Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on March 22, 2009, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
Back when Twilight first opened theatrically, our original plan was to run “he said/she said” reviews by our writer Jessica Leibe, a die-hard fan of the Stephenie Meyer best seller that spawned it, and yours truly, who had barely heard of the book before the film came along. We figured the disparity of points of view going in would make for an interesting compare/contrast in our criticisms—and then it turned out that our (disappointed) reactions to the movie were practically identical, and Jessica’s review went up solo.
A re-viewing of Twilight on Summit Entertainment’s two-DVD set certainly hasn’t done a whole lot to change this writer’s opinion. The problem isn’t so much that this is far less a horror film than a vampire romance; anyone approaching it at this point expecting hearts to pound from fright rather than the promise of passion just hasn’t been paying attention. Twilight’s disappointment is that the love story that has enraptured so many on the page comes across as rather bloodless on the screen.
Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan, the new girl in the perpetually cloudy town of Forks, WA, and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen, the dreamiest of the local undead clan, certainly have the right looks and attitudes for their respective roles. Yet the powerful desire that’s supposed to flare up between them, from the moment Bella first spies Edward in science class (complete with a stuffed owl in the background giving him ersatz angel’s wings) just ain’t there. From this initial encounter, Bella gets all dithery and Edward gets all broody, and while there’s a modest chemistry, there’s no fire in their scenes together. It’s one thing to write about an overwhelming, heedless love and have readers imagine how it looks and feels, and another to dramatize it with the same success—and a bit of purple prose like “So the lion fell in love with the lamb” is easier to pull off in print than to make convincing as an actor.
With no prior knowledge of the story details, this viewer was also surprised at how predictable its beats are (if there’s a human heroine and a supernatural beau, it seems there will always be a gang of toughs around to threaten the former before being scared off by the latter). And then there’s the stuff that’s just plain silly, like the moment where a couple of bare footprints in the dirt are enough to convince the local law that the party or parties responsible for some nasty local murders have fled far out of town. Or the bit where the Cullens and the trio of bad roving bloodsuckers who committed those killings confront each other, and everyone suddenly crouches down in poses that are supposed to represent their animal sides coming out, but instead suggest that a dance number is about to ensue.
When the nastiest of those hungry nomads, James (Cam Gigandet), becomes fixated on Bella as his next meal and the Cullens mobilize to protect her, it’s supposed to be the engine that drives the narrative’s third act. Yet as directed by Catherine Hardwicke from a script by Melissa Rosenberg, the movie rushes through all this material as if embarrassed to be “descending” into action territory, and it has little impact. Like its vampires, Twilight is great to look at, but there’s no blood running through its veins.
Those visuals, which are lush and enrapturing even when the emphasis is on overcast tableaux and pale faces, are given their full due in the DVD’s 2.40:1 transfer, which brings out all the nuances of Elliot Davis’ cinematography (even as Davis’ name is one of two misspelled in the billing block on the disc case). The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is equally fine, and the movie is accompanied by an audio commentary that reunites Hardwicke, Stewart and Pattinson. Anyone who saw Stewart’s notoriously tight-lipped appearance on Late Night With David Letterman will be relieved that she’s significantly more open, relaxed and talkative here, and the trio share a lot of laughs as they recall the production. Surprisingly, given the project’s profile, the Twilight team didn’t seem to have much of a money hose to turn on when weather became an issue, and there’s much discussion of having to switch sets/locations at a moment’s notice due to rain (or sun, in a couple of cases). The talk is anecdotal rather than in-depth, and is best suited for Twihards who want to feel like they’re sitting in with the director and stars for an informal viewing of the film (which, we learn, Pattinson hasn’t seen before this recording).
The first disc also contains a trio of music videos—two of which, showcasing songs by Muse and Linkin Park, are concert performances, with only the Paramore tune accompanied by film footage—and a collection of extended scenes. These don’t add much to what’s already in the feature (a longer attack by the villainous vamps remains pretty softcore), and the same goes for the deleted scenes that appear on disc two, and total only a few minutes. The sole notable trimmed bit is one that Hardwicke (who introduces all of these clips) refers to as “hot bad-vampire action”: a clinch between James and Rachelle Lefevre’s Victoria that, in its few seconds, is indeed hotter than anything that transpires between Bella and Edward.
The centerpiece of the second disc is a seven-part, 54-minute making-of documentary that tracks Twilight from its origins in one of Meyer’s dreams to the feature’s postproduction, which Meyer brags involved “no greenscreen.” There are plenty of interesting details covered in the various sections, from the casting of local extras to storyboards and pre-visualization CGI sequences to the staging of the stunts and physical FX (love the “magic carpet” gag) to one shot revealing that parts of the movie were lensed under the cover title Transit. An assortment of promotional material includes a trailer that rather misleadingly plays up the film’s negligible action quotient, while perhaps the most entertaining supplement is The Comic-Con Phenomenon, covering the cast and crew’s visit to that event and the reaction of attending fans, who greet their every word during a panel discussion with Beatles-decibel screams. This unabashed celebration of Twilight-mania is enough to make one hope that the upcoming cinematic sequels, New Moon and Eclipse, offer stronger rewards for that enthusiasm.