Twilight: Is it really as bad as we remember?
November 20, 2018
I’ll watch cringy movies so you don’t have to! Email me with any recommendations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am reluctant to admit that in the years 2008-2011, following the release of the first Twilight movie, I was a die-hard Twilight fan. (Twilighter? Fanpire? Twi-hard?)
Back then, I would watch the movies on an old box television, which only played cable news networks and VHS tapes. My dad had to attach a DVD player in order for me to watch the movies. Whenever a new Twilight movie came out in theaters, I would wear a plastic, too-large replica of Bella Swan’s engagement ring, a cheap bracelet with a werewolf charm (representing Jacob Black, of course) and a pendant of the Cullen family crest that I made with play-doh and a ribbon. In my defense, I was eight years old . . . and totally on Team Edward. I’ve since defected and would agree that Jacob was the healthier choice.
I wasn’t alone in my Twilight hysteria. Even my mom sort of liked the films.
In the years since the final movie’s release, Twilight has become the pariah of young adult novels and films. It had a great three-year run, generating movies back-to-back, with Stephenie Meyer publishing novellas, graphic novels, and companion pieces. This included, astonishingly, a gender-swapped retelling of Twilight, starring Edythe Cullen and Beau Swan. Interesting idea. Personally, I think we should leave gender-swapping to fanfiction.
In honor of the Twilight movie’s ten year anniversary, as it was released in the United States on November 21st, 2008, I’ve made the brave decision to rewatch the first movie and answer the age-old question: is Twilight really as bad as we remember?
Under the assumption that most of our generation has been exposed to the Saga – if not dedicating a good portion of their tweenhood to loving or hating it – I’ll be quick with my summary.
Out of respect for her mother and step-father’s desire to travel, Bella Swan moves to Forks, Washington, to live with her father. He’s an awkward but loving chief of police with good intentions and an impressive mustache. Bella’s an average high school student, just trying to survive gym class, avoid being asked to the Prom, and properly identify the stages of cell growth. It’s on her first day that she catches the attention of a coven of friendly, neighborhood vegetarian vampires. Or, at least, the attention of one emotionally constipated member of the clan.
When noticing that her lab partner teeters on the edge of manic-depression, refuses to eat and is clearly on some sort of steroid, her first response isn’t to look up WebMD Symptom Checker for some communicable disease – no. Plot ‘A’ is filled with Bella and Edward exchanging heated words and heated glances before lazing together in a field of lavender, ‘unconditionally and irrevocably in love.’
The subplot is introduced through a series of mysterious murders that Chief Swan investigates, but it’s not until the famous baseball scene during a thunderstorm that the Cullens meet their antagonists. For reasons unfathomable to me, a clan of three enemy vampires take a special interest in Bella and stalk her across state lines until a showdown at a ballet studio. The ending felt rushed and confusing, but at the risk of spoiling the movie, I’ll conclude with this; true love prevails above the sloppy subplot.
With references to innocent does being chased through woods, an apple being offered to the innocent ‘Eve’ and the immense prevalence of Native American myths, the movie bashes symbolism over your head like it’s afraid you’ll miss how ‘deep’ it is.
Kristen Stewart’s performance is somehow both clumsy and rigid; I’ve heard other reviewers call Stewart’s performance abhorrent, but I think Stewart expressed her character’s emotions in other ways. Bella states quite clearly that she is the type to ‘suffer in silence,’ and suffer she does for five movies.
The supporting cast could also improve, but I’m inclined to be forgiving. They are given such little personality to work with. I couldn’t even tell you the names of Bella’s ‘human’ friends.
The Cullen clan is another matter entirely. Edward Cullen, despite being the second eldest of the clan, is the least well-adjusted and least interesting. The others are charming in their own ways, and their performances were very well done. Special props to Peter Facinelli as the sensitive, kind patriarch Carlisle Cullen and Nikki Reed as the hilariously dramatic, Bella-bashing Rosalie Hale.
Robert Pattinson is a fan favorite, but on closer inspection, his performance disappoints me. His expressions are forced and painful to watch, his lines are hissed under his breath, and his incredibly pink lips are almost as distracting as his drawn-in eyebrows. Robert Pattinson has shown his immense dislike for the Twilight franchise and has given insight to his performance. He knows it wasn’t good. Knowing the cast hated it as much as we do, I can at least laugh at Edward’s awful character arc rather than cringe at it.
Although Taylor Lautner was vastly underused in this first movie, he was charming and likely the most professional actor amongst the younger cast. He’s previously starred as a child actor in acclaimed movies Cheaper by the Dozen and Sharkboy and Lavagirl. However, Jacob’s luscious, long-haired wig left much to be desired. Thankfully, they ditch it by the second movie.
Hair, makeup (as mentioned previously with Edward’s bubble-gum pink lips and Jacob’s unfortunate hair) and screenplay were the movie’s greatest missteps. The movie is based heavily off the book, which was saturated with flowery language and awkward dialogue. Meyer’s prose didn’t adapt well on-screen.
The special effects were impressive for 2008, with color-shifting eyes and Edward’s super speed. It was clear they spent most of their money on the effects and the set design. I wonder, however, if they had spent less money on animating Edward’s ‘spider monkey’ scene or building the Cullen’s glittering mansion and spent more on the script, would the movie have the stigma of awkwardness that it does?
With character performances varying greatly in efficacy and a 37 million budget gone to waste, I have to ask – how did this pale, lifeless story generate the craze that it did?
In one word, it’s . . . relatable. Somewhat.
Stephenie Meyer took inspiration from a bandwagon of fantasy novels that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter paved the way for, by imbuing a world of vampire covens and werewolf tribes into real life’s ups and downs. Meyers gave an all-powerful, immortal creature a wealth of insecurities, family drama, and homework – the Cullens had to repeat high-school for centuries, the poor creatures.
Meyer humanized monsters and provided us a distraction from our own struggles. ‘See!’ it’s as though she’s saying ‘Even this hot vampire doesn’t know how to deal with a crush!’
Meyer’s mimicked the intense passion and brooding love interest from most romantic novels we find in our mom’s closets and made it PG-13. Edward is the epitome of a knight in shining armor (or, rather, a shining Volvo), utterly obsessed with Bella to the point he watches her while she sleeps. Everyone loves a bad boy, right?
(Quick PSA, sneaking into someone’s bedroom and looming over their beds in the middle of the night is not and will never be an indication of a healthy relationship.)
Twilight fulfills the teenage dream of having two equally attractive boys fight over you. Bella has a werewolf and a vampire at her beck and call, and if that isn’t relatable, I don’t know what is. (Sarcasm).
The Team Edward vs Team Jacob feud begins in Twilight and escalates in New Moon and Eclipse as a silly little subplot to create some semblance of debate amongst her readers; it was effective. I could go into further detail about the Team Jacob and Team Edward discourse, but I’ve exhausted myself praising a character that is, quite literally, the definition of a pervert. Edward was made into a vampire in 1901 and is attending high school with seventeen-year-olds, one of which he marries – a little creepy, wouldn’t you think?
As for Bella Swan – in my opinion, she was purposefully made to be utterly average. She’s a ‘blank-slate,’ with simplistic character traits and ambiguous physical attributes. The novel, which was written in first-person perspective, allows the audience to live vicariously through Bella’s life. This appeals to Meyer’s teenage audience that may feel awkward in their own bodies or feel like the ‘new kid’ entering middle and high school; wondering desperately, if anyone will ever love them.
The answer Meyer tries to give is ‘Yes! Even if you’re a clumsy, anti-social, only quasi-attractive teen, you have a long life ahead of you. Eventually, you’ll find someone just as awkward as you!’
Despite all my critiques, the first of the Saga, with its comparatively lower production budget and young, wet-behind-the-ears cast . . . had potential.
It was a quirky, innocent attempt at appeasing the hoards of teenagers and moms that dreamed of a sparkling, totally obsessed, forever-young soulmate to come sweep them away from their boring day-to-day lives. It was a young adult wet dream, which, admittedly, would have been best left as a stand-alone. Breaking Dawn Part One and Part Two, for example, felt like Meyer closed her eyes and clicked on a random, Rated M Twilight fanfiction and just . . . went with it. Teenage pregnancies, sudden magical powers, a child that ages three times fast so Meyer can justify a grown man ‘imprinting’ on a newborn; all reasons that Twilight should’ve stayed a one-hit-wonder. But that’s just my opinion.
In summary, it was . . . bad. Yet, it could’ve been a lot worse.
At the very least, Twilight provided teenagers an idea of what not to pursue in a romantic relationship. To all of you out there, here’s a bit of advice; if someone sneaks into your bedroom at night to watch you sleep, call the police. Don’t start a relationship that lasts five, excruciatingly long movies with a two-part finale.
Kacey Joslin is a student at UW-River Falls.