Rivkah Writes…

June 22, 2009

Twilight Zone

Be warned – this is a “Twilight” movie critique. I wince at the echoing commentary ricocheting off my keyboard as I go about my task: “shoot me now!” “who cares?” and from devotees, “why now?” 

I am sensible to your disquietude; nevertheless I reserve my belated right to speak up on the “Twilight” phenomenon. So bear with me if you will.    

In the past I’ve mentioned my passion for fairy tales – Hogwarts, Narnia, Hobbits, Mordor – oh, and of course, vampire tales. Long before Stephenie Meyer dreamed of crossing over to the dark side, there was Ann Rice, Lestat, and the erotic, sensuous otherworld of the undead.

There’s a special atmosphere created by all classic works of magical fiction, and it is to envelop myself in this atmosphere that I re-read these books and anxiously await their screen debut, hoping this medium does not wreak havoc on my beloved tales. In most instances, my fears go unrealized. The movie versions of “The Lord of the Rings” and the Narnia tales, for example, are as wondrously realized as the original novels. I admit I may have tuned out over that whole Tom-Cruise-Brad-Pitt-“Interview-with-a-Vampire” phase. Still, once my daughter became enamored of the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series, I matched her, book for book, movie for movie. But that’s when the trouble started. Because, while the Harry Potter movies depict a wholly re-imagined world, their setting and characterization as effective on screen as in their original conception, there is one major problem with the “Twilight” movie; its magic does not ring true.

Now don’t get me wrong. The “Twilight” books themselves are terrific.  Meyer brilliantly uses “good” vampires struggling valiantly against innate blood thirst as a metaphor for humanity fighting innate – but unacceptable – impulses. The novels juxtapose mystery and magic with teenage angst, and just enough romance to set the pulse racing. Oh the thrill of the shy, withdrawn maiden chosen by the gorgeous, tortured, demonic hero – oh the delicious constancy and devotion he manages to hold in check for 2½ entire books. Indeed, Meyer renders unconsummated yearning and desire so viscerally, Keats* himself would be proud. And in the movie itself, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart admirably personify Edward and Bella. True, Edward could up the smolder factor a notch, but he is believable as the brooding, conflicted creature determined to transcend his blood lust through devotion to Bella. And Kristen Stewart re-creates Bella’s awkward self-consciousness with wonderful subtlety. I also loved the “bad” vampires – such devilishly sexy characters, their “good” counterparts seem pallid by comparison.

But the movie’s truly fatal flaw lies in its special effects; to be brutally honest, they left me cold. In a crazy way, the movie’s atmosphere is “Twilight”-meets-MTV-while-under-the-influence – almost self-consciously un-magical, using cult appeal and edgy music to inflate scenes as un-sinister as they are unbelievable. Edward’s incredible speed translates into a cartoonish immediacy that comes off as amateurish. Is it just me? Back in the days of yore, was “The Six Million Dollar Man”’s incredible strength interpreted that much more skillfully? Maybe I’m just older and more critical.

Moving right along, what about that horribly unrealistic snarling – was I seriously meant to be frightened by that? By contrast, think of Bilbo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings” begging Frodo to let him hold the ring one last time. Think how the ring’s power turns that benevolent face terrifying in a matter of seconds. What’s a few second of terror within the elfish paradise of Rivendell, right? But that demonic face made my blood run cold.

Oh, and when Edward removes his shirt to reveal why he must hide from the sunlight, his sparkling, waxen-hued torso made me want to laugh rather than empathize with his undead condition. And no, you can’t just write me off as a middle-aged cynic. I mean, when Harry Potter teaches Dumbledore’s Army members the Patronus spell to combat Dementors in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the resulting scenes make me smile with childish pleasure, so clearly I’m not cynical, right? Well then, why does “Twilight” magic make me want to rush for the exit? Because – and here’s the irony – successful fantasy feels real, even when it clearly is not.

So my message to directors filming “New Moon” – the “Twilight” sequel – is this: make magic I can believe in and a world I yearn for…edgy music optional. 

*From “Ode to a Grecian Urn” by John Keats  “Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!”

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