Yes, I went to see the Twilight movie. On opening weekend. Go ahead and have your laughs now. I am not ashamed of my love for vampire movies: the romance! the action! the intrigue! the biting! It all started with Buffy, so at least that’s somewhat respectable. At any rate, you are about to be subjected to my thoughts on Twilight, so buckle in.
For anyone who cares deeply about the loyalty of a film to the book it adapts, Twilight should satisfy. The film’s story matches the books almost exactly and very little is left out. And that’s exactly the problem.
For example, Bella’s voice-over provides a lot of the exposition, and is in keeping with the first-person point of view that is so essential to the novel. As a reader proxy, bland, passive, slow-to-catch-on Bella is perfect, and that quality is surely what makes the novel attractive to the young female reader contingent. Purely because of her blandness, she’s easy to identify with, which is something very important to readers — at least according to my students, who never fail to bitch when I force them to read fiction where the protagonist has an actual personality and can thus be differentiated from them in a marked way. But I digress.
Bella’s voice-over comes directly from the pages of Stephenie Meyer’s book. While Meyer has no doubt created a gripping story and a seductive fantasy world, I would not exactly call her prose masterful and I really wish I hadn’t had to hear it read out loud by Kristen Stewart throughout the entire film. The film would be trucking along just fine, and then all of a sudden viewers were subjected to yet another shot of Bella mooning around her room while her thoughts were narrated in Meyer’s purple prose.
Voice-over is, of course, a helpful device that can explain a character’s thoughts and motivations, but a good film can find smarter ways of doing that. Clever voice-over, like the deliciously evil, snotty, and pun-filled voice-over by Kristen Bell on Gossip Girl, or the sad and hilarious voice-over in Adaptation that breaks off just in time for Robert McKee’s verbal assault on the evils of voice-over — these are one thing. Bella’s voice-over in this film is quite another. It ranks among Meredith’s voice-over on Grey’s Anatomy or Dead Housewife’s voice-over on Desperate Housewives: unnecessary, too explainy, skull-crushingly awful.
But, if you can believe it, that’s not the real problem with the Twilight film! The real problem is that it reproduces the exact same story-structure problems the book has. I find it hard to imagine a reader of the novel or a viewer of the film who doesn’t go in knowing that Edward Cullen is a vampire (oh, oops, SPOILER ALERT!). If such a reader existed, however — perhaps he or she had been sequestered as part of an important jury for the last couple of years, or was being raised by monks atop a mountain in Tibet? — these story-structure problems might not matter for him or her. But for the rest of us, there are problems. Big problems. Like the novel, the first half or even the first two-thirds of the film are an interminable prelude to the real action. We have to suffer through Bella’s slow, slow, endlessly slow realization that there might be Something Strange About That Cullen Boy. When reading the book, we have the option of sprinting ahead, glassy eyes lightly brushing across page after page of this nonsense until we get to the good parts. As a movie-going audience, however, we have no other option but to sit and wait.
What kills me is that this problem could have and should have been remedied in the film adaptation, but for utterly inscrutable reasons, it wasn’t. Once Edward’s vampireness is out in the open, though, things do start rolling along rather well. There is an incredible scene where Edward and Bella stand in the tops of the trees, looking out over the landscape (only after Edward has dragged Bella up there on his back, skipping up the tree trunk like a freaky, attractive, spider monkey). The scene where the Cullens play a game of baseball in the mountains is just as awesome as I’d hoped it would be.
Both Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart do a fine job with their characters (Pattinson is cool, aloof, sinister, and yet somehow not as sexy as I’d expect), and the supporting cast at the high school adds a much needed burst of energy and comedy.
The rest of the Cullen family and the Black family both get short shrift in this film (with a couple of exceptions — a charming cooking scene at the Cullen’s house, for example), but they’ll hopefully have more to do in the next one.
When it comes down to it, I have to say that the real star of the film is the gorgeous Pacific Nortwest landscape. It was filmed in places like Cannon Beach, Multnomah Falls, and the Columbia River Gorge — all places of such chest-crushing natural beauty that the filmmakers would have been hard pressed to make the setting seem anything less than incredible. Let’s just say that when I left the film with longing in my heart, it wasn’t longing for an undead, teenaged boyfriend.