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"You don't know the vile, repulsive things they were thinking "

10th April, 2013

I wanted to go back to where the Twilight Saga began for various reasons. First out of curiosity to see if the movie holds up under repeat viewings (I'm not the intended target demographic and I can't say I was enamoured with the movie) but ultimately to try and find a genuine reason why so many people have a seething hate for the series. Putting a few minor niggles aside there is ultimately nothing wrong with the first move.

I first became aware of the Twilight Saga in reading of a comic con (A huge convention where major media releases are previewed) report on a movie website. Here there were pictures of the 3 leads surrounded by swathes of young teens eager to get a glimpse of the cast. I'd never heard of the books before and was surprised at how popular they seemed to be. While I was curious to see what this new property was once I realised it was a teenie romance drama I lost interest pretty quickly.

As the film reached cinemas I saw the world go twilight crazy and had seen buttloads of Team Jacob and Team Edward t-shirts. Even so I let the thing pass me by, I didn't read the reviews and had very little idea what people actually thought of the movie. It wasn't until my younger sister went batshit insane on the franchise that it came back to my attention. Not an avid reader she bought all the books and made her way through them pretty quickly. It was at that point that I decided I wanted to watch the film as if it could convince someone to pick up a book and read it had to have some merit right?

Isabella "Bella" Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves to the Washington coast to live with her father as her mother and new husband travel around the country frequently and she desires a more stable school life. She quickly makes friends but is intrigued by the Cullen "children" who appear sullen and introverted. She quickly becomes infatuated by Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and discovers he has a dangerous secret…hes a vampire, duh duh duh.

The first thing about the story is that it was a tad unoriginal, especially for myself as I had already sat through 7 years of Buffy (Angel/Spike romances) and the first season of True Blood (Sookie and Bill) not to mention variations of the theme in most vampire movies (Dracula, The Lost Boys, Near Dark etc.). That being said Twilight did manage to hit a perfect time for vampire lore (which is now tediously overused) so a little retreading of the same ground wasn't too much of an issue and it did have its own take on vampire mythology.

The vampire backdrop wasn't actually that important a factor as the film was focusing on the budding romance between the two leads. As a horror movie it would of failed but did anyone really sit down to the movie expecting horror I know I didn't. For a romance movie it hits the perfect beats that you would find in a romantic comedy movie (Initial meeting, getting to know each other, third act separation and happy resolution as the leads get back together). I personally find this rinse and repeat style of storytelling rather tiresome but at least Twilight had a more interesting hook to keep me more entertained throughout the runtime.

First is discovering the vampire mythology that was created for this universe. One of the most exciting things for me when watching a vampire film/TV show is seeing how the treatment of the nosferatu are similar/dissimilar across the differing mediums. There is no denying that Twilights version is a radical departure from the norm but it was interesting to see (I'm still no sold on Sparkling vamps but we'll get to that).

I also like the dramatic elements that were added in to the movie. I'm sure it would have been more than passable to have just focuses on Edward and Bella falling in love but the addition of a rival Vampire clan who are more than happy to slaughter innocents added a bit more excitement to the movie than I expected to find. In fact the final act abduction of Bella was quite thrilling and I found it odd that I found myself rooting for the heroes to overcome the bad guys (I normally love the villains).

One of the things that did hit me was the fact that this Jacob fellow (Taylor Lautner) was curiously absent from most of the movie only really appearing to give Bella more of a tie to the community she left behind as a child (and of course a little bit of foreshadowing for the later movies). It was odd considering all the bloody T-shirts and overuse of putting Team this and that before opposing factions. It was clear before watching the movie that there was going to be some sort of love triangle between the leads but after watching the first I was kind of bemused how it was going to play out. Edward and Bella's relationship was pretty much cemented and I couldn't see how anyone could be swayed to root for an interloper (we'll get to that in the following sequels).

I will say that the movie was presented at slower pace than it actually needed to be (On a second viewing I found it more of a struggle to sit through) and a little too much time was spent on showcasing the beautiful scenery, it may be lovely to look at (and the film is beautifully shot) but it was unnecessary. Over the years I have read quite a bit on how poor the characterisation and acting was but at least in this first film I can't say I agree.

Kristen Stewart seems to get a lot of stick for her role as Bella Swan but I think on the whole it's a little unfounded. I haven't seen too much of her acting career prior to Twilight (Panic Room, Zathura) but she was more than capable in the roles she was given. When it came to the Bella character it may be true that she had very little to emote past her undying love for Edward Cullen, but that was how it was written (and for good reason).

In the novel the character is paper thin to allow the young females to place themselves in the role and pretend that it could be happening to them. If the character was changed on screen then so would certain elements of the tale and while it may have made for a better multilayered adaptation for non-book readers why alienate your main target audience.

I have also read that her character is a poor role model for readers/viewers and while I agree that she becomes a more negative character as the films progress (New Moon in particular) in this first move she is much the same as any female you can find in a fairy tale. We don't really complain about Snow White (A role Kristen Stewart has now played) or Sleeping Beauty as negative role models. While the more academic may point out that such characters only real goals were to find a man and get married I fail to see why that is a negative thing (especially in something that is so clearly escapist fantasy). There is a place for the all action feminist hero but why can't the other still exist. In fact with the millions that have read the books and enjoyed the movies there are clearly still adults out there who still enjoy the fantasy.

I will say Kristen Stewart gets to stretch her acting ability a little more in this first film. Aside from her relationship with Edward she also has to deal with repairing a strained relationship with her father (Billy Burke who is really great in the role and gives probably one of the strongest performances in the entire franchise) who she has been separated from for a long period. There are some great moments between them and while I would have liked a little more focus there it was defiantly a highlight.

Moving on to the Edward Character a role that actually leaves less acting for Robert Pattinson to do than his co-star Stewart. Much Like Bella his character is only there to fall in love (we learn more about the character in later films) and unfortunately it is done less through expressing his emotions and more through staring (look this up). I can see they were going for a love at first sight relationship and on occasion it can be a bit comical. With less focus on his personality we lean towards his status as vampire and unobtainable object of desire which can be hilarious.

There are some odd uses of vampire mythology and most are rather tame and at times amusing (using the weather to play super powered baseball) but I can't fully get over the Sparkling vampire rubbish. I'm actually fine with the vampires walking around in sunlight (who really cares to be honest?) it's a different universe but my first reaction as to why they cannot appear in direct sunlight was laughter. I've mentioned before that this is escapist fantasy but could there be anything more girly than a man smothered in glitter (Perhaps instead of werewolves we could have gotten Unicorn transformations).

If the imagery wasn't silly enough it's the fact that the film tries to pass this off as a serious affliction that plagues vampires forcing them to hide in the shadows. Really? I can't see anyone having a issue with sparkly people in fact it would come off as overzealous makeup application rather than jumping to ideas of vampirism. The fact that this seems to depress Edward is just icing on the cake - a sparkly man frowning. There was a common phrase that was bandied about after this movie came out and that was "Real vampires don't sparkle", my sister herself reacted to this by saying "There are no such things as real vampires". I think that really puts the issue in its place and while I find the concept silly it's a passing moment in a work of fiction and I can't deny it put a smile on my face in its absurdity.

Of course that's not my main issue with the Edward character (It's such an important part of the films mythology I felt the need to bring it up) and it actually comes from the fact that he is a vampire at high school. I have had this problem with many vampire depictions over the years and it stems from the fact that this is a grown ass man over the age of 200 (please don't tell me his exact age I really don't care) hanging around with impressionable girls. If a 30 year old man wondered into a school and professed his love to a 16 year old it would raise a few eyebrows (and possibly convictions), the term for and adult doing such a thing would be considered grooming and yet because the vampire looks like a sexy teenager its apparently OK.

I know the film tries to show Edward's internal conflict with the issue but the first thing he does is show off his superpowers and shiny chest, what teenage girl wouldn't fall head over hills. I personally can't understand why he wasn't just referred to as a new born vampire and I know most people haven't even considered this but it's a small issue I have with most ancient vamps (It never ruined my enjoyment).

The rest of the cast really just appear as glorified extras (especially Bella's new friends) but that's not much of an issue considering this is a love story between two people. I will say the Cullens are an interesting bunch and deliver a couple of fun moments (Bella arriving to dinner was a blast) but never get the definition as fully formed characters which is a shame considering their untapped potential.

Twilight is a competent movie and while some of the character motivations are never fully realised it's actually an above average romance movie. I fail to understand the vocal critics of the series (most of which have never watched the movies) as most of their complaints are unfounded. If you don't like romance movies (I can't say I'm a huge fan) then you wouldn't watch it. I think the issue comes from something that they cannot understand being so popular which to me is more than a little spiteful. Twilight really does deserve respect due to the status it built up over a few short years (Much like the original Star Wars movie) whether you like it or not.

Other reviews in the series

Breaking Dawn Part 1
Breaking Dawn Part 2

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Movie Details

Movie Poster Here
Director:Catherine Hardwicke
Screenplay: Melissa Rosenberg
Rating: 12
Starring: Kristen Stewart
Robert Pattinson
Taylor Lautner (Not much screentime)