twilight

The summer of 2008 was easily dominated by movies filled with testosterone, as is most often the case for movies that are released during that lucrative time of year. So if the summer belonged to the guys (which it did), then the fall and winter easily belonged to the girls, as one of the top ten highest grossing films of the year, “Twilight”, took massive bites out of the box office for weeks on end.

“Twilight” focuses on a young woman, Bella (Kristen Stewart), who moves to a small town in Washington to live with her father (Billy Burke). Upon her arrival she quickly catches the eye of the mysterious Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who just so happens to be a vampire living secretly among humanity. As Bella and Edward grow closer and closer together, a faction of evil vampires take notice of Bella and hunger to make her their next meal.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last six months or so, then you have undoubtedly heard of either the film “Twilight” or the book of the same name on which the movie was based. The book, which is the first of four in a series, is a bestseller that many young teenage girls and adult women have become nearly obsessed with, and the subsequent release of the film adaptation for this book added even more chaos to the frenzy. As with all film adaptations of beloved novels, the movie stands little chance of measuring up to the detail, subtle nuances, character and plot development, and overall richness of the written version. However, most film adaptations do succeed in capturing some of the items listed above in some form or another, so that the core fan base can enjoy and hopefully supply plenty of revenue in the process. Generally speaking, the screenwriters, directors, and actors giving new life to these adaptations do their level best to also ensure that those members of the audience that are perhaps unfamiliar with the story will not be lost in the shuffle or feel that the film is lacking in some way. In this respect, I feel that “Twilight” failed to impress, at least in this viewer’s opinion.

The screenplay as written by Melissa Rosenberg (“Step Up”), and based on the New York Times best-selling novel from Stephanie Meyer, appears to take the basic elements contained within the novel and adds very little effort in transferring them over to the big screen. By this I mean it felt to me (speaking as one who has not read any of the novels) like the writer assumed that certain aspects of the characters relationships, personal quirks, or plot points in general would be understood with very little exposition being given, because the audience would be predominantly made up of fans of the books. This was an ill-conceived notion in my estimation, and one that caused me several moments of confusion throughout the story where events or a character’s actions didn’t seem to really add up. Over time it began to dawn on me, plus the fact that my wife explained it to me, that whenever an aspect of the story wasn’t making as much sense to me, it made perfect sense to her because she knew of the explanation that was contained within the novel. To me if a movie is to be adapted from a book, comic book or otherwise, it needs to take the necessary amount of time to fully explain certain inexplicable actions, events, or whatever the case may be to those not in the know. But I digress.

In regards to the rest of the screenplay, barring all of the under-developed aspects, I thought the entire film was poorly written and at times borderline cringe-inducing. The love story aspect, which one person had informed me was barely evident in the film (this was not the case), was extremely heavy-handed, and lacking in any sense of subtlety. Not to mention the fact that the dialogue surrounding this aspect of the story was almost as insufferable as watching any given episode of a soap opera or any of the plethora of teenage romantic dramas one can find on the CW network. Also, if an actor’s or actress’s character’s name wasn’t Edward or Bella, then very little time if any was devoted to developing them beyond one or two personality quirks brought over from the books and a few moments of screen time. I understand that this film is all about Edward and Bella and their blossoming relationship; however, the supporting characters, whether good or bad, should be given more to do than just pop-up here and there, offering little to the overall story.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do fully understand that this film, and the series of books on which these films are to be based, are intended for teenagers, primarily females. However, I would have thought that even then the writing would be much more refined and developed than what I found in this film. According to my wife, and several others I’ve talked to, the books are well-written, fast-moving pieces of fiction. In that case, I can only come to the conclusion that the screenwriter was to blame for the horrible nature of the story, and if that is true, I hold out very little hope for the future installments if Melissa Rosenberg remains the sole screenwriter.

As for the actors and actresses portraying these coveted characters the performances were universally underwhelming, with not a single stand-out amongst the group. In the lead roles, Kristen Stewart (“The Messengers”) and Robert Pattinson (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) appeared bored and wooden, respectively. For a young starlet in such a high-profile role, I would have thought that Kristen would have attempted to bring some semblance of emotional range or at least an interest in the role; however, all I ever felt when watching her portrayal was that she would rather be anywhere except in the movie. Then there is Robert Pattinson whose performance gives even the much maligned Hayden Christensen a run for the money in terms of stiffness and general lack of anything resembling an acting talent. Personally I wondered how either of the two leads in this movie managed to make it through the casting process given their end results on the screen. However, based on the box office numbers and fan hysteria surrounding the film, I would say my opinion on the matter falls somewhere in the minority.

The supporting cast members as I stated a moment ago were generally uninspiring in their performances as well. Portraying the leader of the evil vampires is actor Cam Gigandet (“Never Back Down”). Unfortunately for Cam, and the other two members of his posse in the film, with characters as thinly developed and underutilized as these, you’ll be lucky to enjoy an enduring career in a business as fickle as the movies. For these characters the fact that they are bad is established through a couple of moments of stalking, a minor altercation or two with some of the town’s folk, and just an overall creepy demeanor. Their characters served as another prime example in how this film’s screenplay lacked in any form of subtlety.

Rounding out the primary players of note (if one can consider them that) are actors Billy Burke (“Untraceable”) and Peter Facinelli (“Hollow Man 2”). Both of these actors are decent enough, and have appeared in several television shows and movies, generally in smaller roles, but they can be relied upon to deliver a solid performance nonetheless. In this film, Billy Burke’s character of Bella’s father appears sporadically throughout the story, and aside from providing the necessary plot device enabling Bella’s presence in this town, he serves no other real purpose. As for Peter Facinelli who portrays the surrogate father to all the “good” vampires living in the sleepy little town, he isn’t given much more to do than offer a few tidbits of common sense that the characters should have already known or sage advice on surviving altercations with the evil vampires.

Lastly, the direction of this film, as handled by Catherine Hardwicke (“Lords of Dogtown”), was merely average at best. The direction wasn’t without its fair share of problems though, and Catherine’s lack of experience with visual effects and more fantastical elements was very apparent. Due to her disadvantage in this area, I feel that she settled on some shots that looked horrid rather than working the problem to better improve them, especially shots involving the vampires using their strength and speed. For the majority of the time when a vampire was moving very quickly the effect employed (kind of a blurring of the actor or something similar to that) would look extremely odd, and instead of making the character appear to move faster they looked slower. Basically, the effects sequences used in the film were detrimental to the end result almost every single time. Of course, Catherine’s very straight-forward, nothing too fancy or flashy camera style didn’t benefit this movie either. With a film like this you expect more grandiose camera maneuvers or tricks; instead she shot it more like a small budget indie film. Which isn’t surprising given that independent film is the world of cinema that she hails from; however, I believe that it’s not a good fit for a movie of this size.

In the end, I found very little to praise in this film, and when one only enjoys approximately 20 minutes out of a nearly two hour running time, it’s to be expected. I know “Twilight” did excellent at the box office, and has struck a chord with many moviegoers, but for me the laughable script, stilted acting, dull sense of direction, and poorly chosen visual effects made this one movie experience that I do not want to endure again.

“Twilight” is rated PG-13 for violence and brief language.