking and feeling, not just to other characters but to the audience. The idea seems to be that it’s merely a cover for emotions so unfathomable they’re beyond her ability to express, but lacking any evidence to the contrary I have to assume the cover is all that’s there. With the film’s focus on moving its immediate plot forward, the audience is left to its own devices to figure out why she is the way she is with no help forthcoming from the story. I know as much about her at the end of the film as I did when it started, and apart from her love for Edward I have no idea what she feels about anything, or why she is the way she is. Edward can more or less get away with this sort of thing. He’s supposed to be something of a man of mystery. To start with. Peeling away the layers of his nature and why he is the way he is, is more or less what the entire story is about (what conflict there is, is either vastly internalized or introduced very late). But Bella is the point of view for the audience, so she needs to be at least a little relatable, beyond just the fantasy element of developing a relationship with the high school hunk.
But that seems to be all that’s being offered. “Twilight” really does have an infatuation with surface beauty, especially where the vampires are concerned. It leads to one of the few moments of, possibly unintentional, insight in the film as Edward confesses to Bella that his kind are made to be impossibly beautiful, but it’s fake, a lure to trap unsuspecting prey. That sums up “Twilight” pretty well. It’s a façade, an appealing one to people who share the right appetites, but that’s all.
The film itself, on the other hand, is quite dreary looking. Hardwicke is a good director, but her instance on shooting in a vérité style, which fit the subject matter in her previous films to a tee, is at serious odds with the surface oriented subject matter. Her idea seems to have been to make the world of the film seem more real, but the characters are so fake she’s just spinning her wheels. Or running into the brick wall of the film’s fantasy elements, which are not well represented. The films effects are dodgy at best; the vampire running bits are particularly bad. Almost comical. It’s all very much beneath Hardwicke’s proven ability. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t have the best cast. Whereas her other films have had the likes of Holly Hunter and Heath Ledger to ground and guide the ensemble, “Twilight” gets Peter Facinelli.
And yet, there’s probably a good story in there. The easy clichés of high school drama have been breezily past aside in exchange for a group of extremely likeable friends (more engaging, actually, than the vampires) who are introduced and then summarily forgotten once the vampires take the fore. There’s a great deal of tweaking of vampire lore as well that’s fun to take in (they don’t ignite in sunlight, for instance). Bella’s visit to the Cullen’s fantastic, modernist open-air house is probably the highlight of the film, as they frantically try to learn to cook food for a human. But one good scene doesn’t exactly make for an engaging experience.
Still, I’m making it sound a lot worse than it is. Part of it is certainly because I’m a guy, and “Twilight” doesn’t even make a pretense of having anything to offer me. But it’s as blithely surface oriented as any big budget action film, just oriented in a different direction. The plot is very light; “Twilight” is intent on introducing its world and the characters who live there, but not much else. Several ideas and characters are brought up and left hanging, hopefully to be expanded on in a later installment. It comes across, especially with its underwhelming production design, as more of a pilot for a “Twilight” TV show than a self-contained film. None of that should matter to fans of the book, and members of its target audience who haven’t stumbled on it yet. They should love it regardless. But that kind of devotion deserves better than its getting.