Twilight Takeover

[7 January 2009]

By Jennifer Makowsky

Popular culture is experiencing Twilight mania. The book series, which begins with Twilight and continues with New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn is categorized as young adult, but don’t let the genre fool you. Everyone from teens to seniors has been spotted sticking their noses in the book that dons the black dust jacket emblazoned with a photograph of hands offering a red apple.

When my best friend told me she had fallen under the spell of Meyer’s series, I decided it was time to check out Twilight myself. It wasn’t long before I found myself engulfed in the story of Bella Swan, a 17-year-old junior who moves from Phoenix, Arizona to Forks, Washington to live with her father, Charlie. 

While she adjusts to her new school and rainy surroundings, Bella encounters the mysterious Cullen siblings who also attend Forks High. Right away, one of these siblings, Edward Cullen, catches Bella’s eye and heart. From that point on, her life is never the same again.  You see, Edward is a vampire and has been 17-years-old for close to 100 years. 

The book follows Bella’s adventures with her new vampire boyfriend – someone she can never know intimately because that experience could kill her.  Meyer has put the perfect antagonist between Bella and Edward: death.  If they get intimate, Edward could become carried away and drain Bella of her blood. While he and his family consider themselves “vegetarians” because they only feed on animals and not humans, the smell of human blood remains a strong temptation.

But the obstacles in Bella’s and Edward’s relationship don’t stop there. Along the way, more specifically during a game of “vampire baseball”, the Cullens and Bella encounter three outside vampires who are not “vegetarians”. One of these vampires, James, senses Edward’s loyalty to Bella and begins to hunt her for the sheer thrill of the chase.

Meyer had never had any aspirations for writing before Twilight came to her in a dream and she began writing the story just for herself. In an interview for Collider.com she said about the dream:

“I woke up and I just was wrapped up in this idea of what was going to happen next. You know, was he going to kill her or were they going to be together, because it was fifty/fifty at that point.”

Originally published in 2005, Twilight has had mixed reception. Critics have called it “far from perfect”. Booklist blames “a plot that could have been tightened, an over reliance on adjectives and adverbs to bolster dialogue.” While the writing might not be highbrow, Meyer certainly knows how to tell a good story. I found myself devouring the book, only occasionally looking down to realize I’d read 50 pages.  As Hillias J. Martin of School Library Journal wrote, the book is “realistic, subtle, succinct, and easy to follow, Twilight will have readers dying to sink their teeth into it.”

Publisher’s Weekly made an interesting observation about the plot, calling Bella’s obsession with Edward and his inner angst a metaphor for the sexual tension and frustration prevalent in adolescence.  The story is appealing because the gender roles are reversed. Edward is the irresistible and chaste vampire, pushing away a very sexually frustrated teenage girl. He’s even afraid to kiss her. What’s not to love about a stunning and uncharacteristically ‘pure’ vampire?

The book was originally optioned for the screen by Paramount Pictures MTV films in 2004, but the screenplay deviated considerably from Meyer’s book. In 2007, development began over again through Summit Entertainment when it picked up the rights from Paramount. Catherine Hardwicke was chosen to direct the film and Melissa Rosenberg to re-write the screenplay.

The two women ended up working closely on the script, bouncing ideas off of each other. Meyer was even given the script to edit and was invited on set to assist. In the end, Rosenberg had to abbreviate material from the novel in order to condense the story into a two-hour film, as well as leave out some book characters.  In an interview with ShockTillYouDrop.com, Rosenberg is quoted as saying she wanted to stay true to the book and that it “has to do less with adapting it word for word and more with making sure the characters’ arcs and emotional journeys are the same.”

The movie does a nice job of preserving the characters’ paths. It also helps that the filmmakers were successful in casting the characters. Kristen Stewart was offered the role of Bella Swan and British export Robert Pattinson was invited to play Edward Cullen.

Stewart captures the dry and quiet Bella exceptionally well. She turns her mouth down and casts her dark eyes down just the way I imagined Bella would in the book. She also does a fantastic job of looking at Edward as if he were a piece of birthday cake she would love to devour.

Pattinson is excellent as the tortured teenage vampire and matches Stewart’s smoldering looks with plenty of his own. Originally there was uproar in response to Pattinson’s casting as Edward due to the fact that most readers have their own version of Edward already in their heads from reading the book. Pattinson also made Catherine Hardwicke hesitant at first, and she didn’t cast him until he auditioned at her house with Stewart. 

Once everyone got used to him as Edward, Rob Pattinson mania ensued. Even before the film was released in November when it grossed $35.7 million, Pattinson was receiving a hysterical reception from female fans wherever he made appearances.  In one interview he said that a seven-year-old fan begged him to bite her.

The female fan fury over Pattinson has only fueled the red-hot response to Twilight. The book and the movie are so popular, you can’t pass a store in the mall that doesn’t feature a host of Twilight memorabilia for the “twerds” or “twiehards” in your life.

It can be argued that the movie is a successful adaptation of the book not only because Pattinson is so talented, dreamy, etc. etc., but also because Hardwicke knows a thing or two about filming adolescents. She previously directed Thirteen—a raw film about a trouble teenage girl. She uses her muse Nikki Reed—the actress who wrote and starred in Thirteen—in Twilight as well, casting her as Rosalie Hale – one of the beautiful Cullen clan. Other Cullen family members in the film include: Peter Facinelli as the Cullen patriarch; Elizabeth Reaser as Esme Cullen—Carlisle’s wife and mother figure to the Cullens; Ashley Greene as Alice Cullen—the vampire who befriends Bella; Jackson Rathbone as Jasper Hale; and Kellan Lutz as Emmett Cullen. 

In order to ready the actors for their roles as pasty-faced vampires, Hardwicke asked them to avoid sunlight before shooting. Their already-pale skin was then covered in white makeup and their eyes fitted with gold contact lenses. The actors also worked with a choreographer to make their movements and gestures more graceful.
The actors did a lot of their own stunt work while filming, particularly during the final fight scene between Pattinson and Cam Gigandet (who played enemy vampire, James). Both actors were suspended on wires and incorporated some degree of martial arts in their mimed battle. The action seemed to want to draw a little more testosterone into an already soft love story. Perhaps the filmmakers were hoping to draw some men to the theaters to what otherwise might be deemed a “chick flick”.

I thought they could have done with less of some of the action, personally. There were times, particularly when Edward runs up trees (something he doesn’t do in the book) and takes Bella on his back through the woods that seemed a bit too over-the-top for my taste. Something about the movement translated as corny. I think they would have done better to leave out the overly dramatic stunt work and concentrate on the characters, instead.

Overall, as is usually the case, the book trumps the film. In this case, because the book is of a supernatural nature, I was better off imagining Edward speeding through the forest and glittering in the sun (his skin glitters when exposed to sunlight).

While I didn’t mind “seeing” Edward and Bella on the screen because I think the actors portrayed them so well, I still have my own version from reading the book of what they look like. I’m not sure the film makes sense without the book, but the book is definitely worth checking out, particularly if you were ever a teenage girl.

Jennifer studied Literature and Creative Writing at The University of Arizona where she received her MFA. Her fiction and poetry have appeared online and in print. She has also published articles on various pop-culture-related subjects, including the night she almost died to the music of 38 Special and her unhealthy teenage obsession with Duran Duran.


Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/68756-twilight-takeover/