Rating: 2.25 of 5
Cinematically flawed, and in frustrating and easily avoidable ways that I unequivocally blame Catherine Hardwicke for, and a little bit Summit for hiring her.
I think the biggest problem is they made a movie for the fans. And you can’t do that and expect to get a good film. I think that adapting a book to a film means serving the story without being a slave to the book. Which means the characters and the heart of the story are more important than how it goes about evoking those emotions and saying what it needs to say (Prince Caspian did this very well). Instead, Twilight is filled with short scenes to accommodate this set piece or those lines or that iconic moment, because the fans will expect it. And in doing so it succumbs to the flaws of the books instead of rising above them. It could have been a better film than it is a book.
This also makes it a choppy film. I know they had a monster of a book to adapt. It’s huge and it’s awkward and Stephanie Meyer labors over the pedestrian moments and flies right past the good stuff. It’s not an easy task. But ending scenes abruptly and jumping to the next one, not letting them be long enough for us to dwell in the moment with the characters prevents us from really being drawn into the emotion of the story. And this is a story that cries out for us to immerse ourselves in the emotion of it. That’s what’s so disappointing.
They really needed to let go of the book, focus on the absolutely necessary and then just left the emotions linger.
Because when they just let Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson be on screen together it works. The twisting moments in the trees and the solitary quiet moment when they’re kissing and when, for a second, they’re talking about something just sitting there by a lake are the heart of the film and the intimacy of these characters we’re looking for. When they mess with that it doesn’t work. Bella figuring out what Edward is and then confronting him was great. Until, you know, they started talking. Not because the dialog was unbearable but suddenly they felt the need to move, to jump in trees, to wander around and it just fractured the whole moment.
The saving grace to this erratic pace is the music which is able to unify some of the disparate scenes quite well. Alexandra Patsavas should be a rock star in her own right. Because the music really is breathtaking. All of my favorite moments had great music cues: when we’re introduced to the Cullens and when Bella realizes what Edward is (even though they just flash words at you hitting you over the head with their obviousness) and the very end with James and the fire and Bella and then her dream. All great music pieces and good moments of emotion in the film that don’t feel as abrupt as the rest of it.
When the music comes on the movie just comes to life and has all the energy the trailers promised and actually fulfills it’s potential. And then it goes away and the film feels flat and stilted and awkward again.
Any credit in the production rating is because of the music.
The performances were a strange balance between mostly good and absolutely awful, from the same actors. Robert Pattinson adores Bella quite well and is funny and charming in moments. His first scene where he’s trying to be friendly, though, is almost painful. All I could think was that his voice was wrong or he was having trouble with his American accent or something but it was off. Perhaps it was the burden of trying to play a vampire who’s trying to pretend he’s human, I don’t know. But after that I thought he was decent enough.
Kristen Stewart was deplorable for the most part. And yet, her voiceovers also draws us into the film and into the character surprisingly well. We immediately have a sense of both introspection and the other worldly which would have set the tone for the movie impeccably if it hadn’t then gone on to flit about all over the place.
All the supporting performances weren’t awful. I was more pleased with Rosalie and Esme than I thought I’d be (which isn’t saying a lot because I expected to despise them and instead I only thought they were bad).
Carlisle was disappointing and I fault the casting of Peter Facinelli more than his actual performance. He needed more solidity. I mean, Carlisle is a force so firm in how he sees the world that he has six vampires willingly coming together and denying their very nature because they agree with him. The power of that resolution has to come through his being and cannot be served by a line like, I hate to kill any creature, even a sadist like James.
Emmet and Jasper were the only good ones, but I like Emmet and when Jasper wasn’t fighting his thirst (which was about all he did) he was strong and cool.
Alice, I have to say I was disappointed in. She was kinda flat. I missed the assurance she gets from her visions that allows her to be cavalierly playful.
I will go on to say that it could have been really brilliant which is incredibly frustating because it’s not.
Bad movies are one thing. Most of the time I realize it’s going to be bad before I see it, so I’m not surpised nor dismayed. Sometimes I see a movie and I’m expecting good things and it turns out to be mediocre and I’m disappointed. I just sort of write it off thinking, “Well, that sucked.” But when a movie is flawed but I can see how the flaws could have been avoided and if they had been it would have been great, I’m distraught. Kingdom of Heaven was like that. I was SOOO frustrated for so long about that one. Then I saw the director’s cut and it was much better and I’m mostly at peace with it now. And then came Twilight.
Also, aside from my own review I agreed with several things Variety said:
“Twilight,” a disappointingly anemic tale of forbidden love that should satiate the pre-converted but will bewilder and underwhelm viewers who haven’t devoured [the books].
The result is a supernatural romance in which the supernatural and romantic elements feel rushed, unformed and insufficiently motivated, leaving audiences with little to do but shrug and focus on the eye-candy.
Stewart makes Bella earthy, appealing and slightly withdrawn, and British thesp Pattinson is every inch the deadly dreamboat. But as helmed by Hardwicke, the actors’ early, awkward interactions feel particularly forced, and the script gives Stewart virtually nothing with which to convince the audience of her transcendent love for a guy who’d just as soon drink her blood as jump her bones.
So, yeah, there’s that. All of the flaws I categorically attribute to Hardwicke, from the grievous steps miscasting some of the Cullens and Bella to the moments of atrocious acting – the uninventive writing and the lackluster action scenes that were missing intensity and everything that made it as bad of a movie as it was a book. The saddest thing is there’s so much potential in the story and in the unexpectedly enthralling characters. I wanted it to be better.
ETA: years later Variety had this to say in their review of Breaking Dawn 2, but it’s precisely what I’ve meant all along about these movies and Twilight especially.
Playing to the story’s cinematic strengths rather than its literary limitations…
full review here