Sunday, 21 February 2010

Twilight (2008)

"Bella, how many times to I have to walk right up to you
and tell you to stay away from me before you'll listen?"

I was shocked at how bad Twilight was. It was poorly written and it's characters were vile, but for me it's biggest crime was that it was so boring. I don't think I've ever read a book that's so determined to avoid exploring any of the concepts it raises. It dodges interesting ideas and plot hooks like Neo dodges bullets. I don't need a book to have lots of sex and violence or even a complex plot (although they could have only helped) but at least give me some conflict or tension. There were parts in the book where I could tell that something dramatic was supposed to be happening, but it was written with all the urgency and emotion of two people deciding where to eat for dinner.

So why watch the movie if I hated the novel so much? Well, mostly I was curious to see how it was possible to extract a 122 minute (!) movie out of a 500 page novel where barely anything happens except the same half a dozen thoughts bouncing around inside the protagonist's empty head. To it's credit the movie resorts to voiceover narration far less often than I was expecting, but the flipside of that is that there is a ridiculous amount of instense staring. Several of the actors could have been replaced by bobbleheads without losing anything in the process. In many cases it would have been an improvement.

I don't have a lot to say about Kristen Stewart as Bella. How can you fault an actor for a dull performance when they are playing a character with no personality whatsoever? Like in the book everybody seems to love her and grovel for her approval for no discernable reason. Even Edward's incestuous-but-not-really family welcome Bella with open arms. It's pretty strange because it seems like the story would work a lot better if she was more of an outcast and a loner. As it stands she just seems maddeningly passive and enormously self-absorbed. I guess it captures that part of the teenage experience pretty well, but it doesn't make for thrilling cinema.

Secondly there's Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen. I haven't seen this guy in anything else but he doesn't seem like much of an actor here. When he meets Bella for the first time he's supposed to be cold and distant due to his uncontrollable thirst for her blood. This seems like it should work but wow, this guy overacts something fierce. When she first walks into the classroom he spasms and grimaces like he just shit his pants, then for the rest of the class he scowls and twitches like a heroin junkie. He should be cool like Jimmy Dean, but instead he looks like a fucking nutcase. This is some comedy gold, right here. The rest of the time he's just boring, but occassionally he'll seem utterly creepy and psychotic and thus faithful to the source material.

At over two hours (including at least half an hour of Edward scowling in slow motion), the film seems ridiculously overlong. In the book the plot doesn't really pick up until the last hundred or so pages, so here they've inserted a few short scenes to show the main antagonists attacking people, drinking blood (off-screen) and generally making me wish the movie was about them instead. A game of super-powered baseball is what passes for the main action sequence in this movie. I kind of liked it, reminded me of Shaolin Soccer. After the final confrontation the bad guy is dealt with off-screen, and not in a cool way like in Let The Right One In, Bella just passes out and misses the whole thing. Way to go, dipshit.

The main problem with Twilight is that for all his brooding and scowling and "stay away from me baby, I'm bad for you", you never really buy Edward as dangerous. There's a hilarious part where he scowls at some would-be rapists and they leap back in fear. They don't even CG his face to make him look like a monster, he just looks kind of angry and they react like he's the scariest motherfucker on the planet. It's almost pathetic how shocked Edward is at Bella's nonplussed reaction to his vampire sparkliness. Without any menace to Edward there is a complete lack of conflict in their relationship. Bella's desire to become a vampire should seem tragic, but why wouldn't she want that? Being a vampire seems totally awesome.

If you were to replicate the experience of reading Stephanie Meyer's prose on the big screen you would need to hire Uwe Boll to direct, but I think they closed that German tax loop that let him write off his film losses so they hired Catherine Hardwicke instead. I can't really fault her for the job she does here. She was saddled with an impossible task from the very beginning, stuck between terrible source material and a screaming fanbase who would have lynched her if every plot hole and laugh-out-stupidity wasn't replicated on screen in souless, exacting detail. She hasn't quite made a silk purse from a sow's ear, but she's made a sow's ear from a sow's ear, and that's pretty much all you could ask from her.

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