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November 21, 2008

Open movie thread, ’Twilight’ edition

Movie_camera Take a teen romance that's simultaneously vapid and dangerous, strip away what little personalities the characters had, ramp up the violence and throw in a gratuitous underwear scene, and you've got Twilight the movie.

As with the book, it's hard to tell which is more of a concern, Edward's stalker-like tendencies or the way in which he and Bella are incessantly portrayed as just a little bit better than the yahoos around them (the same kind of thing that bugged me years ago about the two self-centered brats at the center of Titanic). The movie plays this up even more than the book did. The kids and some of the adults in Bella's town and school are portrayed as inane to the point of brainlessness. By contrast, there's a breathless focus on every word that Bella and her vampire lover utter, as if pearls of wisdom were dropping from their lips. This focus is accompanied by constant, huge closeups of their every facial expression, to the point where the viewer is seriously afraid of disappearing up Bella's nostril. 

This treatment makes even less sense than it did in the book, since there's absolutely nothing that sets these two apart as characters. If you were asked to list their defining qualities or behaviors, aside from Edward's magical vampire powers, you could use one hand and still have a couple of fingers left over. Edward still plays the piano, but movie Bella doesn't even cook anymore, and her love of reading disappears entirely, apart from a one-second shot of a "Reading Is Sexy" bumper sticker pinned to her bulletin board. In a way it's a relief to be spared Bella's reflections on great literature, which were always about as deep as a mud puddle, but that leaves her with no hobbies at all other than listening to her iPod and dreaming about Edward. So there's no real reason for either of them to think of themselves as, or to be treated as, superior beings, unless gazing goopily at each other across the school parking lot as drippy rock anthems blare from the soundtrack is supposed to count as some kind of talent.

I was completely unable to hold back the giggles at highly inappropriate moments, such as when Edward revealed his sparkly self in the sunlight -- looking more like a human disco ball than anything -- and followed it up with an anguished "It's the skin of a killer!" By the mercy of God, however, I was spared death at the hands of outraged fangirls. (There were an awful lot of them for a school morning. This thing is going to make major bucks.)

As a side note, the trailers at my showing included some for particularly nasty-looking horror movies that I wouldn't think were appropriate for high school girls. But then, as you know, I don't really think Twilight is either.

If you've seen Twilight or other recent movies, share your thoughts here!

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Diane Singer

Gina, I went to see it yesterday as well, with mostly a group of 20-50 year old women (no giggling girls, thank goodness). It wasn't THAT bad!! I have always had mixed reactions to the books, so I was curious about the movie. It captures, fairly well, the awkward intensity of "first love" even if the close ups, as you note, were a bit overdone. However, I actually liked the sparkling Edward (go figure), though the special effects of him running and leaping were pretty cheesy. I doubt that I'll see it again (at least, until it comes out on DVD), but it certainly wasn't the worst book adaptation I've ever seen (that honor goes to "Children of Men").

Gina Dalfonzo

I guess it's all in the eye of the viewer, Diane. I think for me it was the contrast with the books -- Meyer sets him up as this dazzlingly beautiful godlike creature shining like a diamond, and then on the screen he looks like a little kid in glitter makeup, and I just lost it. :-)

Plus the segue into the scene was so weird. Boiled down, it was basically "I'm a dangerous vampire. You should be afraid of me." "I'm not afraid." "YOU HAVE TO SEE WHAT I LOOK LIKE IN SUNLIGHT!" And I'm thinking, what the heck? It sounded like he was going to do a "Phantom of the Opera" kind of reveal.

Totally with you on "Children of Men," though. That adaptation made me livid.

Diane Singer

No doubt that viewers bring their own expectations to this one. I'm ambivalent, but it was obvious that I was surrounded by some serious fans, as indicated by their "Twilight" T-shirts and "Team Edward / Team Jacob" buttons. I heard one woman say, "They left out so much of the book!" Well, that pretty much always happens in movies adapted from books. I also think you're right: these vampire characters are described in such godlike terms in the book that the visual representation can't possibly live up to the glory we can imagine.


Since I gave a comment or two on another blog you had about the book, my older daughter has wanted to know if Chuck Colson has mentioned the movie in his Breakpoint segment. She never read the books and has no real desire to see the movie, but many of her friends (at a Christian school) talk about it. My 11 year old daughter, listening to our conversation wanted to know if she could read the books, to just see what they are about. She is currently reading every "Christian" romance she can get her hands on. I told her I would rather not have her read them, telling her there are many other fantasies or romances she could read that were much better. I don't understand what the big deal is about this movie, perhaps because I'm male or because I am more and more convinced we should be thinking about "whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy" to quote one of my favorite books.

Gina Dalfonzo

JerryH, Mark Earley did a BreakPoint commentary on the books:


And Chuck Colson will be doing a commentary on the movie in a couple of days.

Liz P

I grew up on the mission field in Senegal, W. Africa as an MK/PK and had little opportunity to see the latest movies on the big screen. We didn't even own a TV. However, my parents allowed to us to see certain films with the requirement of discussing them together as a family. We have a 15 yr old daughter and we, too, have adopted much of these same standards. Proudly, my daughter always rushes to Focus on the Family's website, www.pluggedinonline.com to view the reviews first, before asking to see a movie. We read their review before going to see Twilight. I didn't read anything that truly concerned me that we couldn't discuss together after the movie.
I must admit that seeing this movie was purely entertainment. The Focus review was a bit too critical. Though the part where Bella and Edward almost went too far, yes, that could have been totally eliminated. But thankfully, it came to an upbrupt end. Vampires are fictional and kids and adults alike have been entertained by their stories for a long time. Truthfully, I thought this movie was harmless and I was glad to go WITH my daughter, so we could discuss the pros and cons together. I , too, liked the diamond-like skin when Edward went into the sun. Traditionally, vampires get burned in the sunlight so this was a nice alternative. I didn't think it was gory either.


Regarding the close up shots: A huge part of the book, (and a stand out part of Stephenie Meyer's writing style) is the way she dissects every tone, every facial expression. It's what makes her books and characters so real; you're with them every step of the way. Perhaps this isn't a writing style (or film style) you enjoy. But it's hardly a reason to put the movie down. I'm not crazy about many authors' writing styles, but I'm not going to criticize the book just over a personal preference.

Regarding Bella's "defining qualities and behaviors": I should hope that reading and cooking aren't anyone's "defining qualities." When asked who I am, it would be absurd for me to answer, "Well, I like to write and play piano." Who a person is doesn't have as much to do with their hobbies (which obviously weren't vital enough to squeeze into the movie time limit) as it has to do with their reactions, their personality, and yes (sometimes) their facial expressions. The movie may have left out Bella's hobbies, but it didn't leave out the fact that she adored her mother (would even put herself in danger for her), cared deeply about her father (and insisted even against her safety and Edward's judgment that she do what was necessary to keep him safe), and that she generally took care of those around her (looking out for her friends, cleaning up after Charlie, comforting him when he lost a friend). Among her less noble but more humanizing qualities, she was quiet, shy, reflective, stubborn. In essence, not a role model, but a person that people can relate to.

Gina Dalfonzo

Calynnea, I'll grant you that Bella's willingness to die to save her mother is indeed admirable.

However, her attitude and behavior toward her parents in Meyer's series steadily grow less and less admirable. If the movies follow suit, movie Bella will be even less of a role model than she is now.

Maria S

Wow, did your claws come out or what?! I got it; you hate the movie/book. I think I've read all your reviews and articles on the book and the comments that you've added later on. This one by far...is to the point of being mean. It is JUST a book and instead of focusing on what the girls shouldn't be doing, how about what they should. Radical thought, I know.

I'm going to throw this question out to everyone...do you even know what the moral of the story is?

Gina Dalfonzo

Ah, Maria, I'm afraid you can't expect much better from one who discovered and devoured the collected reviews of Dorothy Parker at an impressionable age. If you think I'VE got claws . . . :-)

But that's what critics have to do. They critique. If I love something, I'm going to say so -- and if I don't, I'm going to say that, and I'm going to say why. It's all part of the job. I'm here to share my beliefs and my honest opinions, not to run a "Twilight" fansite.


Gina wrote: "... or other recent movies"

I usually cry at movies starring Owen Wilson, but only at the thought of paying good money for admission to see something so vapid. So I went to see "Marley & Me" prepared to be underwhelmed - and having not read the book, but knowing that Marley was a dog who created chaos in an amusing way - "I Love Lucy", with fur. I was pleasantly surprised (starting, remember, from quite low expectations) to find a very funny, touching movie with subtle acting from both Wilson and Jennifer Aniston (who is still trying to be "America's Sexy Sweetheart", yet managed to do some amazingly good actual acting in this picture). I found myself weeping unashamedly (as Rolley has emphasized is OK for us guys) at various points.

Unfortunately, the movie destroyed any ability to maintain the pretense that I am not a soft-hearted animal lover overcome not by loss of life in the abstract, but by the passing of cute and cuddly creatures (and therefore that THAT, not any theological convictions, is the basis for my belief in Young Earth Creationism). Sigh. So maybe I have gone soft on the whole issue of death; it's been a long time since I had to watch the "Alien"/Sigourney Weaver marathon with the Navy SEAL, or the "Predator"/Schwarzenegger marathon with the Army Ranger. ("See that weapon? I fired one of those in practice - sixteen bazillion rounds per minute! Cut the practice dummy right in half at the waist - HOOAH!!") Perhaps I need more time seeing death portrayed routinely and unsympathetically. I suppose I could head over to the Clukey household and have Chris show me some assault training videos, followed by a visit to Dr. Steve's to see clips of his lab assistants engaged in a pithing contest (and thank you, Rolley, for getting that horrid pun embedded in my brain - so to speak), and then a marathon of detailed medical forensics on the Discovery channel and/or "CSI" and "Bones", finishing with a review of Roberto's latest list of 75 Ways The Earth Will Be Destroyed In Our Lifetime. Or, I might pull out my Bible and reference materials and read up on the Scriptural approach to death. Hmmm, desensitize myself to dying, or sensitive myself to the One who created and sustains life? OK, Plan B it is. (And for those who recoil in righteous indignation at the thought of reading Scripture as secondary to any other activity, please note that many Christians do not look there for answers at all, and my relegation of it to second place is meant to be ironic and thought-provoking, not a reflection of my actual attitude. Neener neener neener.)

Rolley Haggard

It’s my peculiar gift to pick up on tangents (sorry).

Responding to sympathy for animals --- Worth considering, I think, is the idea that animals are metaphors for human beings. Thus, the suffering and death of an animal touches [some of] us because it intimates, if only subliminally, the suffering and death of a human being.

Those who are not greatly affected by the death of an animal . . . .well, somewhere along the way they may gotten pithed in the visual cortex. Metaphorically speaking.

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