I’ve seen this movie more times than an adult my age should probably admit. Okay. I’ve said it. Now, get off my back and let’s watch this movie.
The film premiered in Los Angeles during my stay there for a funeral. Since, obviously, the timing was inappropriate (or, appropriate) I waited until I got back home to the Pacific Northwest to see the film. I ordered the special edition Blu-Ray version of the film months ago (roughly thirty minutes after I saw the film in the theatre for the first time) and it finally arrived today. Just in time, too – work was crazy this week, and I’m thinking Twilight is just the ticket. My theatre experience with the film had been fair (if for no other reason than the gaggle of tweenage girls in the back row shouting “I love you, Jasper” every ten minutes) and even enjoyable to the point where I found myself inexplicably smiling everytime Edward and Bella spoke to one another. So, I cue up the disc in my trusty PS3 and settle down for a perfect Friday evening at home.
Having been born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, the opening sequence (and many of the external shots of the film – mostly in Oregon) of the deer in the woods seems familiar and comforting, until it becomes obvious that the deer is being hunted by humans. When we first see Bella (played to a pitch perfect white-hot-teenage heat by Kristen Stewart – who first came to my attention as Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room) she couldn’t be further from the kind of girls you would actually see in a place like Forks in “the state of Washington under a near-constant cover of clouds and rain” as she stands, eyes closed in the sun holding a small cactus. So, it’s no wonder when she arrives on the scene at the local high school every male student falls over himself at the sight of her. And who can blame them? That pasty skin, that long chestnut brown hair, those blacker-than-black eyes, pupiless. Did I mention she’s such a clutz that even being around her could cause you great physical damage? She’s a ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak landscape of cold, wet things.
The film does manage to give you a sense of the general vibe of the PNW culture – except for the surfing, which I never had the pleasure of undertaking even when I was in high school. In fact, I’m pretty sure I attended school with one, if not more, of the Cullen children. During her first cafeteria lunch, a set of not-vapid girls who have rapidly befriended Bella explain the special relationship each of the Cullen foster children share with one another. Love it when Jessica (the redhead seated to Bella’s right, played by Anna Kendrick) whispers to Bella as Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattison fresh from Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix) pushes through the cafeteria doors “apparently no one here is good enough for him.”
After lunch, Bella and Edward officially meet…in a way, when Bella walks in front of a fan and Edward grimaces as if he is about to throw up. I’ve had days like that, haven’t you? Reduced body odor confidence, anyone? Yeah, especially awkward due to the whole first day in a new school thing. Thank God my high school biology partner didn’t look as good as either Bella or Edward. Who would be able to concentate on planaria?
The plot develops slowly in the film version of the novel by the same name (written by Stephanie Meyer, who is not only a Mormon but who is probably the luckiest writer this side of J.K. Rowling). You enjoy the deliberate nature of director Catherine Hardwicke’s treatment. It couldn’t have been easy, a task as daunting as this, but Hardwicke’s ease with creating very tight, very well-framed close-ups of Bella and Edward help build an inescapable sense of intimacy you will feel immediately. It’s this sense of intimacy that will either put you off entirely (in which case, you might as well shut off the film now, because it only grows more intense as the two characters are drawn closer together) or will suck you in, and leave you hungry for more. Equally as seductive is the film’s original sountrack – the haunting piano laced strains of “Bella’s Lullaby” underlying the moments between Edward and Bella.
Who isn’t totally surprised for a moment when Edward swoops in to save Bella from being crushed between her great old Chevy truck and an out of control van that’s careening through the high school parking lot? I love watching the metal of the van’s door collapse against Edward’s outstretched hand – that’s one special, Photoshop-painted effect.
But, saving Bella from being crushed between two American-made vehicles causes concern among Edward’s family members who fear when word spreads about what he’s done, the family will be in jeporady of being exposed for what they really are? What? Mormons?
When Bella presses him to explain how he managed to get from his beautiful Volvo C30 (that’s my next car) across the parking lot to her in time to save her from the crash, Edward knows she’ll never relent. She’ll always need to know the how and why of it. He spins away from her, “I hope you enjoy disappointment.”
That night, Bella has her first dream of Edward Cullen – watch the deleted and extended scenes for a real eyeful of what Hardwicke had intended to show PG-13 audiences during this scene – he’s in her brain, and she’s far from through with Edward despite his warnings.
“I had an adrenaline rush. It’s very common. You can Google it,” he says finally, during a biology field trip to a greenhouse during which Bella pleads for Edward to open up to her. Having read the book and seen the film, this is one of those rare occasions where actually seeing the story play out is more satisfying than reading through it. The chemistry between Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart makes the film – it is exceedingly difficult to picture any other two young actors in these roles, which should be seen as the most charitable compliment I will probably ever give an actor.
As Bella and her new group of Forks friends go to La Push to surf – yes, I said surf, in the cold Pacific waters – she runs into an old childhood friend named Jacob, who lives on the Quileute Indian reservation. He tells Bella that his tribe is supposedly descended from wolves and that the Cullens are descended from an enemy clan. The Quileutes and the Cullens have made a pact – the Cullens secret will remain safeguarded as long as they stay off of Quileute land.
This is classic werewolf-vampire folklore (as also detailed in the successful Underworld series starring Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman) and it is the one thing that Meyer has really embraced from vampire mythology. Of course, any retelling of the vampire myth at this stage in our evolution will be somewhat derivitive. I am emphatic about the fact that Meyer’s success stems from her personal vision of what vampires are, what weaknesses and strengths they have, taking bits and pieces from the mythology (strength, speed, icy skin, charm) and creating a new, fresh perspective (skin that glimmers like diamonds in the sun which is what keeps them from the direct sunlight, special abilities like telepathy and foresight). It’s about this time that I jump up and have a salad. It’s midnight, after all, and for some reason, this film always makes me hungry…meanwhile, I let the film continue rolling. I love the sequence in which Bella is finally certain she knows what Edward really is – the quick shots of different historical texts Bella has found online interspersed with vintage-treated images of Bella and Edward together.
What is it that stills provokes within us this fascination with the vampire? It’s amazing how many times we can watch this story unfold and how watching Twilight is like coming to the mythology anew. It makes the possibility of this franchise tantalizing. The fact that Bella and Edward share a type of Romeo and Juliet relationship keeps you involved and caring.
“You don’t know how long I’ve waited for you,” Edward says when at last he and Bella admit they have feelings for one another in the woods near the high school.
Their love story is irradiated with teen lust, true, and since both actors are over 18 so you don’t have to feel too odd about finding either one of them attractive (which, of course, they’re meant to be, after all — remember, Edward’s skin glimmers like diamonds in the sun, so how can you resist?). While it may be inappropriate for some viewers, the vampire mythology is always soaked with a sense of deep sensuality – the wanting what is forbidden, deadly – and Twilight handles every moment between Edward and Bella like a love scene.
While Twilight is ultimately a romantic suspense, it has great moments of humor as well. Take for instance Bella’s first trip to Edward’s house during which the entire Cullen family is busy in the kitchen (that is never used) making dinner for Bella. When Edward let’s it slip that Bella has already eaten, Rosalie (who isn’t too keen on a human infiltrating their family to start with) breaks the glass salad bowl she’s holding.
I love Edward’s room and if I could just find a loft with that kind of light in either Portland or points South (maybe closer to the sun) I would be one happy celluloid junkie. Who doesn’t love a soft spoken vampire who listens to “Clair de Lune” in his bedroom without a bed with a hundred years of journals piled on his desk?
Some of the film is gratuitous (Bella spends a lot of her time leaning into Edward with her mouth open) but I’m not complaining. It’s all done with respect and never do you get the feeling that this is just another tale of a strong, intelligent young woman falling droolingly in love with a man who supplicates her strength by sweeping her off her feet every chance he gets. Feminists tend to dislike the story’s message – traditional men who are unwaveringly brave, and women who support them. Leonard Sax, in a Washington Post article, wrote “In our enlightened era, some wonder, why would girls respond with rabid enthusiasm to books that communicate such old-fashioned gender stereotypes?” Enough of the heavy stuff…right about now, as I’m about to devle into a gender-related-diatribe, our two leads finally get around to trying to kiss. It is probably one of the steamiest love scenes I’ve seen in a while – and even after seeing the film before, I’m still a little shocked that Kristen Stewart is shown in her skivies, in bed, in her room, in the middle of the night with a boy.
Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” is pumping through the Panasonic as the Cullens are playing baseball in a thunderstorm. They meet the pack of three vampires who have been killing in the Forks area. It is Bella’s hair as the wind blows through it that alerts James, the scarier of the three vampires, to her presence. Kind of a plot flaw in a way to me, since Rosalie is complaining about Bella’s stench every chance she gets, from across rooms.
This triggers the final story arc for the film – in which it becomes clear to everyone involved that Bella and Edward want nothing more than to be together, especially now that James is on Bella’s trail and will not rest until he has her.
The final word: Twilight is a guilty pleasure, one not to be missed. And now that the sequel, New Moon, has begun production in Vancouver (the week of March 26th) thankfully we won’t have to wait too long to see Stewart and Pattison together again.