Monday, November 24, 2008

TWILIGHT

I blame Catherine Hardwicke.

No, I've never read Twilight, but watching the movie adaptation of the much-loved romance between Edward & Bella, it's easy to see why this story has resonated with generations of (mostly) women. Heck, when Edward gives Bella that hundred yard stare across a high school parking lot, even I swooned a little. At the core of Twilight is an old-school fantasy romance: a white knight, a brave ranch hand, the disaffected rebel... all who are much more concerned with your protection than the chance of getting you into bed. And when Edward (the handsome Robert Pattinson) pushes himself off a half-naked Bella (the adorable Kristen Stewart) it's the ultimate display of love conquering lust. I love you so much I'd rather cuddle you than risk a kiss that could make me lose you forever.

Things go in cycles, which means the public grows tired of formulas and copycats. Save for perhaps The Notebook - which I've yet to see - modern sex and romance films for the teen-to-adult set have typically been of one note and/or fashioned towards a male audience. Popular rom-coms like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Forgetting Sarah Marshall progressed from the pure raunch of American Pie and Mallrats, to incorporate a sweetness that pulled in the female demographic. Instead of Jason Lee farting during fellatio and still scoring the girl at the end, the Apatow comedies showcased men who would save themselves for marriage and cry after a break-up.

On the non-comedic side of romance were "Adriane Lyne" knock-offs, adultery fantasy (The Bridges of Madison County), intellectualized goop (Before Sunrise/Sunset), and fetishized thriller porn (Sliver), most of which were written and directed by men and played to male sexual fantasies.

But Hardwicke and Meyer's Twilight is strictly female. I don't even know if Edward has a penis, but he sure isn't concerned about using it. He'd rather watch Bella sleep, watch Bella eat, or watch Bella peer into a microscope. Yep, he's that sensitive hottie who loves to gaze at you and ask you questions about yourself... what else could a girl ask for?

On those grounds, Hardwicke nails the cute courtship between Edward & Bella, but like the title of the Linkin Park song that closes the film, she leaves out all the rest.


Thing is, what Hardwicke nailed was simply an easy translation of Stephanie Meyer's main hook from book to movie screen. What the director failed to do is carve out her own cinematic vision of teen drama the way she did in her debut feature Thirteen. Despite what you think of that film, Hardwicke and cinematographer Elliot Davis went for an aesthetic that matched the character's wreckless and dangerous lifestyles. In comparison the imagery in Twilight is safe and conventional like a TV show. And you can't blame the material. Twilight, the story, is ripe for a visually spectacular interpretation, but Hardwicke cuddled up to caution instead of creativity.

It's understandable the pressure Hardwicke must have felt when going up against the imaginations of a million screaming girls hoping to see their vision of Edward & Bella up on the big screen. But Hardwicke let that pressure cripple her, and it shows. Twilight feels mechanical, efficient, but in that business-like sense, appearing to be the work of a hired hand instead of a filmmaker with artistic opportunity. The only time we feel a real connection with the world of Forks, Washington is when Edward tells Bella to Google something or when Bella asks her mother, "are you texting ?"

Hardwicke's most obvious flub is the misguided execution of a baseball scene with Bella and the rest of the Cullen family. When Bella asks Edward why they're playing baseball, he answers, "It's America's pastime", but Hardwicke wastes an opportunity to visually connect the heritage of America's oldest sport to the heritage of one if its oldest roaming families. Instead, she turns the sequence into a comedy of goofball errors, actually having two of the Cullen vampires collide in mid-air like something out of a blooper reel you'd see on This Week In Baseball.

I feel for the fans of Twilight. And they're right, the story is sweet and entrancing. It's just a shame it was given to a director who at least appears to feel so passionless about it herself. Ah well, Twihards will always have the movie in their heads to close their eyes and gaze upon... and nobody can mess that up.

7 comments:

Nick said...

I think you're putting the book too high on a pedestal. In fact, the movie was scores better than the book will ever be. It was almost (with a few exceptions) a chapter-by-chapter adaptation, nearly perfectly taken from the page to the screen. Even the baseball scene is played out almost exactly like it's described in the book (including the two colliding mid-air).

What I think is funny is all these reviews I've been reading by non-book readers who are saying things like "The book HAS to be better, right?" Because, honestly, when is the book never better? And with such a huge following, it has to be good, right? Not really, no. The books are pretty awful (though they do have their moments, specifically the first and last books, and parts of the third. I loathed the second).

Fox said...

I'm not putting the book on a pedestal (I can't... I've never read it), just the central romance between Edward & Bella that feels fresh and classical in a time of crude standards.

The experience of reading a book and watching a film are 100 ways separate and Hardwicke should know that. It doesn't matter if the baseball scene was hokey on the page as well... Hardwicke didn't have to duplicate that in film.

Everything wrong with the film is Hardwicke's fault and can't be placed on the book. My argument was that strictly from the core of the Twilight story, there is enough for Hardwicke to create her own vision. Instead, from what you say, she just did a trace job. And that's really unfortunate.

Sally Belle said...

Here's the deal...Hardwicke didn't really direct thirteen. The actors were followed by two handheld cameras and then it was cut together.

She was blessed with the amazing Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood, who showed up and did their jobs and gave her infinitely great stuff to work with.

Every scene was a master shot. The actors may as well have been doing a play.

Holly Hunter was also responsible for changing the script to make the mom, Melanie, a three d character.

I give Hardwicke credit for getting the thing made...she is a force of nature that way...but not for the outcome.

Fox said...

I give Hardwicke credit for getting the thing made...she is a force of nature that way...but not for the outcome.

Do you mean for Thirteen or Twilight?

I didn't like Thirteen either (in comparison I think Twilight is much better), I just felt the style of it was much more in sync with the subject matter than was the case with Twilight. What struck me was that Elliot Davis was cinematographer on both films, yet he wasn't as expressive in Twilight. He felt reigned-in.

Rick Olson said...

The only time we feel a real connection with the world of Forks, Washington is when Edward tells Bella to Google something or when Bella asks her mother, "are you texting ?"

Fox, I've been to Forks, and trust me: Googling and texting are so far removed from the world of Forks it ain't funny. The world of Forks revolves around either (a) drunken, out of work loggers or (b) drunken, out of work fishermen.

Fox said...

(a) drunken, out of work loggers

Rick-

Did you mean to say "drunken out of work bloggers"? If so, we need to do something about that. Maybe turn Forks into our annual meeting place for our annual blogger conference.

Yeah. I was talking with a friend over e-mail and she was describing Forks pretty much the same way you were.

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