Many of us who are fans of Stephenie Meyers’ first book were prepared to be a little bit disappointed in the movie. After all, we’ve been here before. Of the five Harry Potter movies so far, none of them was what we felt they could have been.
But Twilight lends itself to film so much better than other books do. For one thing, the narrative in Twilight is chronological; there’s very little information that the screenwriter and director had to bend over backward trying to fit in. It’s emotionally dense, but the information is presented straightforwardly, not in an endless weaving together of past and present, as in the Harry Potter books. Twilight is dialogue-based and concerned more with the development of a relationship than with action sequences, therefore the film was almost exclusively concerned with developing the relationship between its two protagonists, Bella and Edward.
This was an excellent choice on the part of director Catherine Hardwicke, although it wasn’t without cost. The relationship between Bella and Edward comes together with such intensity and overwhelming emotion that even the most avid fans of the book are thrillingly satisfied. Not that every detail was perfect, but the movie was overwhelmingly well-made, affective, and gratifying.
I can imagine it was difficult to cast a film whose characters were supposed to be inhumanly beautiful, but despite the pressure she was under to get it right, Hardwicke did an excellent job not just with the principals, but with the supporting cast as well. Billy Burke played Bella’s father, Charlie, with a restraint and seriousness that befit the stoic, I-love-my-daughter-but-I’m-not-quite-sure-what-to-do-with-her-now-that-she’s-here affection that fits their relationship. He even has a few humorous moments, such as when Edward asks to meet him “officially,” as Bella’s boyfriend, while Charlie is cleaning his gun. His exasperating protectiveness is touching and all the more affecting because of how low-key Burke plays it.
Gil Birmingham and Taylor Lautner as father and son Billy and Jacob Black fulfill the roles they need to play in the story and in Bella’s life. Billy relates to Charlie with good humor, but sends vicarious warnings to Bella through Jacob, which also allows Jacob to stay involved in Bella’s life. Lautner, especially, claims every scene he is in, and if there weren’t sequels ready-made for him to step up to, Meyer would have to write one. This young actor will not be in the background for long.
The casting choices for the Cullens were also perfect. I have to concede the point to a friend who thought that a blonded-up Jackson Rathbone as Jasper looked too girly, but he came into his own during the baseball game, where he could relax and smile and be more himself. As for everybody else, they were exactly as readers might have imagined them. The sweet good looks of Esme, the clan’s mother, were realized in the pretty face of Elizabeth Reaser, and Nikki Reed was ideal as the bitchy but beautiful, loyal-to-family-but-you’re-not-family Rosalie. Kellan Lutz is exactly right for the brawny gentle giant Emmett, whose muscles and infectious grin are equally ready for use at any time.
The stand-outs among the Cullens, however, are found in the characters Alice and Carlisle. I had my doubts that they’d find the right person for dainty, elfin precognitive Alice, but they did find her in Ashley Greene. Greene’s own fey quality was played up for this role, and she fully conveys Alice, whose generous, giving heart is only counterbalanced by her bloodlust and innate violence. Both are captivating. Peter Facinelli gave us the beautiful young Carlisle Cullen, whose deep love for humanity has him working as a doctor, facing blood and overcoming his own hungers day by day to try to give back to humanity more than his kind takes. Though he is young, Carlisle is a true father to his clan, leading them and guiding them with humor, affection, firmness and an edge of danger that most fathers don’t convey. He is the cornerstone of the strange family he has gathered around him, and that centrality is conveyed in every scene in which Facinelli appears, whether with his whole clan or just with Edward. Edward’s respect for him is strong and living, and in some cases is the only thing that keeps him from crossing lines he has vowed not to cross.
Of course, the key to the whole film lies in the casting of Edward and Bella, and it’s because of this that the film worked so well. Robert Pattinson plays Edward with such intensity and focus that I thought of a young Brando or Newman. The brief glimpses we get of Edward’s rage and violence are clear and powerful (and thrilling). Bella, too, is more…well, human…but she conveys her growing enthrallment with Edward and her growing confusion about his secret with transparency and depth. These two actors were well-chosen from outside of the box-office mainstream. Their chemistry is palpable and the intensity of their struggles and devotion to each other left my stomach in knots…in a good way. The film rested on this single relationship, and these two carried it with skill, emotion, and strength.
Of course, if a director is going to choose to make almost the entire film rest on the dramatic tension of one relationship, any other pieces of the story will suffer, and that was the case with Twilight. All the dramatic tension was between Bella and Edward, so there wasn’t much left over for the ever-nearer stalking of the hunters James, Victoria, and Laurent. Those scenes were perfunctorily planted, the tension wasn’t built over the course of the film, and the plot climax where Bella is being stalked by James in order to get to Edward, his real prey, was far too short and direct to play as it should have. We should have been on the edge of our seats. It should have been a crisis not only of Bella’s life, but of Edward and Bella’s relationship. Even after the resolution of the fight (go Alice!), Edward’s attempts to break up with Bella in the hospital are hard to believe. It’s not because of the actors; they do the best they can with what they’re given. Rather, it’s because director Hardwicke and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg didn’t seem to know what to do with pieces that required as skillful a handling of action elements as relationship elements.
One more small disappointment in the film had to do with the “sparkle.” It wasn’t very…sparkly. It looked Edward was wearing body glitter, not like he turned into a creature of diamond and sunlight.
Still, these are minor disappointments in a movie that was overall as good and gratifying as I hoped it would be. The relationship is always the most important thing to me, and Pattinson, Stewart, and Hardwicke kept the focus where it belonged—on Edward and Bella and their undying love.
|Genre||Horror, Teen, Romance|