Reconsidering Twilight

Bella and Edwardo

In the past, I have both defended and mercilessly mocked the Twilight franchise in part and in whole.  I believe I have earned that right since I have read all four books (three of them twice even!) as well as haven seen the four films that have been released thus far. 

After seeing Eclipse in theaters, which happened to be my favorite of the books, I began having a hard time defending the film franchise… after Breaking Dawn: Part 1, I began laughing and pointing along with the rest of humanity.  I found myself ranking the films as follows… New Moon, Twilight, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn: Part 1. 

When New Moon was released in theaters, Mrs. Blahg and I went for the double feature… Twilight at 9:00, followed by the midnight premiere of New Moon.  We hadn’t seen Twilight during it’s original run because we hadn’t read the books yet… we had relegated the series to silly little girl fandom and didn’t consider reading the novels until a friend of ours who we greatly respect clued us into the fact that, yes, they are bad… but also so good in it’s crapitude.  We mocked the original film in favor of the more polished and seemingly better story at play in New Moon (incidentally, New Moon was my least favorite of the novels). 

Director Chris Weitz was still reeling after the debacle that was The Golden Compass, so he came into New Moon determined to make up for what he called massive interference by the studio and set out to make fans happy.  At the time, I would say he accomplished exactly what he set out to do.  He spoon fed fans exactly what they wanted… added in some strange product placement… a golden compass on Bella’s backpack… and ditched the stylized blue filter so favored by Twilight’s director Catherine Hardwicke, subject of a massive amount of ridicule.  Weitz seemed to bring something more cinematic and less “indie” to the series in a way that sated fans as well as the general public.

Sitting in that theater that night as one of four men in a sold out show was quite the experience.  Hearing young women and their mothers squee with delight at the slightest provocation… or rather, every time Taylor Lautner removed his shirt… which was often, or having other young women panting “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” over and over, was substantially more entertaining than anything going on up on the screen.  The fact that there was a much higher incidence of “Jacob love” versus “Edward love” was also fascinating to me.  I leaned over at one point and asked my wife, “Do you have a tampon?  I think I just started my period.”  What was missing at the time was perspective.

Now, three years and two films removed from New Moon… and four years and three films removed from the original Twilight… I have a greater perspective, and a much different opinion.  New Moon is not a better film than Twilight… and quite frankly, Twilight is a much better film than anyone gives it credit for.  Catherine Hardwicke deserves to be exonerated of any crimes against filmdom, and revered for taking a crazy popular book series and making very distinct decisions in how she wanted to portray the story of one mega-bland shoegazer and her sparkly undead boyfriend.

Twilight was recently on cable and Mrs. Blahg and I found ourselves sitting down for a while and watching it… we know this movie inside and out… and I realized we actually wait specifically for the worst moments (I’ll go over those in a second).  What we also realized is how much better the movie has become with the passage of time, and by comparison to the subsequent sequels.

Let’s go over the more offending scenes.  First on everyone’s list… the crappy graphics of Edward sparkling in the sun.  Yes, it looks cheesy… but it’s not on screen for THAT long and really… what could she have done?  It’s the story that was written… they sparkle.  Is it that big of a deal?  Sure it’s more fun to watch someone go up in flames, but is it so bad that their skin is simply different?

Two of the other ridiculous parts of the film involve poor acting and/or odd reactions from Robert Pattinson.  When Bella first walks into the classroom and the fan sends her wonderful scent Edward’s way, his reaction at that moment and during that entire scene is hilarious.  I believe this is where the notion of Edward appearing constipated comes from.  The look on his face and the way he forces (it looks completely forced) his body to go rigid is a bit over the top.  The soundtrack doesn’t help this scene either.  The other goofy line reading comes after Edward rescues Bella from those random horny guys in Port Angeles when he tries to get Bella to talk to him to calm him down… “Put on your seatbelt.” Followed by the greatest rejoinder ever, “YOU put on YOUR seatbelt!”  Oh man… you told her!!  BURNNNNN!!!!

Another point of ridicule, at least for me and Mrs. Blahg, is the “baseball vampire stand-off hiss”.  When the Cullens and James’ coven square off, the shot of everyone leaning in and hissing at one another is simply laughable.

Finally, I have to point out that Kristen Stewart exhibits a few annoying habits throughout this film, and to a lesser degree throughout the series.  Over-blinking, constant sighing, twitchy body movements… not the end of the world, but occasionally distracting and off putting.

I believe I have now laid out what I consider to be the worst aspects of Twilight… what about its positive points?  First and foremost, I want to give credit to Catherine Hardwicke for the aforementioned stylist decisions.  I now regard the blue filter lens to be perfect for the mood and tone that she was setting.  It works particularly well when contrasted with the sunnier days in the film as opposed to the normal gloom that persists in the Pacific Northwest.  When the film opens in Phoenix, the color is bright, like a desert should be.  By the time we are in Forks, colors have been muted and replaced with the predominant blue and green.  This works not only for mood, but in terms of story, the dramatic shift that Bella makes by moving from the desert with her mother to the rainy climes of north Washington to live with a virtually absent father.

I am often the first one to mock both Stewart and Pattinson’s acting, but after reviewing the film again, I, and we in general, have done these two actors a great disservice.  They do a fine and believable job of inhabiting their roles.  They perform very much as their characters are portrayed in the novel, and why do we fault them for that?  In retrospect, I would say most of the casting, specifically the two leads, was bang on. 

Make-up became another lightning rod for derision as well.  Yes, some of the pancake was applied a bit thick and shockingly uneven (Carlyle in particular) and the Cullen’s hair seem a bit too lacquered for my taste, but combined with that blue filter and the notion that they are undead, and the benefit of hindsight and having seen what was done in the sequels, Twilight is subtle and well done.  Plus, the budget for the first film was miniscule compared to the budget of the sequels and other high profile franchises.  One fact that has been lost in the sparkling vampire haze is that making this movie was not a guaranteed investment.  Yes the fans were rabid, but they were a somewhat unproven market (don’t tell that to James Cameron or Chris Columbus, both of whom wrangled great profits from the pockets of the very young and their parents) and the film was being produced by a smaller studio, Summit.  Is it surprising that they didn’t utilize the greatest make-up or CGI?

Another aspect that gets overlooked is that other than the whole vampire thing, there is little else in the way of supernatural crap in the first movie.  Once the werewolves and Volturi show up in New Moon, you realize the franchise is headed into a much more, far less believable, rabbit hole of “wha?”  Is the notion of vampirism believable?  No, but the film, and novel, do a decent job of creating enough specificity for these “monsters” that the story is much more palatable as analogy or allegory before the introduction of the completely silly aspects… telepathic wolves?  Really? 

I’m not trying to claim that Twilight is anything more than a cute love story between a chaste vampire (my issues with the series has more to do with that fact than any other) and an awkward teenage girl, but I don’t believe it deserves the ridicule it has endured.  I feel we are criticizing the fans and their overreactions more so than the film itself… and as someone who has been at times an overzealous fan of various things over the years, I know just how off putting and unfair that type of mockery can be.  Do we really need to mock young girls who don’t know any better or their mothers who may simply wish to delve into a little romantic fantasy?… because really, that’s all this is, romantic fantasy.  Does it matter whether or not vampires are depicted “correctly” as established by Bram Stoker?  It’s akin to the slow versus fast zombie argument… Romero says slow, Snyder makes them fast… does Snyder deserve to be shunned for taking a different approach to a completely made up creature?  No… and neither should Hardwicke or Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight novels (I don’t like using saga to describe this series… a saga is more epic in my mind). 

In reconsidering Twilight, I believe I can now watch this movie and not feel the need to make fun and instead, simply have fun.

Best-o wash-o… Mr. Sparkle,
Cornelius J. Blahg

PS:  A great way to have some extra fun while watching this film is to watch it in conjunction with RiffTrax.  If you were a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 you will enjoy RiffTrax.  It’s basically the same idea as MSK3000 but a downloadable audio file that can be played in synch with the film.  I’m posting the trailer below.  Enjoy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *