If there was ever someone you could convince me sold their soul for success, author Stephanie Meyer would be that person. Despite being looked down upon by critics and many of her peers (Stephen King the most notable), Meyer has had a largely successful career, largely thanks to the Twilight series/saga (I’d also say The Host, but I’m not feeling dangerous today), a series about vampires that captured the hearts of teenage girls everywhere in the middle part of last decade. Thus, it was little surprise in late 2007 when an adaptation of the first book, Twilight, hit theaters. Like the Harry Potter series before it, Twilight drew huge crowds to the theaters and turned Meyer into a household name and the story into a pop culture lexicon overnight. There was just one problem; Meyer’s novel wasn’t that good, a fact that shone through when the film adaptation turned out to be more like a sparkling Blade: Trinity than Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Twilight tells the story of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a teenage girl who moves from Arizona to live in Forks, Washington with her father (Billy Burke). She spends most of her time miserable (I would be too with that name), until she catches the eye of Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison) a fellow student who looks like a prettier version of the aliens from Dark City. Several stares, awkward conversations and other creepy moments later, Bella and Edward find themselves a couple, which draws mixed reactions from Edward’s vampire family (Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reasoner, Ashley Green, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz and Jackson “Last Airbender” Rathbone), while catching the attention of a group of nomad vampires led by James (Cam Gigandet). Violence and baseball (yes, the vampires play baseball) ensues.
As a book, Twilight, faults and all, didn’t have to appeal to an audience beyond its targeted demographic (teenage girls). However, the Harry Potter films have shown that eventually you need to branch out at least somewhat from your target audience in order to have a complete product. Director Catherine Hardwicke and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg decide to keep the film as close to the novel as possible, resulting in a clumsy, often unintentionally hilarious outing. It’s hard to pass blame on them here; Rosenberg has long been a talented TV writer (The O.C. and Dexter are among her credits), and I find it hard to believe that Summit Entertainment didn’t at least influence her to keep the script close to the novel. Still, she could’ve written better lines (“You better hold on spider monkey” is the crown jewel of awful in this film). Hardwicke (Thirteen and The Lords of Dogtown) does what she can, including some gorgeous shots of the Pacific Northwest and a very well placed climax. Beyond that though, she’s not given enough to work with.
As bad as the story is however, the leads are almost worse. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison set a new low for acting during the first half of the film, and their chemistry couldn’t be any worse. Some of this is due to the source material, which requires them to stare and talk very awkwardly at each other, but you’d figure that two people in a real life relationship at the time would be able to generate at least some heat. They do start to click as the film progresses along, but it’s not enough to make you believe this is a romance for the ages. No wonder Rupert Sanders got in the way.
Beyond Stewart and Pattison, the rest of the cast is almost non-existent. Taylor Lautner makes his first appearance in the series as Jacob, but his spotlight is fortunately not yet upon us. Billy Burke is given nothing to work with as Bella’s distant but caring police chief father. Anna Kendrick, perhaps the most talented performer in the cast, is completely misused as a throw away friend of Bella’s. Even the vampires, from the Cullen clan to the nomads aren’t given much to do other than to explain the vampire mythos or crave blood. One has to wonder why the nomads were even included as the villains in this; it’s almost as if the filmmakers realized there wasn’t enough meat to the book and decided to add them in last minute, till you realize that Meyer is most likely the source of that.
Unless you are a fan of the novels, Twilight is likely to be offensive to non fans in every way. Fans of the traditional vampire stories will be horrified to see that the usual impediments of sunlight, garlic, holy water and stakes have no affect on vampires here (other than sunlight, which hilariously makes them sparkle), while regular moviegoers will be just be left wondering how a story structure can be so poor and a talented cast be so misused. Twilight is the perfect example of how to make a film poorly, and its legacy likely will be that of a film that makes its current fan base wonder what the hell they were thinking years later. The only two positives I can say about the film are this; it's responsible for a very good Paramore song, and it's not the worst film in the Twilight Saga. Of course, the latter may just be the most horrifying fact of all.