Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fiction to Film - Twilight

So I kind of feel the need to have a bit of a disclaimer before this post. I feel that Twilight is something that people feel very strongly about (are either hardcore fans or more on the twat side). Whilst I have made mention of the series before (and the fact that I find it a bit silly), I hope this post is somewhat analytical - not hyper-critical - and encourages discussion. It will not be an RPattz-dazzle-lovefest, nor will it be a free-for-all Twilight bashing. I hope to examine the relationship between the book and the film and do so in a fair manner (focusing on the finished product and moving away from the media hype and personal relationships between the film cast). I hope you find it interesting!

The Fiction
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Publisher: Little, Brown
Length: 544 pages
Genre: Young Adult

From the Publisher: When 17 year old Isabella Swan moves to Forks, Washington to live with her father she expects that her new life will be as dull as the town. But in spite of her awkward manner and low expectations, she finds that her new classmates are drawn to this pale, dark-haired new girl in town. But not, it seems, the Cullen family. These five adopted brothers and sisters obviously prefer their own company and will make no exception for Bella.

Bella is convinced that Edward Cullen in particular hates her, but she feels a strange attraction to him, although his hostility makes her feel almost physically ill. He seems determined to push her away - until, that is, he saves her life from an out of control car. Bella will soon discover that there is a very good reason for Edward’s coldness. He, and his family, are vampires - and he knows how dangerous it is for others to get too close.

Wow, I feel like that synopsis says quite a lot about the story and not sure how much of my own commentary needs to be included. I also think if I start talking too much about my reaction to the novel, this post could be very long and ranty. I have to admit to really enjoying Twilight the first time I read it in 2007. It's not a challenging read, but it's engaging and there's something slightly addicting  about it (I'll admit, I couldn't put it down). It's through upon re-reads (and a severe case of second-hand embarrassment from watching and listening to hardcore Twilight fans) that I think my feelings have soured towards all things Twilight related.
I also feel that the hype leading up to the film was a bit of overkill and succeeded in both converting new fans, as well as creating an army of critics (whilst the book was certainly successful from a bookselling point of view, I didn't read much actual criticism of the text until after the film was released in late 2008).

The Film
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Screenwriter: Melissa Rosenberg
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Release Date: December 2008
Cast: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black)

I was rather excited when I first heard Catherine Hardwicke would be directing, being a fan of her work from Thirteen (2003) and Lords of Dogtown (2005). I'll get to more specific opinions about the film below, but I have to say that you can't deny Hardwicke is a talented director and I feel, she has done a strong job with the original source material to create a film that is both faithful to Stephenie Meyer's novel, and is quite stunning to look at and allows the viewer to become fully immsersed in the community of Forks.

So the commentary to follow is slightly disjointed, and doesn't completely follow a particular timeline or theme (so please bear with me). It's a mix of opinion, observation and discussion and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments (so don't be shy!).

I really liked the way Charlie and Bella's relationship was depicted on screen. I think Charlie (Billy Burke) had a great, dry sense of humour and his scenes with Bella are endearing. I did tend to feel she was a bit cold and condescending towards him in the novel, so I think the film improved aspect (and because of this, also made Bella more likeable).

Holy Forks! I must say, I think the location scouting is kind of amazing, because the film looks and feels exactly how I imagined Forks from the books. I think if you watch the film (and even from just looking at the stills I've captured), there is a consistent colour palette used throughout and Forks is reflected in everything from clothing choices to lighting, props and set decoration.

So it's a tad obvious, but still quite a clever shot. One of the things I appreciate about the film, is there are so many little visual jokes or small moments which are quite quirky or catch you off guard. Hopefully these are reflected below. I think even if you dislike the book, think the screenplay is weak, or wish Stephenie Meyer a fiery, painful death, you can still agree there is an art to the filmmaking - and no, I'm not joking and am aware my film cred is probably very much on the line right now ....

Well look at that! This ssuggestive shot is followed by a slow upward pan and the music cues are totally standard film code for sexy times about to commence. Only, if you have read the book you (frustratingly) know this doesn't happen. Still, you have to admit that Catherine Hardwicke does quite a good job at capturing the sexual tension between the pair - because you have to admit, Meter does a lot of teasing in the books (and I'll cut myself off now, because I feel as though I could write an essay about sex and sexuality in the Twilight franchise and that's not something I really want to go into).

I was quite (pleasantly) surprised at how understated the meadow scene is, especially as a lot of people have made such a big deal about this in the book. I'm sure most of you have heard the story about how this vivid scene came to Stephenie Meyer in a dream and inspired her to write Twilight.

There is further discussion, comments and a whole load of film-stills below, if you're interested.

So I'm a bit in of costume-lust with this film. If you read Twilight - the Director's Notebook, Catherine Hardwicke has all these amazing sketches and ideas for developing character and a lot is to do with the way clothing and accessories are used to define characters and their backstories. You can tell her background is in Production Design, because all of the details in the film are really precise and thoughtful. Above the Cullens (with the exception of Edward of course - to reiterate that he is an outsider, even within his family) are shown as perfect and untouchable. Even without knowing their 'secret', there is something visibly different about them.

I have a kind of embarrassing confession to make. I know I've said I'm not Team Edward or Team Jacob and that I'm not here to drool over RPattz, but I am maybe, kinda, sorta Team Jasper. I know he spends most of this film looking constipated (and then he is cursed with a hideous wig in New Moon and a cheesy Southern flashback in Eclipse), but I dig him.

To be honest, I quite like Nikki Reed as Rosalie and Kellan Lutz is spot on as Emmett (after reading Growing Up Cullen, I have a bit of a soft spot for frat-boy-esque-loveable-giant Emmett). Overall, I think the film is pretty well cast and like that there is a mix of established actors, strong character perfomers and fresh faces.

Ridiculous make-up aside (seriously, all the Cullens look like they've been attacked by rabid powder-puffs), Peter Facinelli is pretty much spot-on as Carlisle, even if I can't help but think "Mike Dexter is an asshole" whilst I watch this (surely I'm not the only one .. Bueller? Bueller?). As I recall, this scene when he sweeps gracefully through the ER was rather well-received  by the audience, when I first saw the film at the cinema.

There are a number of scenes that aren't in the original novel (or are a composite of moments to allow the narrative to run more fluidly). This scene is one of them and I suppose it doesn't serve a lot of purpose except to have the characters out of the school setting and highlight some Edward/Bella tension. I really like shot because it's got Edward being a smug bitch "you can Google it" and features Forks High's only emo student (before Bella's cliff-diving depressionista of New Moon).

Back to the Cullens and the architectural marvel of Casa de Cullen. Like I mentioned earlier, there are actually some really sweet and thoughtful little details, like the shot before this kind-of-hilarious knife wave shows the kitchen with boxes all over the floor - like the family have gone out and purchased all these kitchen utensils because they have never cooked for a guest before. Ok, it probably seems really obvious, but I thought it was clever. Another great detail, which I as far as I can recall was not in the original book - and again emphasises the talent of the Production department, is the graduation-cap artwork (I think it's another good example of going beyond the source material).

I know what you're thinking - vampire baseball? On the page, I think this scene fell a little flat (there's only so much description I can take which involves sporting prowess akine to animal movements) but worked really well on the big screen. The mix of vintage baseball uniforms with the Muse score = pretty darn good. A supernatual sports-montage that works.

(ok, so this was just kind of an excuse to post another photo of Jackson Rath-boner)

Now for a totally different tangent - the humans! I think a lot can be said for the under-utilised cast members who (literally) bring life to Twilight. In the novel, I feel like most of the Forks High students are depicted quite condesendingly - Bella seems fairly bored and uninterested in them - despite the fact most of them seem to go out of their way to welcome her to Forks. Also, once she starts hanging with the Cullens, they get a bit forgotten and become even more one-dimensional when they are given the odd mention (Lauren is a bitch, Jessica is a gossip, Angela is quiet, Mike is akin an over-eager puppy etc etc). The film, however, seems to give them more distinct personalities and I think they all come across far more likable than the supernatural characters of the series.

I also like the way that visually, colour and costume is effectively used to distinguish the Cullens from the rest of the Forks High student population.

Eric and Angela probably undergo the biggest character changes from page to screen. I think a few personalities have been combined, which I suppose works and brings a bit more variety to the friendship group dynamic. Though I'd like to know why is Eric wearing a tie to school? Weird. Also, is it just me or is Eric kind of majorly-camp and you can't really imagine him being romantically interested in Bella or Angela (and that maybe there's something in all that teasing with Mike) -  I'm mighty sure there is some fan-fic out there to back me up ...

Hahaha oh Mike! I think film Mike (Michael Welch) is pretty funny and easy to like (seriously, I know he doesn't sparkle in the sunlight, but I don't quite know why Bella is so quick to fob him off). As I mentioned before, I think he and Jessica (Anna Kendrick) really added something to this film. Both have great comic timing (I seriously just want to vouch for how versatile Michael Welch is an actor - check out Criminal Minds and All The Boys Love Mandy Lane for some anti-Mike Newton) and attempt to balance out the super-seriousness (to the extent of being ridiculous) of the adult and paranormal characters. Just quietly, I also feel like Mike is a bit of a fan favourite - though I'm sure hardcore Twilighters probably wouldn't admit this.

The Nomads. To be honest, I'm kinda eh about them. It's at this point in both the book and movie I start to lose interest. Sorry! What do you guys think of them? Please share your thoughts!

Confession number two - I got to the end of this post and realised I hadn't included any shots or commentary in regard to Taylor Lautner's Jacob. He doesn't really do much in this film, and I don't really have much to say about him except that his wig is baaad. I feel like his role in Twilight is really just to set things up for New Moon - and his role is pretty much spelt out very early on (which is a bit annoying). Seriously, it's a bit of writing a love triangle 101. Anyway, Lautner seems to make Jacob kind of goofy and endearing (which is nice, because there doesn't seem to be much character development for him in the original novel).

Ok, so I promised there would be minimal snark and I can't think of anything nice to say about the whole dazzle thing, so I'll leave you with this screencap and you can ponder the whole 'skin of a killer' thing on your own. Please ponder away.

I kind of hate the use of flashbacks in the film adaptation of Twilight - I'm sorry to say. I think they were all added after production on the film (and you can tell). Again, I will let the picture do the talking as RPattz's face pretty much mimics myself when watching the flashbacks.

So I haven't commented on Kristen Stewart's and Robert Pattinson's performances. This has been a deliberate move on my part, as I feel like there has been so much dicussion - either praising or panning both actors, that I don't even really know exactly how I feel anymore. In regard to Kristen, I feel that overall she is passable - I think that Book Bella so Mary-Sue-ish, that whoever playing her would automatically give her some more tangible personality traits and Kristen Stewart manages to gets a couple of good visual gags and jokes in on occasion, which make her (to me) more realistic as a teenage girl. I also feel like her portrayal is somewhat more sympathetic than Book-Bella, though some of her dialogue is clunky and at times, her performance is awkward and hard to watch.

Wow, I've managed to go on way longer than I originally intended and have kind of gotten even more scattered than I thought I would. Regardless of whether you are a card-carrying Twilighter, a Twi-hater or Twi-neutral, I think you can admit that the lightning, set-dressing and overall mise en scene is kind of amazing to look at throughout the film. Here are a few shots I've included, without commentary, just because I thought they were nice to look at:

Overall, I feel like this film adaptation manages to remain faithful to the original content and should please the majority of Twilight fans. Catherine Hardwicke manages to create something that quite striking and visually engaging, though the hype surrounding the series (and the backlash coming from this) has made it hard to appreciate the film on it's own, as a skillfully shot (with a remarkable amount of hand-held cinematography for a mainstream, studio release) motion picture which at it's heart, successfully captures the burgeoning hormones and forbidden nature of a paranormal romance.


Charlie's Stache said...

This is a fantastic post. I LOVE the first movie (and hate the others) because of these little details and the overall feel of the movie. Catherine is superb at creating and sustaining an atmosphere in her films.

Miss Friday said...

Hahaha, thank you! I'm glad you appreciated it (and totally agree, Charlie's stache is pretty awesome)

kar_took said...

A brilliant and well balanced post. I agree that this is a good film because its an indie film, with an indie director, superb soundtrack and reasonably decent cast. Something I think the other films haven't taken on board. (Seriously, Chris Wietz? After what he did with 'The Golden Compass'?)

I've done some vampire papers on the academic conference circuit and I'm beyond fed up of the Twilight bashing that comes from people who have never read the books or seen the films. There are too many conflicting critical voices around Twilight to have a neutral discussion about it, but I think you hit a really good middle ground. I'd be really interested to know what you think about the other books/films.

Miss Friday said...

Aww, thanks so much Kar - I'm glad you enjoyed this post :) I hadn't really thought about posting about the other two films (I really didn't enjoy them) but might now consider it in the future. Thanks again for reading!

Lauren said...

As someone who liked the first book in the series a lot but feels ambivalent towards the films, this post has actually made me think maybe I didn't watch this one with enough attention. I definitely didn't notice the little details you've mentioned... I guess because I felt I knew exactly what was going to happen, and I let my mind wander. What I liked about the book largely happened in Bella's head, and I didn't feel at the time I saw much of that on the screen. However, I might give it another look.

I did appreciate the human characters in the film, particularly Eric. His campness made him stand out for me in a way he never did in the book, where he's basically just another guy queueing up to ask Bella to prom or whatever. And I *loved* the baseball scene. Definitely standout.

Miss Friday said...

Lauren - thanks so much for your comment! I'm glad it possibly gave some food for thought :)

I agree with you on Eric - he's pretty boring in the book (like a lot of the Forks high kids) but on film they have actually have personalities!

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