2011, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner. Directed by Bill Condon. From the book by Stephenie Meyer.
I think it was about four years ago, more or less, when I started hearing about a book entitled Twilight. It was enthusiastically described to me as a story about a family of vampires and the human girl who is attracted to one of them. “Oh, vampires, right. That’s a theme that finds renewed popularity every few years,” I said.
“But these vampires are different! They are good, and only drink the blood of animals, and try to coexist peacefully with humans, but they have to keep it a secret that they are vampires.”
“Yeah… I guess that’s fairly different. What’s the latest on the next Harry Potter movie?” I was, and still am, a devoted fan of the Boy Wizard. Of course, the Harry Potter movies were magnificent but the books are stupendously better than the movies.
Ignoring my attempt to change the subject, the TwiHard continued. “And they SPARKLE in the sunshine! And they are practically the only GOOD vampires in the world! They’re really, really old but they still look like teenagers because they don’t age after becoming a vampire so they go to high school over and over again. And this one guy – the really cute one – can read minds.”
They never age so they keep going to high school for eternity? Now that’s a living hell on earth, for sure, I thought. Wait a minute – “They sparkle in the sunshine? And actually enjoy being in high school forever?” Something about the weirdness of sparkly teenage vampires had captured my attention, so I borrowed the book to find out what the big deal was all about. I have to admit that it was a very interesting read, a totally new take on the old vampire theme. The only problem for me was all the angsty teenagery stuff that dragged on interminably. I know the target age group for the Twilight books is tweens and teens, but the first couple of Harry Potter books were for children and they were simply enchanting.
So I shouldn’t be trying to compare apples to oranges. What Twilight has in common with Harry Potter is that they are both a series of books that have been made into movies. Twilight must be evaluated on its own merits, such as they are. After reading the first book, I was ready to dive into the next one. And then the third and the fourth. Native American legends of shapeshifters, sparkly vampires, teenage love triangles, ancient evil vampire Mafioso, the lure of eternal love – these elements were cleverly interspersed with the angsty teenagery stuff in a way that made me want to know how the story would unfold. I think it could have unfolded quite nicely with about half the pages it took to fill each book, but that would have entailed losing most, if not all, of the angsty teenagery stuff that apparently is a big selling point with the books’ target demographic. (I can’t help it if I find it increasingly difficult to get in touch with my inner fourteen-year-old. I am much more comfortable with my inner twenty-four-year-old.)
I have read all four books in the original series and have also seen each of the movies. I admit that it was as much out of curiosity about how the story would be presented in film as anything else that prompted me to see the movies. I further admit that the Twilight movies, collectively, were not a bad translation of book to screen. If anything, the necessity of paring down the story to its essential elements for a movie was an improvement. The angsty teenagery stuff is still there, but not overwhelmingly so.
Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1 is the first half of the fourth book. In this installment we are treated to a wedding, a honeymoon, an impossible conception, dissension and mutiny within the ranks of the shapeshifters, a birth, a death, and a re-birth as Bella says good-bye to her family, her humanity, her heartbeat, and any desire for a great salad ever again. Some of the material as presented in the book seems so corny it was difficult to imagine how it could be Hollywoodized without coming across as silly at best and just plain stupid at worst. Kudos to Bill Condon and his cast for pulling off the near-impossible and delivering a beautifully filmed movie that stays true to the book without devolving into an oversimplified, maudlin mess of angsty teenagery absurdities.
What I liked best about this movie: the intentional and appropriate humor interspersed throughout. What I was most annoyed by in this movie: the tendency to present scenes with the Cullens posed as if in a static tableau where they collectively looked either “concerned” or “anxious” or perhaps “bored.” The one thing in this movie I would most love to have a logical, or at least plausible, explanation for: if vampires have no bodily fluids, how did Bella get pregnant?
I had read the book, I knew what to expect, and I was still entertained by what I saw on the screen. I’m very happy for all of my diehard TwiHard friends who waited in line to see it at midnight when it first opened, and have seen it several more times already. They are extremely pleased with the movie, noting that the wedding scenes were perfectly gorgeous, the honeymoon scenes were perfectly romantic, and the pregnancy/birth scenes were perfectly gross and intense. The only complaint I have heard so far is that Taylor Lautner did not have sufficient bare-chested scenes. Now let’s please have the final movie – Breaking Dawn Part 2 – so we can move on to the next huge moneymaking book-series-turned-into-movies craze.