Movie Review: Twilight (2008)

Teen supernatural flick has ‘potential’ __ 5/10

TwilightIsabella Swan: Clair de Lune is great.
Edward Cullen: [Edward spins Isabella around and she gives him a look] What?
Isabella Swan: I can’t dance [laughs]
Edward Cullen: Hmm… Well, I could always make you.
Isabella Swan: I’m not scared of you.
Edward Cullen: [laughs] Well you really shouldn’t have said that.

Judging from the above dialog, here’s a movie that the book absolutely has to be better than. And I might even look into reading the book, because I like the way the movie begins and I love the setting… both in terms of the appropriateness to the plot and in terms of the unique magisterial beauty of Northwestern US.

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Novel Stephenie Meyer
Screenplay Melissa Rosenberg

Kristen Stewart … Bella Swan
Robert Pattinson … Edward Cullen
Billy Burke … Charlie Swan
Peter Facinelli … Dr. Carlisle Cullen
Elizabeth Reaser … Esme Cullen
Cam Gigandet … James
Ashley Greene … Alice Cullen
Christian Serratos … Angela
Anna Kendrick … Jessica Stanley

So why am I watching this movie aside from the fact that this Twilight series seems to be a pretty big money maker with the puberty set? Well, out of curiosity mainly. Melody, my masseuse, who is still young enough to be in touch with Teeny Bopper World, has a bee in her bonnet about the actress playing Bella Swan, Kristen Stewart. Melody has read some of the Twilight series of young-adult books by Stephenie Meyer and insists Ms. Stewart lacks the “it” to be playing the role properly. “The books aren’t that great, but the Bella book character is 100% more authentic and interesting than the way Stewart does it.” (This from a woman who likes the Saw flicks… though, I admit, most of the time we agree.)

[As I just browsed the Webpage there for Twilight, I noted the film “… was a commercial success, grossing more than $392 million worldwide and an additional $157 million from North American DVD sales, as of July 2009.” {emphasis mine} I’d heard it was a success, but had no idea that big. My goodness it’s nearly 18 months later, the movie must have pulled in half a $billion by now. Yikes! So whether or not Kristen Stewart is up to the role may not stack up as something that matters in comparison to the mountains of cash flowing into the bank accounts of the moviemakers.]

But in any case, I told M I would check it out and devote a Coffee Coaster review cycle to the movie, especially evaluating the work of Ms. Kristen. So I picks up the DVD from Netflix and inserts it in the player.

Just kind of stream of consciousness here: “okay, teen movie, nice looking young girl (Bella) from a split marriage, decides she wants to leave mama in Arizona and join papa in Washington state (why?)—he’s the police chief in a small town—, intro scenes with her dad and his Indian friends, one with a good looking teen son, suggest eerie anthropological background, Bella enters local high school, meets typical set of geek and social friends, there’s this one boy, Edward, member of a weird, cloistered yet respected family, very pale complexion, eyes are different, looks like reincarnation of James Dean, doesn’t say much, lots of eye contact between Bella and Edward, they are in a science class lab together, Ah-hah she is a smart one, so is he, do they dislike or have the hots for each other?, well, okay, some supernatural stuff appears in the mix, werewolf or vampire?, I get my monster signals confused but perhaps so does writer/director, we meet Edward’s strange family, turns out Bella and Edward are: “hots for each other,” is that passion and sexual heat Bella is showing here or did she eat too much chili?, a rather bizarre teen romance accompanied by glimpses of fabulous mountain scenery and showing a few minor characters with decent acting ability, the guy who plays Edward (Robert Pattinson) does seem to project some sensuality despite being of doubtful human origin, resolution takes Bella back to AZ, film seems to go totally spaz on special effects, then ends with the obvious intention of the producers to milk this billion-dollar cash cow with sequels to rival Harry Potter.

So what did I think? First to the question of Kristen Stewart, let me just say that I give a lot of credit to actors, whoever they are, especially young actors. It’s a tough profession, and like a professional athlete, you’re only as good as your last performance. I’ve seen Stewart in non-leading roles where she seemed to bring some special qualities to the screen, though these roles did not appear to be very demanding. Let me just clarify my main criticism from what I alluded to in the above stream of consciousness: I’m going to go out on a limb and assert that books/movies of this genre are metaphors for the conflicts presented by young, blooming romantic sexual passions—primeval animal urges—and forbidden young love. Basically, IMHO, most good horror movies are romances, where the couple tries to satisfy drive for ecstasy… without being destroyed.

In Twilight, Bella is the one whose romantic soul is first awakened, then asserted. Kristen’s portrayal of womanly-coming-of-age passion is simply not deep enough to be convincing. She rises above nerd, but, my masseuse is right, Stewart’s casual, cool conversational style can’t quite escape the hint of apathy. Bella needs to have a much more emotional and sexually charged presence to be a believable character, and I just don’t see Stewart making the grade… at least not in this movie. Sorry.

Too bad. She’s no doubt signed up for all the sequels. Maybe she’ll step up… or turn 30. On the overall movie viewing experience, let me say that writing books (that turn into movies) on vampires or werewolves or other scary creatures—basically to write about the supernatural or occult—takes a special skill to keep the story believable enough to hold human interest. That is the problem with the supernatural or time travel, the physically impossible: art is all about what humans do, what they are and ought to be. Most such art serves as emotional fuel for people, especially kids: “I identify with that person’s conflicts and actions on the screen, and if they are good and heroic, yeah, that’s me.” If the person on the screen lives in a world where anything can happen, where’s the connection to my life?

I did moderately enjoy the film, I’ve always been a sucker for teen movies… all the hope and promise of what lies ahead. For a blockbuster like Twilight, at least Twilight I, I’m disappointed that it stays so pedestrian.



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