When I realized how big "Twilight", the new film directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen", "Lords of Dogtown") was going to be; I decided to read the book inspiring the film.
I was surprised to find both the book and its movie adaptation good. Not great, but good.
The key to "Twilight"'s success, especially among teenage girls is that the story is not so much a horror story, despite the presence of Vampires. "Twilight" is a story of love between two teenagers, a girl named Bella (Kristen Stewart, "In The Land of Women", "Into the Wild", "Zathura") who has recently moved back to Forks, a small town in the Pacific Northwest, to stay with her father, the Chief of Police (Billy Burke, "Untraceable", "Feast of Love"). Joining the school in the middle of the year, she finds herself a reluctant celebrity, not much happens in the small town. Trying to maintain a low profile, she spots the mysterious Cullen family, a group of kids who sit together at the back of the cafeteria. But Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", "…And the Order of the Phoenix") catches her attention and they begin a little dance around each other, trying to avoid the impossible connection they already have. Finally, they give in and Bella soon suspects Edward may be a vampire; all the Cullen's may be vampires. But she doesn't care; hers is a love that won't be thwarted by such obstacles. But the Cullen's are different. Led by Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli, TV's "Damages") they prefer to live among humans, and try to blend in, so they hunt animals only. But a chance encounter with some other vampires, James (Cam Gigandet, "Never Back Down", TV's "The OC"), Laurent (Edi Gathegi), and Victoria (Rachel LeFevre), three vampires who prefer to feed on humans, puts Bella in danger and Edward vows to protect her, whatever it takes.
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by Melissa Rosenberg (one of the writers of "Dexter"), "Twilight" really highlights the romantic angle of the book, leaving a few moments of the action in the background, to punctuate the rest of the story. Overall, it's a smart choice to leave some of the action in the background. The romantic angle of the story is the most compelling. The action only serves to make us remember Edward is a vampire. Because we are watching Edward on screen, it isn't as necessary to see these moments, because we don't need the reminders.
Hardwicke proves an excellent choice to helm this project. All of her films have dealt in some way or another with teenagers, their angst, their complications, and their problems. In "Twilight", she brings this eye and ear to a very popular series of teen books and serves to make the relationships of the teens both believable and interesting. In a way, the vampires are more interesting and believable than some of the 'normal' teenagers. As the story concentrates on Edward and Bella, Hardwicke also concentrates her energies here, making the duo a modern day Romeo and Juliet. When Bella first arrives at school and spots Edward, she can't tear her eyes away from him. Hardwicke actually seems to linger on this, making us believe in Bella's attraction. Because we linger, the stare, which initially appeared a little theatrical, becomes more believable. For the same reason, when Edward gets a whiff of Bella, as she enters a classroom, his grimace causes some laughter. But only the unitnitiated would not understand Edward's grimace. Hardwicke proves adept at handling these teen actors, actors who are not necessarily as experienced as other actors, and coaching them to give very good performances.
But like the book, Hardwicke concentrates on these characters and leaves the rest of the group to fend for themselves, to make an impression. Some of the kids work very hard, some try too hard, and these supporting cast is less successful. The normal kids, who become part of Bella's group are pretty good. Mike Newton (Michael Welch, lots of TV credits) is the most vocal and most potentially annoying of the group. But in a way, this fits. Mike is instantly attracted to Bella and tries to get her to go out on a date. She is clearly uninterested and he becomes slighted when she starts to see Edward. Eric (Justin Chon) is just annoying, always trying to get the girls in their group to laugh or scream, he is the group clown. I understand what they are trying to do with his character, but it doesn't seem to work.
As soon as Bella meets the Cullens, Alice and Rosalie become the most important part of that group to Bella. Alice (Ashley Greene) announces that she and Bella will be great friends. She should know as she has the ability to see into the future. Rosalie (Nikki Reed, "Thirteen", "Lords of Dogtown") doesn't like the threat Bella introduces into their family. She could potentially expose them and bring their lives to a crashing halt. Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) doesn't say much and simply stares ahead, agog, his hair teased out unnaturally. He is, by far, the least convincing of the group and almost appears to be trying to copy Pattison's striking features. Emmett (Kellan Lutz) doesn't really do or say much except to stand at Rosalie's side as they enter and exit rooms.
And the Cullen family is led by Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli, TV's "Damages", "Six Feet Under"), a striking, young doctor who has brought all of the vampires in his family together, to live together, to stay together, united under a common bond. When Carlisle first appears, he walks into an emergency room to speak to Bella's dad. I almost laughed out loud. Carlisle appears to have been dusted with baby powder, his skin and hair white with the stuff. But as Carlisle, the look doesn't work. This guy is supposed to be trying to blend in with the crowd. Instead, he stands out like someone who escaped from a stage play. In fact, he would almost be at home in one of those French or British period pieces, where everyone powders their wigs and clothes. More importantly, I fail to see how anyone in the town could consider him a normal human.
The real finds in "Twilight" are the two leads. Kristen Stewart has appeared in a number of films, generally as The Girlfriend or The Daughter, and does a good job of making the character she is portraying work. But in "Twilight" she takes Bella to a different place, making the character come alive. As she seeks to become one of the undead. Bella seems completely natural and Stewart, with Hardwicke's coaching, helps to make all of a normal teenage girl's problems seem real and believable. When Bella falls so deeply and madly in love, we see why, we understand why, we see the teenage girl in her trying to cope with this newfound emotion. It is a nice performance and helps to draw parallels to Juliet, without overdoing it.
Robert Pattison plays Edward and he is also particularly good. He brings a number of different elements into play creating a convincing portrayal of this vampire who has suddenly found love in his life. Made a vampire at seventeen, he has spent almost a decade without love. Now, Bella enters the picture and he has to struggle with his attraction to her and his efforts to not kill humans. As he gets closer and closer to her, as they spend more time together, he finds his efforts to suppress his desire to feed become stronger and stronger. He is simply attracted to her and that's that. But he can't bear the thought of making her a vampire, something she seems to want. He doesn't want to give this curse to her. He wants her to lead a normal life. But because Edward has lived for almost a decade, he has a lot of knowledge and maturity in his persona, both of which seem to fight with his newfound desire to be a teenager again. Edward is charming, mysterious and dangerous.
Naturally, the film needs to streamline the book and the choices made in this regard are mostly good. The events in the book seem to have more of a buildup, more background to the characters, more substance, but all of the key points are made and we get a real feel for these characters and their lives. In the book, Bella is frightened and sickened by Edward's speed. He runs fast, he drives fast, and both make Bella a little nauseous. In only one scene do we even see Edward running with her and it doesn't seem to bother her all that much. This scene leads to the moment in the forest when Edward reveals his true nature to Bella and it seems a bit abrupt and less an event than it was in print. There is a key moment missing, something that plants the seed for part of what happens in the second book. I'm not sure how they will handle that. But overall, I am happy with the adaptation.
Catherine Hardwicke was a great choice to direct this film. Her independent film background led her to craft a very lush looking film on a very limited budget. And the studio behind the film stands to gain a lot of money in the process.
And the second film in the series is already in the works.