In defence of Twilight: Vampires suck, this movie doesn’t, so stop making fun of it
Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga is one of the most ridiculed film franchises of all time, but for its audience, it’s their lifeblood. Let’s defend Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s movie.hollywood Updated: Dec 25, 2017 11:54 IST
To be alive in November 2008, and to be into movies in November 2008 meant many things. The Dark Knight had changed blockbuster movie-making forever only a few months ago, and by November – after having broken several records along the way – there was serious talk about getting Heath Ledger an Oscar. In 2008, Judd Apatow was at the peak of his powers, having released a string of successful films over the last couple of years, most notably (for me, being a teenager and all) the high-school comedy, Superbad. By November 2008, Slumdog Millionaire had well and truly embarked on its remarkable underdog journey towards that Best Picture Oscar.
But in between all this, there was Twilight. I hadn’t read the books then – something I’ve rectified since – but I knew many people who swore by them. This number has, strangely enough, only increased in the years that followed. We see fans turn their backs on Harry Potter (blame Fantastic Beasts), Batman (Ben Affleck) and Star Wars (the prequels, and more recently, The Last Jedi) – but against all odds, the Twihards have been the most loyal bunch of the lot.
Almost 10 years have passed since the first Twilight movie was released. They’ve grown steadily worse, with each new entry plunging new depths of utter nonsense. And like the Transformers series – which began only a year before, in 2007 – the Twilight Saga’s public opinion has largely been shaped by declining quality of these sequels, the off-screen drama of its stars, and the indefensibly poor source novels.
Amid all this frenzy, the first movie stands out like a vampire in Indian sunlight. There’s a lot to admire about that film, and having watched it again recently – at least seven years after having seen it last – it holds up. But this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, really. Much of this series’ success can be attributed to its ability to stay fresh for its fans – they’ve read the books more times Kristen Stewart has bitten her lower lip, and the books only gained new followers after they caught the first film on home video. Interestingly, Twilight almost doubled its revenue thanks to DVD sales, which seems like an almost prehistoric notion in these days of Netflix and Amazon Prime.
It is one of the only recent blockbuster franchises to have maintained a uniform (and staunchly unique) tone despite being overseen by a revolving door of directors. Remember, in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at just two films old, was but a glint in Kevin Feige’s eye.
The cultural climate has certainly changed since then; but years before Patty Jenkins ushered in a new era for women directors in Hollywood, Catherine Hardwicke was – at least on paper – just as bizarre a choice to direct a YA adaptation as Jenkins was to make a $150 million superhero movie. Like Jenkins, who had the grim drama Monster to her name before Wonder Woman, Hardwicke was known mostly for her two indies, Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown – both excellent films.
She brought a distinct worn out aesthetic to Twilight, easy to forget because most people remember the series as being extremely glossy. The opening scenes are paced like a Sundance movie, with static establishing shots to acclimatize the viewer – along with Bella – to the dreary Forks, Washington. In between these moments, there is an almost wordless exchange between Bella and her father, Charlie. Most of their scenes are filmed in a two-shot, and this conveys everything we need to know about their strained (but still very emotional) relationship.
Which brings me to Melissa Rosenberg’s screenplay. Arguably, she had the most difficult job of the lot – as the saying goes, you can’t polish a turd, but Rosenberg most definitely managed to make sense of author Stephanie Meyer’s overwhelmingly monotonous ramblings. She injects tiny, almost unnoticeable moments in between all the glowering – like the underlying jealousy in Bella’s friend Jessica’s eyes, her alpha female spot being unwittingly taken over by Bella, whom she calls ‘the shiny new toy’; or Bella’s relatively easy conversations with Jacob, which foreshadows a more substantial future relationship.
And despite all the ridicule they attracted then – and still do to this day – Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are sort of perfectly cast. There’s a tender awkwardness to them, no doubt made more authentic thanks to what was happening in real life between the two (despite Hardwicke’s superhuman efforts to keep them apart). They’re both terrified of what the other is making them feel – an emotion every teenager can relate to, especially accompanied by that incredible soundtrack, and Carter Burwell’s memorable score.
And look what they’ve blossomed into – both Stewart and Pattinson have delivered a series of outstanding performances in their post-Twilight careers, and the best ones came in 2017 (don’t miss Personal Shopper and Good Time, by the way).
There is however, one criticism that is difficult to argue. Bella’s like a Disney princess, which is to say she’s a damsel in distress. She requires saving on multiple occasions in the movie, in fact, in the final showdown the entire Cullen clan shows up to defend her. But – of course, there’s a but – when you take into account that Twilight is, essentially, a take on centuries’ old lore, then it makes sense for it to mirror those stories. It works because it captures a certain emotional reality - understandably, you might not relate to it, but you can’t ignore the millions of young girls who do. Like a Jane Austen novel in the early 1800s, it plays into its audience’s fantasies, and for them, it remains one of the most satisfying (and irreplaceable) stories ever.