Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The "Twilight" Challenge: Part 3 - "Twilight" The Movie leads into the heart of an immense darkness - The Horror! The Horror!

Onward to the depths of despair!  This Friday, the latest film in the Twilight Saga “Breaking Dawn (Part 1),” hits theatres, and to “celebrate,” we’re spending this week examining the Twilight franchise in depth with my epic five-part investigation of the series: “The Twilight Challenge.”  Originally published on YourHub in June 2010, it’s been revised, expanded, and updated for 2011.  It chronicles my findings as I journey into the dark fathoms of this series, with reviews, analysis, and more!

Today we continue with chapter five, my review of the first “Twilight” movie (i.e. the moment where I began losing my sanity).  You can read Part One of “The Twilight Challenge” here, and Part Two here.  There will be two more parts, one each on Thursday and Friday.  On Friday afternoon, expect my review of the “Breaking Dawn” movie. 

Read “The Twilight Challenge: Part 3” after the jump….

 Chapter Five:
Waning Gibbous
In which I watch the movie “Twilight” and relate how it robbed me of my last vestiges of innocence and tranquility

How bad is the 2008 film adaptation of “Twilight?”  Let’s put it this way.  It makes the book look like every literary nerd’s dream come true, a tag-team project by William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and every other great author who ever lived pooling their creative resources.  I would rather read the bad book a hundred times in a row than watch one minute of this excruciatingly horrendous movie again.

But let’s back up.  After the success of the books, it was only a matter of time before somebody made a movie.  Originally, the novel was optioned by Paramount, and it’s been reported that the version of the movie in development there differed significantly from the novel.  In this script, Bella was a track star, and apparently got to use guns and night vision goggles.  I’m guessing that means she got to play an active role in the action and, you know, be a strong, interesting protagonist who would defend herself rather than let creepy stalker vampires do all the work for her.  But sexism won another day as the rights were later picked up by Summit Entertainment, who aimed to make a far more faithful adaptation (read: much less interesting movie) complete with the Bella we all know and loathe. 

Even considering all that, I figured the movie might be a halfway decent way to kill two hours.  Some of the biggest problems I have with the book exist simply because the story was told in novel format, forcing me to slog through hundreds of pages of a really awful protagonist whine and moan and make stupid decisions in a story that certainly wasn’t compelling or complex enough to justify its excessive length.  In a movie, however, both of these problems can be fixed; we don’t have to hear the main character’s thoughts, and two-hours is better than five hundred pages.  If the filmmakers realized all that, we’d be left with just the core romance/vampire/horror aspects of the story, all contrived and inane, sure, but enough, perhaps, to create a half-decent movie.  Stick some charming, competent actors in the lead roles and right away you’ve improved hugely on the book.     

Well....yeah…that’s not what happened…….at all…..

As I watched “Twilight,” my jaw slowly opening wider and wider in shock and horror, I wondered what the hell possibly went so wrong.  I don’t even know where to begin.  The acting is horrendous, the writing is awful, the direction is incompetent, and the music...don’t even get me started on the music.  It’s all uniformly terrible.  “Twilight” doesn’t improve upon the book: not even close.  Instead, it distills all the problems the book had into one simmering pot of sewage and amplifies those flaws a hundred times over. 

In terms of the story, the film is a fairly close adaptation of the book, and suffers from some of the same problems the early Harry Potter movies had, but to a far greater degree.  Namely, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg is intent on including every single scene from the novel.  The book, of course, is fairly long at five hundred pages, so to include every last moment in a two-hour movie, each scene has to run at an incredibly fast, truncated pace.  Virtually every element of the story is underdeveloped, ranging from things as small as Bella’s motives for moving to Forks to something as large as her romance with Edward.  Thought that romance was contrived in the book?  Wait until you see it on screen.  If the book gave too few reasons why these two should be together, it did at least spend time developing their characters, showing some semblance of a logical progression on the path to romance.  The movie just dives right in: they stare awkwardly at each other once or twice, Edward says he wants to drink her blood, and suddenly they’re making out.  It makes absolutely no sense. 

The result is one of the most poorly paced films I’ve ever seen, one that functions only as a series of awkwardly connected scenes, rather than a cohesive whole.  Fans of the book will recognize all their favorite sequences, and I’m sure that’s why the film was well received by die-hard Twilight fans; everyone else, however, is left out in the cold.   If I hadn’t read the book ahead of time, I would have been lost, as there’s virtually no exposition.  Only the bare minimum of explanation is provided, if that, and even then it’s poorly done.  I really didn’t like the book, but at least all the plot points (well, most of them anyway) made sense.  I could follow the logical progression from point A to point B, like in the end, when Bella is being hunted by the evil vampires and she goes to Phoenix to escape.  It all makes sense in the book, even if Bella’s choices are ridiculous.  But since the movie assumes the viewer has read the novel, the inspiration for fleeing to Phoenix is never verbally explained, and all logic evaporates.  That should never happen: the movie should be able to stand on its own, separate from the book, but I doubt the film would ever play well to those unfamiliar with the novel.

The script just isn’t there, and the direction fails to pick up the slack.  Director Catherine Hardwicke shoots the whole movie like a low-budget TV flick; most of the time, the camera-work and framing is competent enough, but definitely lacks any sort of big-screen flair or creativity.  It doesn’t help that the special effects are just god-awful, utilizing the kind of low-level CGI that looked cheesy even fifteen years ago, and the vampire make-up is campy and over the top.  The whole movie looks cheap and rushed, which, to be fair, wasn’t entirely unexpected.  The film was produced for less than $40 million, which is a very low budget nowadays, but a creative director can make the most out of limited resources: just look at “District 9,” made for $30 million two years later.  

None of these flaws compare to – hell, they aren’t even in the same ballpark as – how terrifyingly awful the acting is.  I’ll just come right out and say it: “Twilight” features the worst acting I have ever seen in an English-language film.  The movie should be shown in acting classes as a visual checklist of everything not to do while in front of a camera.  The performances are what distinguish this movie from other, mediocre adaptations of subpar books into the realm of cinematic abortions.  I am dead serious.  It’s that bad. 

Kristen Stewart leads the cast as Bella, and I’m fairly certain that she was not even aware she was acting in a movie.  My working theory is that she wandered onto the set, drunk or high (take your pick), grabbed a script, and started reading lines.  The director found this amusing, so they aimed a camera at her and called it good.  From the first line of the movie on, her line readings are stale and uninteresting, devoid of any semblance of emotion.  It’s like listening to a first-grader try to sound out words in a chapter book in front of the class for the first time; except instead of cute, it’s creepy. 

She lacks any form of screen presence, and when talking opposite others, she rushes through her lines and averts her eyes, as though nervous the other actors will judge her.  When called upon to deliver any kind of heavy emotion, like in the last act when Bella yells at her father, Stewart gets loud, even a little huffy, but never believably angry.  None of it even qualifies as acting: no human being behaves this way.  Stewart doesn’t get any favors from the script, which does a horrible job explaining Bella’s motivations or feelings.  I hated Bella in the book, and thought many of her decisions were stupid, but at least I understood why she made those decisions.  Here, Stewart is called upon to illustrate most of Bella’s thoughts and decision-making processes visually, which she isn’t capable of doing.  The script attempts to rectify this through the use of a voice-over narration, but the narration is so rarely utilized, and used exclusively in the rare moments when it is unnecessary, that it becomes a detriment to the film.  They also try to illustrate Bella’s thoughts by using various editing and camera techniques, but it’s all so underdeveloped that, when combined with the horrible performance, Bella is even less likable in the movie than she was in the book.

My hatred of Bella Swan was at its peak while watching this movie.

I was just starting to realize how horrifyingly bad Stewart is when Robert Pattinson walked on screen as Edward.  You want an example of someone who lacks screen presence?  Pattinson actively avoids the camera.  I’m serious.  Even when it’s a close-up on his face, he averts his eyes, slouches, and looks away as if scared the lens might jump out and bite him.  He, like Stewart, is terrible with his line readings, mumbling his way through them awkwardly and never showing anything resembling a realistic emotion.  It goes beyond the acting though, all the way back to the directing and the script.  Edward is depicted here as shy and awkward, but in the book he’s always cool and confident.  Granted, he isn’t exactly fidgeting with excitement to tell Bella he’s a vampire, but even when he was avoiding her, he spoke confidently.  In the movie, Edward is the polar opposite.  He’s not funny, charming, or sure of himself.  The only elements of his character left in tact are his stalker tendencies, making the movie Edward far creepier than the book Edward. 

With that in mind, the romance between Bella and Edward implodes upon itself early on.  Think of some famous historical instances of epic tactical failures, like the Spanish Armada or the Bay of Pigs.  These were strokes of genius in comparison to the misfire the Bella/Edward romance presents in “Twilight.”  You’ve got two actors with no screen presence and a total inability to deliver lines struggling through a bad, underdeveloped script directed by someone whose talents are questionable.  What else could the outcome have been?  The script is one of the major culprits here; the moment they fall in love is never shown, and those few minutes of screen time spent bonding before the first kiss is mostly concentrated on petty bickering rather than relationship development.  As I said above, anything likable about Edward that may have attracted Bella in the book is absent here, making this Edward a much bigger jerk.  Bella, in turn, is so underdeveloped that we never see an explanation for her attraction.  They’re just supposed to fall in love so...yeah, they do.  The script is so deficient that it’s all up to the actors to sell this romance based on visuals alone, and to put it kindly, they aren’t up to the challenge.

There’s an early scene in a car, where they’re talking, and I was utterly dumbfounded at what I was seeing.  Neither of them really look at each other, but to a point over the other one’s shoulder, and they rush mumbling through fragmented sentences.  In an attempt to illustrate how attracted Bella is to Edward, Stewart keeps stopping in the middle of her sentences, flustered, but it looks like she’s trying hard to hold back from vomiting.  Edward, on the other hand, displays some strange speech impediment, or possibly a mental deficiency, that isn’t even in line with his scattershot characterization throughout the rest of the movie.  The filmmakers were trying to demonstrate a “love at first sight” kind of thing, but in actuality, Bella and Edward look sickened to be in one another’s company.

That’s just one scene, but it epitomizes how poorly the romance is handled.  With the relationship botched, the rest of the film quickly falls apart as well.  None of the other actors are as bad as Pattinson and Stewart, but they’re still uniformly painful to watch, especially Bella’s human friends, who don’t act, look, or talk like teenagers, but instead as annoying, awful stereotypes.  There is one exception: just as I’d lost all hope that somehow, someway Kristen Stewart might be able to make something out of Bella, her friend Jessica walks on screen, and my jaw drops to the floor.  It’s Anna Kendrick, the young actress who stole the show away from George Clooney in Jason Reitman’s “Up In The Air” and continued to impress in films like “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “50/50.”  Kendrick is actually pretty decent as Jessica, the only person who acts like a believable teenager.  Why couldn’t she play Bella?  Kendrick is a wonderfully talented actress, and I have no doubt that she probably could have salvaged the character and made her interesting.  That would have been career suicide, of course, but I’m baffled that the audition process led the filmmakers to take Stewart over Kendrick.

As bad as all the acting is, and it is horrific, I can’t bring myself to blame it all on the actors, or even the script, which doesn’t give any of them much to work with.  The directing must have been the primary culprit, because I have seen Stewart and Pattinson deliver competent performances before.  Stewart was actually really good in “Adventureland,” and Pattinson has gone on to work in some smaller dramatic roles that have restored his dignity (he’ll even be seen in celebrated director David Cronenberg’s next film, “Cosmopolis”).  All the strange facial expressions, mannerisms, and downright awkward acting choices must have come from director Catherine Hardwicke, considering that she was the one in charge.  This conclusion doesn’t seem to fit either, though, since Hardwicke herself directed some respectable movies before she made “Twilight.” Maybe the production was cursed, and everyone who walked on set was suddenly stripped of all artistic ability. 

Believe it or not, though, my biggest beef with “Twilight” doesn’t lie in the acting, but in the music.  The musical score isn’t necessarily awful on its own, but not one second of music fits with one frame of the finished film.  Have you ever seen a YouTube video where someone takes a movie, pulls the music out, and replaces it with the most inappropriate background sounds available?  That’s the music to “Twilight.”  The instrumentation is strange, there’s no firm sense of melody, and no character or situational motifs.  It’s just a big hodgepodge of what I suspect is synthesized noise that often distracts from the action.  For instance, think back to the scene I described above with Bella and Edward in the car.  It’s supposed to be a soft, maybe even intimidating moment, one conventional logic would tell us should be scored with a soft, slow, low-string based tune.  Instead, the music is loud, bombastic, and fast.  By the time the half hour mark arrived, I was convinced I’d rented a copy with a joke score, some cruel prank by an amateur editor.  The most surprising thing here is that Carter Burwell, an excellent, well-respected composer, wrote the music.   I can’t even fathom that a Burwell score did so much to destroy a major motion picture, but the music effortlessly destroys anything “Twilight” might have had going for it.

The defining scene of the film is the vampire baseball match.  Already an over-the-top silly and useless scene in the book, in the film it’s just a perfect storm of awfulness.  There’s the horrible acting (Bella, for example, is supposed to be amazed at the speed and power of the Cullens, but she just sort of stands there), the bad writing, the amateur special effects, and the use of a pop song that fits the scene like a beluga whale fits inside an eggshell.  It all comes together to make a sequence that is so bad I think I might have strained my back laughing.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of what makes Twilight one of the biggest cinematic sins of all time.  Every single problem I identified with the book exists in full force in the movie, often to a much greater degree, and there’s a multitude of other flaws that make it that much worse.  I despise this movie with every last fiber of my being.  In fact, I don’t possess one iota of the writing talent it takes to properly describe how this movie hurt my very soul, so I’ll vent my feelings through an old Roger Ebert quote.

“I hated this movie.  Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie.  Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it.  Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it.  Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”

Alright, that quote isn’t about “Twilight” (it’s from Ebert’s 1994 TV review of Rob Reiner’s “North”), but it explains my feelings perfectly. 

“Twilight” the movie gets a big fat F.  No, bugger that, it gets an F–.

And the worst part?  I still have to watch “New Moon” and “Eclipse”...what in the name of Dracula did I get myself into?

Next Time on “The Twilight Challenge:”

I dare to continue on this dangerous journey with “New Moon”
Will I survive to the final round?

No comments:

Post a Comment