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TWILIGHT

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Green
Director:  Catherine Hardwicke
Audio:  DTS and Dolby 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Summit Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  Movie 122 minutes plus special features
Release Date:  March 21, 2009

I know what you are. You're impossibly fast and strong. Your skin is pale white and ice cold. Your eyes change color... and sometimes you speak like, like you're from a different time. You never eat or drink anything. You don't go out in the sunlight. How old are you?”
“Seventeen”.
“How long have you been seventeen?”
“A while”.

Film ***1/2

Ah, to be young and female and in love with a vampire who has waited a century to love you.  As I was waiting in line to purchase the special three disc set of Twilight at Target, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was purchasing the movie while waiting for her children to finish their after school activities.  She said she had already purchased the Borders Books version of the movie, so this was her second copy of the movie.  She also said she had read all four books twice.  So here was the demographic for the novels and movie, except that she was a mother, not a teenage girl.  Clearly this was a phenomenon, not just a movie.  Adapting it to the screen would be a tough balance between taking the best parts of the book and dialogue and making it work on the screen.

I purchased the novel years ago not knowing very much about it except that it was a love story involving a young woman and a vampire, but I struggled to read it.  Bella, our fair maiden in distress, was a bratty teen who seemed unhappy about everything despite being a popular new girl at school.  I tried three times to read past this silly premise and just couldn’t do it.  Later I realized that it was written more from a female perspective, but very different from the primordial, sensual world Anne Rice created.

I stayed away from Twilight in theatres because critics almost universally said it would only appeal to a young female audience, but I looked forward to the DVD release so I could judge it for myself and see if it could hold my attention in a way the book could not.  The cast is mostly unknowns or lesser- known’s at least, but is uniformly excellent and inspired.  I was also anxious to see a movie mentioning my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida (if only as a far off place) and to see a homegrown actress, the lovely Ashley Green (as Alice Cullen) who made it to the big time.   The chemistry between Kristen Stewart as Bella  and Robert Pattinson as Edward is intense but awkward and anxious, just like everyone’s first love.  They really do seem meant for each other, like gravity.   Kristen’s performance as an awkward teen is matched by a restrained performance of Billy Burke as her father Charlie.

In a way this is the opposite of my Harry Potter experience: I loved those books, and the movies were alright, but Twilight is much more rewarding as a movie than a book to me.  I did not care for Meyer’s style even though she did create a new world based on the real one.  Stephen King has publicly criticized her style while praising J.K. Rowling’s and I agree.  The ideas and mythology are good even if they are not presented with much craft. 

But this movie grabbed me very quickly for several reasons.  The baseball game during a thunderstorm was amazing, especially with the music of Muse as a funky, bewitching backdrop.  This is an Americanized Quidditch scene of course.  But even before this scene, we meet the Cowens as her new family, like Hogwarts, and their palatial house in the trees of wet, green, sun-less Pacific Northwest is the perfect place for vampires.    I traveled there recently and the movie captures it perfectly.

And I did not foresee Edward playing Debussy on the piano.  How classy.  Oh heck, now even I like him now!

Video ****

Special effects, luridly mysterious lighting, the lush greens of the Pacific Northwest, and pale complexions are all seamlessly fluid and easy to watch.  We really feel like we are in this world, but a more mysterious one.  No problems or artifacts that I can see.

Audio ****

Nice and loud with DTS, no problems understanding the moody teens in their mumbling ways and the music and generous special effects never overtake the dialogue. 

Features ****

Plenty of good stuff for serious or casual fans.  Disc One includes extended scenes, commentary from director and the leads, plus music videos for Muse, Linkin Park, and Paramore.  The commentary is not the best I have heard and is somewhat unnecessary considering how many other hours of specials we have to watch, but we do get to know our cast better. 

Disc Two contains the usual deleted scenes but also an excellent seven part documentary about the making of the film, and a behind the scenes look at comic con.  I am sure they have never had so many females there before! 

I purchased the Target edition because it has a third disc with more special features and codes to download all features for free from iTunes (though you only get the movie, not the commentary that comes on the movie disc). 

The third disc comes with the Target edition (which did not cost any more than any other edition).  I think these are by far the best features.  It contains “An Interview with Stephanie Meyer” is just that, and is interesting because she contrasts herself with Bella, and explains her challenges in getting the book published.  She claims that the book broke all the rules, especially being told in first person, but she wrote very unconsciously.  She sees her family as more like the vampires than the humans.  She was an English major who had barely written anything until she had a dream about a first love that was off kilter.   She wrote the whole first book in about three months while trying to raise three sons.  Her insights into the characters are in some ways more interesting than the book itself to me!  The interview is your typical gee-whiz I can’t believe it happened to me, and she seems very sincere and sweet, kind of the opposite of Oprah or Martha Stewart.

“Music from the Film” is a special about music of course, and notes how Robert Pattison is apparently a very talented musician in real life.  The music definitely did add greatly to the movie.  It is not enough to just have a good story, characters, and actors with chemistry, but the atmosphere and mood also have to work, and music so often contributes to this.  I think after seeing this film, I realize that this is lacking often enough in many films for me. 

“Becoming Edward” and “Becoming Bella” are interesting, but sometimes overemphasizes the appearance of the actors rather than the depth of the characters, and Pattison admits it was an almost impossible challenge.  Apparently he got the part largely because he is tortured, as many monsters are.  Pattison’s own insights into the character show he is very intelligent.  Kristen Stewart’s interview is not quite as interesting but it also shows that she is an excellent actress because she is so different in real life from Bella, very perky and outgoing.  There is also a montage of vampire kiss scenes from the movie and a remix of “Bella’s Lullaby”. 

Summary:

Just when we were starting to run out of reasons to go to theatres and escape into a young person’s fantasy world, Twilight comes along and manages to be adventurous and fun and chaste, but still intense.  I am already looking forward to seeing the next installment. 

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