**/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B
starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli
screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer
directed by Catherine Hardwicke
by Bryant Frazer Author Stephenie Meyer says she wrote her first novel, Twilight, in three months' time, after the central idea came to her in a dream. Leaving aside the question of whether the notion of a moody teen vampire love story set in and around a high school in the Pacific Northwest is remarkable enough to require that the Muses mainline it directly into your subconscious, the romance of Bella Swan, a quiet, self-abnegating high-schooler from a broken home, and Edward Cullen, a smoking-hot vampire who sparkles under sunlight and has sworn off human flesh, hit a sweet spot. Teenage girls, especially, responded en masse to Meyer's vision of a smouldering, beautiful boy with the power to end your life at any moment but the grace and restraint to keep his hands to himself. Can you tame him? These sexual politics feel retrograde--the lovestruck nymphet at the mercy of a man forever struggling to keep his carnal desires at bay--but I try to steer clear of kink-shaming. If a strange relationship makes you swoon, whether it's molded into Twilight's denial-of-desire shtick or 50 Shades' bondage spectacle, that's your business and the movies can give you a way to explore that. Disapproving thinkpieces will blossom; feminism will survive.
That's not to say this stuff makes for a particularly good film. Once the book became a runaway YA bestseller, Twilight the movie was fated to be in thrall to its own fandom, and you can feel the sense of duty as screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg ("Dexter", "Jessica Jones") and director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown, and The Nativity Story) hack Meyer's 120,000-word novel into something like 120 pages of screenplay. The resulting picture has a familiar connect-the-dots quality to it as it hurries from key sequence to key sequence, plot-point-A-to-plot-point-B, but does little with its characters beyond handing them mouthfuls of exposition. So Kristen Stewart, as Bella, spends the first three minutes of this thing delivering backstory via voiceover before handing the baton to Bella's new pal Jessica (Anna Kendrick), who pinpoints Bella's status as "shiny new toy" in the school cafeteria and adds colour commentary as Edward (Robert Pattinson) and the rest of the Cullen clan make their screen debuts.
This moment, about 10 minutes in, is key, because Twilight has to establish a love connection between Bella and Edward, like, immediately in order for anything else that happens in the film to make sense. Stewart is pretty good at this stuff, scraping her front teeth across her lower lip as she shoots questioning glances over her shoulder at Edward, a slender, attentive figure in dark clothing with a mop of anime hair and a pair of eyebrows that won't quit. But Pattinson reacts as if he's just smelled something funny, furrowing his brow and turning away--which is hilarious. (Though it's later explained that she smells delicious and he was resisting the strong urge to eat her up, the reaction is wonderfully incongruous in the moment.) In the very next scene, Bella is paired with Edward as her biology lab partner. As luck would have it, she steps in front of a big standing fan placed at the front of the classroom so that Edward is directly downwind--the film speed-ramps into slow-motion to make sure you notice her hair fluttering gently--and he has to hold down the sheaf of papers on his desk to keep them from blowing away as he struggles to quash his rising gorge. Bella pretends to pay attention to the day's lecture (flatworms!) and Edward just glares at her, the electric-guitar plucks and strums of Carter Burwell's insinuating score adding menacing undertones to the whole spectacle. Putting an absinthe-soaked cherry on top of this patchouli-scented auto-parody is a ridiculous shot composition that has a taxidermied owl carefully positioned behind Edward to give the impression of angel wings growing from his shoulders, even as he gives Bella the literal stink-eye. Is this tongue-in-cheek? Is it deliberate camp? Maybe the filmmakers assembled this in the editing room and then hissed, under one collective breath, "Nailed it!" I can't tell.
That's the thing: Twilight is kind of fun as long as it's not taking itself seriously. For example, I dug the unexpected revelation that the Cullen family is not exactly evil, but really just a commune of socially-challenged dorks set up in an expensive house in the woods outside of town. Ditto the point, more than halfway through the film, where all forward plot motion stops long enough for a vampire baseball game, complete with goofy caps and jerseys, edited to "Supermassive Black Hole." (Vampires can only play baseball during a thunderstorm, see, because the crack of their bats as they tattoo a dinger into the stratosphere sounds like a clap of thunder.) This is colossally dopey, but it pleases me--a comic-book digression come to life.
Less effective are the requite courtship rituals, which left me cold. One minute Edward's murmuring sweet-nothings about lions and lambs, the next he's plunking out love songs on a piano in a music room lit like a Bonnie Tyler video. Scenes of Cullen zipping through the forest at 100mph as though just flung out of a slingshot are supposed to suggest a sense of wild adventure for Bella, who holds on to his back for dear life, but they're undermined by unconvincing special effects. And when it's revealed that Twilight vampires sparkle in the sunlight, like fairies covered with pixie dust or strippers coated in sweat and glitter, the display is not merely underwhelming, the idea itself is a hat on a hat: one more tedious divergence from traditional undead lore. Too much of this sort of stuff and I start to remember I'm watching a movie about a supernatural centenarian seducing a 17-year-old girl with lines like, "You don't know how long I've waited for you." But then Hardwicke and crew stage a genuinely charming scene of the couple cavorting among the branches at the top of tall pine trees that captures even my cynical imagination.
Aside from the dodgy VFX work--ascribable, no doubt, to budgetary limitations (the first Twilight was done on the cheap by floundering studio Summit Entertainment, which badly needed a hit)--and a stubborn teal-and-orange scheme to the cinematography that makes every character look, at least in the aggressively blue-toned exteriors, positively whey-faced, the single clumsiest thing about Twilight is its structure. Despite some awkward foreshadowing early on, the trio of vampire antagonists doesn't show up until the two-thirds mark, at which point Bella becomes the designated damsel in distress, necessitating a half-baked vamp-on-vamp showdown 20 minutes later. This story thread is so perfunctory, and the film is otherwise so uninterested in action-movie beats, that I wondered why it was included at all--at least until I realized that these events, tedious though they may be, probably have ramifications one, two, three books down the line. That's the thing about fandom and franchise filmmaking: regardless of how well-made it is, any individual film is fated to exist more as a narrative delivery device than as a coherent expression of artistry or aesthetics. (The "Mission: Impossible" series, which has gone out of its way to hire a succession of strong directorial talent to execute mostly standalone screenplays, is one notable exception.)
Despite my complaints, I understand Twilight's broad appeal. Stewart was destined to be a big-time movie star, and it's fun to watch her get familiar with the craft, even as Pattinson develops Edward into a character by combining post-adolescent swagger with a bizarre, almost tragic fish-out-of-water haplessness; in his first friendly conversation with Stewart, he made me think of both James Dean and Starman. Sure, his kind of love can be creepy--like when he comes in through your window, uninvited, and just hangs out watching you sleep. But Pattinson gives him soft edges. And anyway, for anyone who had a rough time in high school, how attractive would it be to find a friend, lover, and protector with supernatural powers who can deal with any bully on the street and promises no harm will ever come to you? I'm not into YA literature, nor would I say a protagonist as passive as Bella Swan is a good role model for the youth. Yet Twilight is an earnest fantasy set on the cusp of adulthood, just as the way the light falls on everything in your life is changing. I don't blame anyone who wants to linger there for a moment. Even with sparkle vampires.
THE 4K UHD DISC
Wanna feel old? Lionsgate's latest home-vid release of Twilight bumps the movie up to 4K just in time for its 10-year anniversary. (The four subsequent titles in the series have also gotten a 4K remaster, but will be viewable at that resolution only via digital streaming; the physical releases are BD-only.) The provenance of this new transfer isn't exactly clear; since Twilight was released theatrically at 2K back in 2008, it seems likely that the original 2K master has been upscaled to UHD. The resulting image is mostly clean and relatively crisp, though Elliot Davis's 35mm cinematography never had particularly sharp edges in the first place. In fact, the new transfer looks pretty much the same as the old one, except better. Thanks to HDR, the film's unconventional colour scheme, replete with teals, turquoises, and aquamarines, is richer (and incrementally less monotonous), while the occasional warmer scenes, mostly in tender moments featuring Bella and Edward together, have a more inviting glow. The contrast and dynamic range are boosted considerably, leading to glossy but precisely-detailed blacks and exceptionally luminous highlights sharing the same frame.
Where the HD transfer sometimes felt sleepy and sedate, this one is a few shades livelier. There does appear to have been some unwanted interaction between the HDR grade and 35mm film grain--there's something weird going on with the very first shot, featuring a forest landscape with a deer at a watering hole: it feels not just grainy but somehow noisy and gritty as well. Elsewhere, grain levels vary but aren't intrusive or distracting. (Stepping through the disc reveals a bit of artifacting in the grain patterns; cranking up the compression rate a little probably would've helped.) Aside from car headlights in night-time exterior shots, overly bright specular highlights are absent, although the picture feels plenty bright overall. Like the previous BD, it's letterboxed at 2.40:1 and represents the theatrical version of the film. Weirdly, the extended cut is available only via the Digital Copy voucher included herein.
Audio is of uniformly high quality, though sound designer Frank Gaeta's mix is never particularly aggressive. While the 7.1 Dolby TrueHD core of the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is active enough, apart from some directional dialogue, ambience, and sound effects most of the soundstage is deployed by the front three speakers. Two big exceptions are the musical score and Bella's voiceover, which fills the centre and surround channels. Dolby Atmos should add some spatial volume to the soundstage; unfortunately, I lack the playback equipment.
Extras are plentiful though only one of them is new to this edition: "Twilight Tour … 10 Years Later" (10 mins.). It features Hardwicke and actor Jackson Rathbone visiting several of the film's shooting locations in and around Portland, Oregon. It's entertaining and admirably brief, thank you very much. The rest of the extensive line-up is ported over from earlier releases, starting with the very book-oriented "A Conversation with Stephenie Meyer" (24 mins.), in which the author discusses her writing process ("Blue's Clues" on the TV, two kids in her lap, 10 pages a day) and each of her main characters in turn. You might expect "Music: The Heartbeat of Twilight" (6 mins.) to interview Carter Burwell, but instead it invites Hardwicke, Meyer, Stewart, Pattinson, and music editor Adam Smalley to reflect mainly on "Bella's Lullaby," the Burwell piano composition Pattinson plays in the film. Twin featurettes "Becoming Edward" (7 mins.) and "Becoming Bella" (5 mins.) have Pattinson and Stewart, along with Hardwicke and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, defending their performances. "I didn't want [Bella] to be too vulnerable, I didn't want her to be too doe-eyed," Stewart says. "That's not necessarily a good thing to promote."
Next up, "Catherine Hardwicke's Vampire Kiss Montage" (3 mins.) replays Twilight's three fang bites (two flashbacks from Edward's origin story and one sort-of-gothic fantasy sequence imagined by Bella) without the visual treatments applied to them in the movie proper. It's an interesting way for fans to get a better look at these scenes--but then wouldn't it have been better not to obscure them via high-end Instagram filters in the first place? Along the same lines, "Catherine Hardwicke's 'Bella's Lullaby' Music Video" (4 mins.) is a montage of Twilight footage graded in grainy monochrome and set to the Burwell tune, with snippets of dialogue layered into the mix in ostensibly rhythmic fashion. (Shoulda gone the whole nine yards and hired Moby.) And "Edward's Piano Concert" (3 mins.) is precisely that--an extended version of Pattinson's in-film keyboard performance with less extreme colour timing. It's presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and is unfortunately marred by audio glitches at about 30 seconds in.
The remainder of the disc is occupied by shovelware--a boatload of web videos originally created (at SD resolution, upscaled here) by the late Borders bookstore chain, which hitched itself to the Twilight premiere in a big way. Some of this material is worth a glance if you're a fan of the actors involved or are interested in a street-level document of red-carpet hype accompanying the film's debut. First up are a trio of Twilight Cast Interviews, wherein questioner Drew Waller shoots softballs at actors Stewart and Pattinson (7 mins.), Cam Gigandet (6 mins.), and Edi Gathegi and Rachelle Lefevre (6 mins.). The best bit of all comes when Stewart admits that if she had known how popular the Twilight books were, she probably wouldn't have agreed to do the movie. (Realizing how that sounds, she follows up with the save: "I'm really glad that I did!") Weller is back on camera for two more interchangeable shorts that were shot before Twilight's world premiere in L.A., "Twilight Premiere on the Red Carpet" (8 mins.) and "Cast Interviews on the Red Carpet" (5 mins.). They bring even more cast members into the mix for brief comments, among them Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, and Nikki Reed. Heck, even Paramore shows up for a word or two. The final featured video is "Borders Book Club featuring Stephenie Meyer, author of The Twilight Saga" (36 mins.), in which Meyer takes questions from a readers' group. Sample quote: "I don't think high school is something you ever really get over."
Yeah, it's kind of a lot--and the bundled Blu-ray Disc contains a whole 'nother slate of extras, such as a full-length audio commentary featuring Hardwicke, Pattinson, and Stewart. I admit that I only sampled it but it sounds like it might be worthwhile. (Pattinson claims that he was unaware the camera was rolling at one point during the biology-class scene, potentially offering some insight into his genuinely strange performance.) Also find "The Adventure Begins: The Journey from Page to Screen", a longish (about 55 minutes) documentary featurette broken down into seven arbitrary segments: "The Beginning" (2 mins.), "The Partnership: A Look at Pre-Production" (6 mins.), "The Vampires" (5 mins.), "Capturing the Action: A Look at Production" (20 mins.); "Vampire Baseball" (8 mins.); "The Final Word on the Final Battle" (8 mins.); and "Putting It All Together: The Magic of Post-Production" (5 mins.). It's good stuff, supplemented with prodigious commentary by the usual suspects as well as VFX supervisor Richard Kidd, whose breakdown of the film's artificial environments is visually intriguing. Additionally, "The Comic-Con Phenomenon" (8 mins.) chronicles some of the convention hype that accompanied Twilight's release.
Five "deleted" scenes and five more "extended" scenes are on board, each inessential moment briefly introduced by Hardwicke, amounting to less than 15 minutes of viewing in total. A raft of promo collateral rounds out the BD: a couple of generic pre-release Twilight featurettes (4 mins. and 3 mins.); a full-length theatrical trailer (2 mins.); two minute-long teasers; and a trio of music videos, for Paramore's "Decode" (5 mins., upscaled from SD), Linkin Park's "Leave Out All the Rest" (4 mins., upscaled from SD), and a live performance of Muse's "Supermassive Black Hole" (5 mins., upscaled from SD). Trailers for Push, Astro Boy, and Bandslam are queued up at the beginning of the disc.