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Posts Tagged ‘Catherine Hardwicke’

So, I got in the other night and was greeted, as usual, by my landlady:

‘Hello! Been to the movies?’ (She knows I practically live there and get 25% off on Tuesdays.)

‘…yes.’

‘What did you see?’

‘(sigh)… Breaking Dawn – Part 2.’

‘Oh. What was it like?’

‘…Jesus.’ Much shaking of the head and despairing followed, the details of which I will spare you.

‘Oh. You know, I’ve got the first one on DVD up in my studio if you want to watch it. I’ve never been able to get past the first twenty minutes.’

What, watch another one? The first one? The fountainhead of this terrible scourge upon global culture? What kind of masochist did she take me for?

twilight-movie-poster

Ahem. The first Twilight came out in 2008, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and watching it, effectively, as a prequel to the end of the series is a slightly odd experience. One can definitely make out the warning signs that will ultimately lead to complete disaster, but at the same time this is – as I was assured by the person who bought my Breaking Dawn ticket – not nearly as bad a movie.

We open, cheerfully, with a young woman contemplating the circumstances of her own death, the exact circumstances of which do not become clear for quite a bit. She turns out to be Bella Swan (possibly so-named because she is a white bird with a long neck), played by Kristen Stewart. Stewart is perhaps a bit too pretty to convincingly play a somewhat-insecure teenage girl, but she is effectively gawky at least. Bella is moving from sunny Arizona to gloomy Washington state to be with her father.

Almost straight away she meets native American dude Jacob, played by Taylor Lautner. At this point, if Jacob is a werewolf, he’s not telling anyone, and he also has long hair and dresses quite differently. More startlingly, Lautner is not nearly as wooden as he will later become. Possibly discovering your werewolf heritage destroys your ability to act (or it may just be the haircut).

Anyway, we get a lot of new-girl-at-school stuff, which is fair enough, as Bella settles in to her new life. But there is a mystery at school! One which entrances and preoccupies Bella! And it concerns the aloof and enigmatic Cullen family, a family of pale students who keep to themselves and never show up while the sun is out. The mystery is, of course, why the Cullens are turning up to high school in the first place, given they are all obviously in their 20s.

Oh well. Amongst the Cullen clan is Edward, played by Robert Pattinson. Edward is very thin and pale, appears to be wearing lipstick, and there’s something weird going on on top of his head. All he needs is some green hairdye and he could play the lead in I Was A Teenage Joker. Edward is initially very off with Bella – but then his mood abruptly changes when he saves her life in mysterious circumstances. Further strange events lead Bella to make a startling discovery as to what Edward Cullen really is – yes, he’s a slightly effeminate non-threatening romantic fantasy figure for teenage girls to safely get fixated on!

And he’s a vampire too. This is basically the plot of the first half of Twilight, which I thought was by far the most interesting part of the film and arguably the strongest too (although I couldn’t figure out why the so-called vampires were so keen to keeping going to school, over and over again, especially since they made no effort to fit in there). One of my issues with Breaking Dawn – Part 2 was that it largely took place in a rootless, unidentifiable fantasy world where practically every character was a so-called vampire or werewolf. To start with, at least, Twilight is set in something resembling the real world, with recognisable human characters and situations, and this helps the story.

One wonders how much of this emphasis is down to director Catherine Hardwicke, who clearly has some kind of vision for the film – she seems to be going for something distinctively naturalistic, with slightly washed-out colours. Even here, though, I sensed a certain tension between this approach and the smoothed-over romance and superbland fantasy which is what the film is really about. Hardwicke was not retained for the next film, supposedly because she couldn’t undertake to deliver it within the required timeframe, but I wonder whether creative differences weren’t also partly involved – there’s a reality and a visual style to this film utterly lacking from the final instalment, and the former at least are at odds with the general tenor of the story.

Anyway, the second half of the film is much more concerned with the budding romance between Edward and Bella and the various doings of the Cullen so-called vampire clan. The Cullens themselves are colourless and creepy even on their debut appearance – not creepy because they’re dangerous undead predators, but creepy because they’re blandly attractive and weirdly wholesome one-dimensional cut-outs, more like a religious cult than actual vampires. The central romance simply doesn’t ignite, but it’s hard to tell whether this is the fault of script or actors. It is certainly written in a breathlessly earnest way – a teenager’s ideal of what first love should be like rather than the real thing.

Even here, though, you can sort of see why this series has picked up some criticism for supposedly glamorising an abusive relationship – not only is Bella an almost entirely passive figure, but at one point she gets a voiceover going (I paraphrase, but not much) ‘Edward is a bloodthirsty monster. Part of him wants to kill me. Ooohhh, I’m so totally in love with him!’ I guess girls love a bad boy – even when he’s prettier than they are and have weird stuff going on with their hair.

I did complain about the so-called vampires in Breaking Dawn – Part 2 being tedious superheroes stripped of any symbolic or metaphorical meaning, but in Twilight I can sort of discern what Stephenie Meyer was thinking of – the vampire has frequently been used as a symbol for immoral or deviant sexual practices – all those exchanges of bodily fluids, same-sex couplings, extra-marital goings-on, incestuous relationships and so on. In this film, at least, the vampire (as represented by Edward) just represents any kind of active sexuality, which is shown as dangerous and best avoided in favour of introspective romance. Bella and Edward’s relationship at this point is entirely non-penetrative: he refuses to bite her, even when she asks him to. I’m not sure how convincing this is as a moral message for the kids to take away, but it’s certainly a non-threatening one parents will approve of.

There’s some running around and shouting at the end of Twilight which is quite well-handled, but the more the central romance took centre stage the less engaging I found the entire film. The whole thing wraps up with the tacit promise of a sequel, which is fair enough: there isn’t a great deal of closure in the plot anyway. It’s well directed, especially in its earlier sections, and some of the acting is not too bad – but the creeping blandness of so many of the characters and relationships as the film progresses not only makes watching Twilight a distinctly so-so experience, but clearly indicates just what grim viewing future episodes are going to make.

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