Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Film version of popular teen novel disappoints

Published: Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 9:00 a.m.

By now I'm sure it's safe to assume that most people have either read at least one of Stephenie Meyers' best-selling "Twilight" series or have at least heard of the phenomenon whose popularity reached a fever pitch in the last few months with the release of the final book in the series, "Breaking Dawn," and film adaptation of the first installment, "Twilight."
I won't belabor the plot points for very long as popular culture has become so saturated with it recently. The film introduces us to Bella (Kristen Stewart), a shy, awkward teenager who moves from Arizona to Washington to live with her father. There she is greeted as an exotic outsider by the other youths in town, but she never really fits in until she meets Edward (Robert Pattinson), an enigmatic hunk who turns out to be a vampire. He comes from a family of "vegetarians," vampires who have eschewed human blood to only hunt animals. But Edward's newfound attraction for Bella comes with a price; he must grapple with his thirst for her blood and his equally fiery passion for her. The danger is compounded by the arrival of a trio of vampires whose bloodlust extends to humans, and they set their sights on Bella.

After avoiding it for as long as possible, I read "Twilight" over the summer to see what all the fuss was about and found it to be an enjoyable, if lightweight, read - an entertaining piece of teen pulp fiction fluff. However, I had tempered expectations for the film version. Movie adaptations of popular books almost always pale in comparison to their literary counterparts. The only factor that gave me hope was the presence of director Catherine Hardwicke, who (despite the dull "Nativity Story") has always impressed me with her gritty sensibilities and visual prowess in films such as "Thirteen" and the severely underrated "Lords of Dogtown."

This time, however, one of her biggest weaknesses has come to the forefront. "The Nativity Story" hinted at it when she took a more mundane visual approach, which left her without her greatest strength. Hardwicke may be a talented visual stylist, but in many ways she is a weak storyteller. There are some beautiful moments in "Twilight," but they are often hampered by intrusive and inappropriate use of music and an overall lack of narrative movement. It just doesn't flow well. When you add that to the fact that many moments that seemed wondrous and magical on the page seem hokey and contrived on the screen (Edward's supersonic running is especially laughable), then "Twilight" fails to live up to its full potential.

Not that there was much to begin with. Quite honestly, I feel it's a story better suited to the page than the screen, or at least to a director whose storytelling skills match their visual prowess.

"Twilight" never had a very strong narrative in the first place. It is filled with long passages of breathless, enraptured descriptions of Edward's beauty and Bella's burgeoning love for him. Hardwicke attempts to up the ante and keep things moving by pulling the film's villains that don't appear until the end of the novel into a series of interludes that keeps a sense of danger over the film and a semblance of a plot that really doesn't exist.

It doesn't really add anything to the film, but it's a commendable effort. But ultimately I just didn't feel it the way I did in the book, the deep sense of longing just isn't there, nor, strangely, is the sense of danger despite the strengthened efforts in that area.

While I admit to liking the book, I'm far from a "Twilight" groupie. I hated the second book, "New Moon," so much that I stopped reading it after 200 pages and moved on to something else. It just didn't do anything for me. So I didn't have a very big emotional investment in whether the film succeeded or failed.

For my part, "Twilight" is not a massive failure, but it just doesn't work separate from the page. Anyone who has not read the book may find themselves bewildered, or at least a little confused, without some of the nuances of the book to fill it out. It will doubtless please the legions of fans who have devoured Meyers' novels. But discerning filmgoers may find that "Twilight" the movie leaves much to be desired.

Matthew Lucas, a student at Appalachian State University in Boone, is a correspondent for The Dispatch. He also has a blog site where he posts movie news, buzz and commentary at


  1. I read The Twilight Saga, thought it was entertaining, but really, Bella was such a Mary Sue...and the way that she seemed to have had swallowed a thesaurus, because as the author of this article points out, the books are filled with Bella using annoying synonyms of handsome, marble, and cool. Also, the last book, Breaking Dawn, was TERRIBLE!!! Do Not Read Breaking Dawn If You Want To Live In A Constant Fear Of Childbirth. Back to Twilight. Whoever owns this blog should go to Google and search for "Cleolinda Twilight." I like the way Cleolinda looks at Twilight. It is entertaining.

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