Friday, November 21, 2008

Twilight at Midnight

I caught a midnight showing of Twilight. The theater was packed, mostly with girls. I asked the person sitting next to me what she thought the female to male ratio was and she said 20:1; that seemed about right to me. It was great seeing the movie in a theater packed with hard core fans; it was incredible how almost every move and grimace Edward and the rest of the Cullens, made from the very beginning, got laughs. You had an audience that was clued in to the Cullens and what lay behind them. This was certainly a movie for the fans; I am not sure that those unfamiliar with the books would be so quick to appreciate what all the fuss is about. Considering the size of the fan base and the fact that this movie was made for less than forty million dollars it is fair to say that Twilight, like Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, is one of those rare film adaptations that could succeed merely by relying on fans of the book.

As someone who absolutely loved the books, I was concerned about the film. Twilight would be a very easy book to butcher. All one would need to do is let it slide into a generic action/horror movie and abandon everything that made it special. The books had truly charming characters; to bring that to the screen one would need a good script and, even more importantly a cast of highly skilled actors. The screenplay was a model of a faithful intelligent adaptation, true to the book in spirit and basic plot while still willing to make those necessary minor changes for the sake of pacing and to tighten up the story. The biggest change was bringing James, the chief villain, in early in the film instead of having him wander into the story towards the end. James and his associates, Laurent and Victoria, get to kill two people in the Forks area. One has a far greater luxury when dealing with a book to allow a story to simply meander, without a clearly focused plot. The first Harry Potter film made the mistake of not doing something similar with Lord Voldemort; they chose to remain faithful to the book and kept Voldemort off screen until the very end. This took away much of Voldemort’s effectiveness and took away what could have been a much needed rudder to give the film some sense of plan and purpose. This is funny because unlike, the young stars of Harry Potter, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson (He played Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter films.) prove to be more than up to the task shouldering the film.

This brings us into my second point, namely how good the acting was in this film. To take a step away from Stewart’s and Pattinson’s Bella and Edward, this film has a surprisingly rock solid supporting cast. One of the weaknesses of the books was that Stephenie Meyer (Who makes a cameo appearance in the film as a restaurant patron.) wrote really shallow human side characters. With the exception of Bella, all of Meyer’s non werewolf and vampire characters come across as cardboard cutouts. Bella’s human friends, Mike, Jessica, Angela Eric and Tyler, are remarkably dull and serve merely as fillers to the story, giving Bella some sort of life outside of Edward. Bella’s father Charlie serves mainly to be clueless about her and Edward’s relationship, particularly about the fact that Edward regularly spends the night with her. Bella’s mother, Renee, lives in Phoenix, and is nothing more than a scatter brained eccentric on the periphery of Bella’s life. The actors playing these parts, though, manage to create real characters. Maybe Meyer could afford to let these characters fall by the wayside, but these actors took on these roles and played them for all they were worth. Particular mention should be made of the actor who played Mike Newton. I particularly disliked Mike in the book; he is nothing but a jock and the fall guy, who never really stood a chance of getting Bella. He was played in the film as a bit of a geek, but really sweet. The actor who plays the role is Michael Welch; I have never seen him in anything else, but I will definitely be keeping tabs on him to see what he does in the future. I knew I recognized the actress who played Renee, but I could not place her until it hit me that she played Nina Myers in 24. She manages to do quite a bit with the little she was given. (If you really want to see her in action, watch Season One of 24. You will love her up until the end than you will hate her guts.)

The Cullen family was great. I particularly liked how they played Emmett. This is another example of someone who took a throwaway roll and made something of it, not even by speaking but just by being a presence on screen. I liked Alice, but unfortunately they did not give her much to do. The baseball scene was surprisingly good. For a movie with this sort of budget they managed to bring something that was visually quite interesting.

At the end of the day this is Stewart’s and Pattinson’s film and they shine as Bella and Edward. Neither of these are easy roles. For Bella you needed someone who could play a comic straight, one of the hardest things to do in acting; how does one be funny without obvious life lines? Bella needed to be pretty but real, someone who does not look like they spent hours working on themselves and believably dresses like someone living on the budget of a daughter of a small town sheriff. I was hoping that the film would follow the books and keep itself firmly centered on Bella. I even had the idea that they should have Bella narrating the story. This they did. Edward had to be charming, but scary. Edward goes through a lot of mood swings, something not that far off from manic depression. This has to work as a coherent whole and not collapse into “I love you/I hate you.” Pattinson never succeeds at making Edward scary, but he gets off on all other accounts. He is to die for charming and one is willing to buy into him as a manic depressive as applied to a supernatural being.

All in all, I do not think I could have asked for a better Twilight film. Anyone who was a fan of the books is going to love this film. If you have not read the books, I would suggest that you read them first. Alternatively maybe watching the film will show you what you have been missing and get you to open up one of the real literary treats of the past few years.

1 comment:

James Pate said...

Michael Welch played Joan's genius brother in Joan of Arcadia. He was a nerd in that too. But he was also loveable. I'm glad his acting career is still going on.