Movie Review of Twilight (2008)

by JoHarrington

Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart swoon over each other in this human meets vampire High School romance. It's one of the most successful vampire movies of all time.

You would have to have been living under a rock not to notice that 'Twilight' was in the world. It was about time I got around to watching it.

Stephen King raged about it. He accused writer Stephenie Meyer of destroying the whole vampire genre. Meyer herself admitting to not having researched anything of extant vampire lore. Friends have been telling me for years that I'd hate every scene. I was braced for the worst.

It wasn't actually all that bad.

Twilight (Two-Disc Special Edition) on DVD

Twilight: Teen Romance Vampire Style

This story probably needs no introduction at all, but I'll give you one anyway.

Anxious and self-effacing, Bella Swan moves away from the sunshine of her home state of Arizona to live with her father. It's an altruistic gesture. It allows her mother to travel around with her minor league baseball playing new husband.

Bella might not think much of herself, but the local lads in the small town of Forks, Washington, are soon buzzing around like flies. However, the only one to catch her interest is Edward Cullen, the sole male classmate who seeks to avoid her.

Naturally Bella thinks that there is something wrong with her.  She steels herself to confront him with his strange behavior.  Yet there is more to this situation than she could foresee.

After pursuing Edward, it soon becomes clear that she's in terrible danger.  But since when did love and teenage attraction ever pay any heed to that?

Their budding romance takes place against a backdrop of a town in peril.  Locals are being mauled to death by some wild animal.  Edward's doctor father and Bella's police chief dad are on the front line in dealing with the bodies.

But when Bella begins to suspect that Edward is a vampire, then she also reaches a terrible conclusion about Forks's trail of corpses.

Official Trailer for Twilight (2008)

The Vampire Genre as Depicted in Twilight

I'd been given such dire warnings about how warped the whole genre had become in 'Twilight'. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most warnings were wrong.

Twilight's vampires feed on blood. They possess super-human strength and speed. Their skin is pale and ice-cold. These have long been staples of the vampire genre. Nothing to raise an eye-brow there.

The Cullen family were able to walk about in sunlight.  This is contrary to most vampire movie tropes, since it was invented as a cinematic device by F. W. Murnau in the 1922 classic Nosferatu. As that was inserted solely as a way to side-step a potential copyright claim from Bram Stoker's widow, it's hardly set in stone

Nor is Twilight the only movie to shake it off.  The Hunger immediately comes to mind. No-one whined about Miriam and John walking about in broad daylight.  Incidentally, I was reminded about The Hunger in other ways too.  The emphasis on posturing and the arty atmospheric shots were shared between the two movies. It's just that New Romanticism had been switched for Emo.

There is an obvious insertion though.  The fact that direct sunlight will cause any Twilight vampire's skin to sparkle is new.

I'd heard such disparaging things about this aspect, that I expected it to be more than it was. It was a single scene. Bella may have gushed that Edward looked like he was covered in diamonds and beautiful. It just seemed creepy to me. It was a decent enough innovation though and not worth the fuss it's engendered.

We also get Edward explaining how everything about him has evolved to enthrall humans, just like Bella. His aspect, his gaze, his very scent has an effect close to hypnosis on the object of his desire. That's one of the oldest tropes in the book.  Bela Lugosi's Dracula was practically defined by it.

So far so detractors-stop-being-so-snobby.  But none of the above really takes into account the real issue with Twilight. That is that it dilutes the vampiric genre down so much, that it practically becomes meaningless. 

Twilight is sanitized vampirism.  Violence and gore are implied, but not with the Cullens. They are vegetarians! They refuse point blank to feed off humans.  It's like Louis from Interview with the Vampire cloned himself half a dozen times and formed a family.  For him, it was existential angst.  For the Cullens, it's a way of life.

Mr Cullen is even the town's doctor.  Far from preying upon the humans around him, he seeks to heal them.

Nor do any of these vampires have fangs.  While that may be historically accurate, insofar as the pre-Hollywood legends would have it, it also removes a huge part of the modern allure of vampires. The extending fangs, upon viewing an attractive human, has an obvious phallic symbolism.

Twilight is very chaste. Edward is so afraid that proximity to Bella will cause him to lose control, that he avoids her like the plague.  These vampires are not only non-sexual, in a way which runs contrary to the whole late 19th, 20th and early 21st century genre, but they fear sex.

There may be a lot of talk about feeding frenzies, but it does leave you wondering precisely why anyone would fear the 'monstrous' Edward Cullen.  He's the kind of vampire which you could (and Bella did) take home to meet your Mum and Dad.

However all of this was missing the point, at least to my mind.  Twilight wasn't really a vampire movie. It was a High School romance, with the added twist of vampires.

Watch Twilight on Amazon Instant Video

Bella Swan's Terrifying Attitude

If the vampires (give or take the wild ones terrorizing the reservation) leave something to be desired, there is an element of horror in the movie.

I watched aghast as Bella Swan responded to Edward's attempts to scare her away. As soon as she realized how dangerous he was, she lured him into an isolated forest location. As he outlined how much he wanted to kill her, she pretty much offered herself up on a plate.

The underlying message was loud and clear.  Bella was so deeply in love, that she would quite happily sacrifice her own life just for a kiss.

I found myself wondering what kind of idiotic masochist she was. It might have all been symbolic of the burgeoning sexuality of sixteen year old girls, but it came across as, 'if he's handsome enough, go for it, however dangerous it may be.'

Twilight Does Pass the Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test requires two or more named female characters to have a conversation, which isn't about a male character.

Twilight struggled.  There were several women and teenage girls in the movie, and plenty of conversations. But the vast majority of them were about the males around them.

Then Bella, Jessica and Angela went clothes shopping. There was a whole exchange about prom dresses and whether their breasts looked fabulous.  It wasn't about men.  It allowed Twilight to pass the Bechdel Test.

Twilight Books: Inspiring or Inspired by the Movie Twilight

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)

The movie tie-in edition of the #1 bestselling trade paperback includes a collectible full-color, fold-out poster.Bella Swan's move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in ...

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The Twilight Saga White Collection

This gorgeous gift set--available for a limited time only--includes paperback editions of Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, and The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner wi...

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Twilight: The Graphic Novel Collector's Edition (The Twilight Saga)

When Isabella Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edward Cullen, her life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. With his porcelain skin, g...

View on Amazon

The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide

This must-have hardcover edition--the only official guide--is the definitive encyclopedic reference to the Twilight Saga and provides readers with everything they need to furthe...

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Twilight: Director's Notebook: The Story of How We Made the Movie Based on the Novel by Stephenie...

A personal, behind-the-scenes look at the making of the blockbuster film Twilight from groundbreaking director Catherine Hardwicke!This intimate full-color "notebook", designed ...

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Twilight: The Complete Illustrated Movie Companion

Everything fans want to know about the hotly anticipated Twilight movie and much more! Designed as a celebration of the film, this lavishly illustrated paperback edition is an e...

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Updated: 03/19/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 12/27/2014

I'm glad I did it justice. I dislike hate being piled onto something just because it's fashionable to do so, hence me wanting to check this out for myself when enough people had dissed it.

JoHarrington on 04/25/2013

Since writing this article, I've found a vague precedent for the sparkling skin too. Coleridge's 'Christobel' has a vampire with eyes that suddenly sparkle. Though I severely doubt that Meyer lifted that aspect from there.

I'm guilty too, as I haven't read the books. Perhaps it's the direction which makes Bella's approach in the movies so bad. Could the context be in the books? There's always a certain amount of predator versus human in vampire stories. It often has a sexual element and looks and sounds like abuse, particularly if you depict the vampire as more human than beast.

Is Bella any more foolish than, say, Lucy in 'Dracula'? Personally I'd say 'yes'. Bella knows Edward's nature and seems to go out of her way to place herself in danger. Lucy fights the very notion of what Count Dracula is, but still ends up in thrall. When she goes to him, she's in a kind of trance. Bella, in all her sobriety and with all her faculties working, apes Lucy enthralled.

Thanks for your take on it. Always welcome!

Ember on 04/25/2013

To be fair, I've only ever watched the first movie when it first came out. I wasn't terribly interested in seeing the rest, but I didn't walk away with any real issues with the movie. Lots of people made fun of it, the vampires sparkling was the butt of I don't know how many jokes- and originally that was my only impression of Twilight. It wasn't until much later that I heard all of the talk about how disturbing some aspects of the books and movies were. I looked further into it by reading bits from the books I had been directed to from friends who were reading them. So, I got a lot of the disturbing bits without all of the fluffy romancey context-which doesn't make it okay- but probably did come through much darker, I guess, for me.

I am not certain how these bits are portrayed in the movies vs the books. I don't have a problem with it in general, I realize these types of things are in movies all the time... My real problem is that it is geared/targeted to a young crowd, and all of these issues are being idealized for them, and it is a romantic relationship younger kids are essentially idolizing and encouraging (such as when people were picking which boy they hoped Bella would chose etc.) I'm interested in hearing your opinions on some of the later films if you end up watching them.

Re the vampires in general, I'm not a die-hard fan like you, so many I didn't pick up as much of the complaining about how it was ruined as you did. My thoughts were just my own speculation as to why it got so much hate. Thank you for enduring my rant :p

JoHarrington on 04/25/2013

You pretty much speak for me here too. I've got the rest of the films lined up to watch, but I can't say that I'm rushing with anticipation to view them. Bella's attitude in this one was appalling enough. I dread to see where it's all going.

KathleenDuffy on 04/25/2013

Yes, I think there's a lot of truth In what Ember said! I've only seen the first one and I enjoyed it, but then I can be quite shallow (or turn a blind eye) when it comes to films .... I have to say the 'sex scene' doesn't sound promising but I'll suspend judgement until I've seen the rest..

JoHarrington on 04/25/2013

Kathleen - *giggle* I also gained that impression! Though I should imagine I'm going to end up agreeing with her, when I'm exposed to the movies.

JoHarrington on 04/25/2013

Ember (third comment) - I'm grateful for your rant. Until now, I thought that the anti-Twilight sentiment was all about trashing the vampire genre and watering it down into romance. It does show how those speaking against it aren't quite getting their messages across. You most certainly did.

JoHarrington on 04/25/2013

Ember (Second comment) - Ok, I have all of this to come. -.- I do plan to see the sequels to 'Twilight', though my heart sank somewhat at how many there actually are (five movies). Do they become more about vampires and less about the teenage Emo romance sub-culture?

I also foresee that I'm going to have a LOT to say on the subject of the rape of Bella, if and when I get there. Thank you for the warning here.

JoHarrington on 04/25/2013

Ember (first comment) - Maybe it's the people around me then. They all know that I'd be far more interested in the vampire angle, than the teenage angst/romance angle. I'd not actually heard anything about Bella per se, until I watched the movie and became increasingly concerned about her attitude towards things.

Thanks for explaining the vampire backlash/counter-backlash. I'd not really slotted it into context in my head.

As for the acting, I didn't think it was that bad. There was a lot of 'here's me looking very pretty' type posing, but I figured that was simply the direction. There's a lot more of that in 'The Hunger', which is seen as a cult classic these days. The 'Twilight' cast were all believable in their roles, which is the main thing. It was the script which lacked a great deal to my mind.

I said it wasn't as bad as I had been led to believe, because I thought I was coming into a movie which chucked 150 years of vampire lore out of the window. I was here for the vampires. The reaction of Bella was certainly the weak link there. She was no Lucy. If I had to compare her to anyone, it would be Madeleine from 'Interview with the Vampire', and Louis disdained her too.

I did see a LOT of Louis in Edward Cullen (alongside Lestat's propensity to show off), but the things which motivated Louis had been stripped away. You were left with the effect, but not the cause. It did make me wonder if Stephanie Meyers was familiar with Anne Rice's work, despite her protestations that she did no research into vampire lore whatsoever.

KathleenDuffy on 04/25/2013 you don't like it then..

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