Monday, December 15, 2008

Twilight and the Evils of Voice-Over

I know this review has been a long time coming; all I can say is that I got sick after Thanksgiving weekend, and when I began to improve, Danny caught it.

Now I'm healthy (with just the tiniest cough), I'm 90% done with the Christmas shopping (although in denial about the need to wrap), I finished a chapter two days ago, and life is back on track.

So. Twilight.

The initial hype and fervor has passed, but impressive while it lasted. Before the film opened, all of the conversation fluttered around whether or not the movie would gross enough to warrant the sequels. I had a hunch it would - after all, this was a movie for the same demographic who made Titanic successful (weepy, squealy teen and preteen girls).

When we went, the theater was full of, yea verily, many weepy, squealy girls. How squealy? The scene: high school in Forks, Washington. Bella, sitting, minding her own business when who should enter (in slow motion, so you get all that good hair bounce) but the Cullens? There's Rosalie, Emmett, Jasper, Alice (perhaps not in that order, but there isn't a poem for them like the reindeer) and...wait for it...wait for it...

It was like sitting in a theater full of happy shrieking eels. A bit overdramatic if you consider this particular vampire borrowed his hair from Elvis.

Back to the movie, except, if I'm going to talk about the movie, I need to talk about the book.

Twilight and its successors, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn, are prime examples of how good storytelling sells. Stephenie Meyer was extremely successful is writing books with a compelling enough story to launch the reader through a 2" thick book in 48 hours. The forbidden love story is classic in its archetypal roots and for that reason strikes a chord. The books are really less about Vampires than they are about a Romeo and Juliet story in which Romeo has impressive incisors and the ability to climb a pine with his bare hands.

The supporting characters are strong, particularly Edward's "siblings," and there's enough romantic confusion and romance to keep things entertaining. This is not to say that the writing didn't need a few more passes through the editing department. But we believe Bella as a serious, thoughtful teen who has completely fallen in love with a man who wants to eat her.

I know some people became frustrated with Bella as the series progressed; I thought it was unfair. She's 17 and dealing with International vampire culture. That she doesn't collapse into a paroxysm of trepidation is really to her credit.

The movie is so wrapped up in the thing which Twilight has become that it has difficulty really exploring its space, settling in, and becoming its own entity rather than a book adaptation. No one looks comfortable in their movie skin, with the exception of Elizabeth Reaser's Esme Cullen. For the Twilight fan, the film is a chance to see the book come to life. For the outsider, a lot of the plot developments and character motives would remain a little too mysterious.

The first half takes too much time trying to develop, but speeds up well during the second half. Funny, because the book did the same thing. Difference is that the book managed to entertain when nothing much was going on but Bella's reflections on Edward's physical perfection.

I would see it again, and enjoy it (unlike Bond, which I did see a second time and zoned out through the last half), and I'm genuinely looking forward to New Moon.

I was looking forward to it even before the directorship was handed off to Chris Weitz. As the director of Golden Compass and About a Boy (one of my favorite movies), I think he'll help bring the production values up a notch. Or ten. Because there's nothing wrong with making the movie not look like it was made for the Sci-Fi channel. I think the hand-held camera is great and looked terrific for the Bourne movies, but for films with a fantastical element I think the camera needs to be grounded more often, to aid with the suspension of disbelief.

Haven't heard anything yet about the script, IMDB still lists it with Melissa Rosenberg, but if they hand that one off, I think that's great. The film opens with a lot of voice-over which should have been cut IN THE FIRST DRAFT PEOPLE, DID WE LEARN NOTHING FROM FILM SCHOOL????? If you're going to use first-person narration, you had better be writing the great American film, and there had better not be vampires involved. Or werewolves. I'm sure this was all covered in class. In a perfect world, I would have the producers court Steve Kloves (of Harry Potter fame) or Jan Sardi (The Notebook), with a co-writing credit for Delia Ephron (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), a writer who has no issues getting into the heads of teen girls (She used voice-over in the form of letters, yes, but it worked).

This is really less of a review than a discussion. I'm okay with that. If you want to know what the movie's about, read the book. It'll take about 48 hours.

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