Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Perfect Man is a Vampire, part 2: welcome to the Twilight hour...

Okay, so you got me, I am officially a fan.  A last minute trip to Vancouver cajoled me into buying the first Twilight book.  Thoughts of a chaotic airport, an impersonal plane ride, landing in a city shrouded with rain heavy clouds, moved me to a Twitter free mindset and set up the perfect jumping off point into the world of romantic vampire fiction.  It didn't go exactly as planned though as LAX was sold out of the damn book, but Vancouver international had five copies on a newsstand shelf, in all their cheap paperback glory, so I plunked down the $10 CAD and ended up in my parents' guest room bed (laptop next to me of course) captivated from page one (well not really page one but close enough).  That was three days ago.  Book- read.  Twice.  Movie- watched.  Once- last night- with friend who had already seen it the day before.  Fan...sigh...created.  But in giving over to Stephanie Meyer's rain soaked, angst filled world, I become what every other Twilight fan considers their right- a critic.  Such devoted fanship (and the fact that I am in the biz and have a minor in film criticism) apparently gives me the right to give Summit, Catherine Hardwicke, Karen Rosenfelt, Marty Bowen and all the other Twilight execs a few carefully considered notes, straying from the general consensus of 'stick to the bloody book!' on the next go around...so that Full Moon doesn't run the risk, well, of sucking.  

But first, before donning the jacket of movie critic/ development exec, I honestly have to admit I have not been transported back to my teenage years of boy angst- where I was desperately 'in love' with the same dark-haired chiseled rower for a year and a half- quite as vividly by any other book I have ever read.  I am suddenly, acutely reminded how I was a closet Bella, never feeling like I fit in, but unlike her, never having the strength to actually embrace my loner qualities.  Instead I just wore the same frosted pink lip gloss as every other girl (which, with my Bella-like coloring, is horrific (!) why didn't someone force a berry toned gloss into my hand?) and went out with the boys that my peers thought I should.  Maybe everyone felt that same way as the teenage years are truly a horrific right of passage, but I choose to think that my inner turmoil was special.  But what I now realize is that, during those coming of age years, we all lived for that single, glorious yet painful sensation newly born out of our hormonal change- that feeling of falling in love.  Nothing else really mattered.  Do you remember what that first experience of love (for lack of a better term as it wasn't really love) was?  I know for me I can't truly describe it but it lived in every cell of my body, colored every step I made, from what time I would show up to my locker to how high my school kilt was rolled.  That addiction to my first true crush was all consuming where my imagination would fly away to an imaginary Grad (we didn't call it prom in Canada) where he would leave his flaxen haired girlfriend and find me along the edges of the romantically lit gym (?) and without a word, just take my hand and lead me the dance floor.  So chaste yet so intense.  Eternal foreplay.  Unfortunately though, my creature of choice wasn't a pale, brooding monster who shared my intense nature, he was just an intelligent jock with a wicked smile, but the fact that he was ultimately unattainable and that I still carry those vivid battle scars in my cellular memory makes me a perfect victim for Stephanie Meyer. She, with such ease, reawakened that painfully acute feeling of having your breath taken away...and not knowing if it will ever start again.

So, that's why I (and I'm sure so many other people) love this book.  Walking into the theatre last night was a heady experience as I was acutely aware that I would probably be disappointed. Most, if not all, theatrical adaptations of a book are a let down because they never live up to expectations, if not solely because one's imagination is far more vivid and personal than a film can ever be.  But still, I was giddy with the thought of being thrust into this fictional world of Forks, Washington and seeing two very well cast actors fall in love on screen- and that they did. Catherine Hardwicke shows her true strength as an actor's director and her casting eye (with the help of the incomparable Deb Aquila and Co.) is exquisite (well except for Nikki Reed but I understand why she cast her; you have to support your small coven of in-house actors even if they are a 180 degree turn from the character in the book but sadly Nikki seemed to be aware of her mis-casting).  But what she seems to lack most is the technological expertise to make this supernatural story come to life.  

I have seen all of Ms. Hardwick's films and she has a unique skill at using the camera as an intimate tool of privacy invasion.  Good thing that Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson have such perfectly unlined and pore-free faces as the close-ups and tight two shots of their visages are what emotionally sold the film.  It is obvious that Kristen and Robert already have inherent chemistry and Ms. Hardwicke all but confirms that their connection off screen is as intense as it is on-screen but to give her credit, she mines their deep connection with simple, handheld skill that must have taken much restraint and faith in her performers skill and rehearsal.  It's when she gives over to the genre, to the fact that it is a supernatural fantastical story, that has much to do with both internal and external speed and movement, that the film lost me.  

What separates the 'cold ones' most from the mere mortals in this saga is their gracefulness, their sudden inhuman movements and most importantly speed, covering 30 feet in a blink of an eye, racing silently through a dense forest, driving at 120 miles an hour without a thought, hitting a baseball clear out of site; Edward out and out states it, "we like speed".  And that speed adds the much needed element of testosterone and balances out the inherent chick flick nature of this story.  Ironically though, the speed theme is further illuminated within Bella.  She may move with the grace of a newborn calf but her unique, veracious capacity to, at first 'see' Edward unlike any other of her mortal companions, and then fall dangerously in love with him is literally revealed in the book by the speed of her heartbeat.  Just as blood doesn't pump through Edward's veins and he fights his primal urge to consume 'his own version of heroin', the intensity of Bella's physical reaction to him is almost too much for her body to bare, so much so that her body constantly fails her, her heart racing at such an inhuman, unknown speed that it almost gives out.  That allegory for speed, and the visual and aural cinematic details associated with it, were no where to be seen, just as the special effects associated with the Vampire's speed and skills were actually quite unbearable.  In a day and age when the visual effects on a TV shows like 'Heroes' and more importantly 'True Blood' are sophisticated enough to suspend one's disbelief, I was sadly disappointed how often I found myself cringing during the stunt sequences because they just seemed hokey to me, for lack of a more sophisticated term. 

So, 1st note to Summit Execs- get Ms. Hardwicke a better DP and a more cohesive special effects team (I was going to say a 2nd unit director too but Patrick Loungway knows what he is doing!).  This may be a difficult request as Ms. Hardwicke has worked with her cinematographer Elliot David since making 'Thirteen' but she needs someone with more experience in the action fantasy genre if she is going to stay at the healm.  I'd offer up suggestions but I'm not a below the line agent and don't think Janusz Kaminsky would agree to do a vampire flick.  There also seems to be a hodge podge of VFX people involved, some are from Industrial Light and Magic (apparently just for the 'skin' effect of Edward) and from CIS Vancouver with VFX Supervisor credit going to Michael Fink, not associated with either company, who seems to have special skill in oceanic effects- not too helpful here- unless you count rain as oceanic.  I know it wasn't an effects heavy film, not like 'Hancock' or 'Pirates', but that doesn't give anyone an excuse to churn out sloppy and uneven visuals.  (Also, on a side note- bring in a dance coach so that the actors can really learn what graceful movement is and how to properly crouch like a vampire about to attack- I just didn't buy any of it).

2nd note to Summit and seven credited producers, insist that Ms. Hardwicke employ some additional cinematic techniques to reveal her characters' inner life.  Wouldn't it have been captivating to hear and feel Bella's heart race and breathing intensify while trying to maintain composure during her initial, confrontational yet intimate moments with Edward?  Edward, being so acutely aware of her scent and of her blood is constantly described as physically acclimating himself to her essence, by exploring her face and neck with his nose, his cheek and his lips.  Every single time he does that, her heart almost stops and she must fight to maintain composure and consciousness.  If we can hear her inner thoughts via a voice over (ugh usually hate these!) then we should be able to hear her body betray her, that's what is so fascinating about her.  And let's take it a step further and go beyond the intensity of it all.  As Sabrina Weiss on her MTV Movie Blog wisely points out, there is more to Bella and Edward than just deeply felt moments, there is a sly curiosity and a sarcastic nature to their characters' relationship that allows the rest of us mere mortals to identify with them.  I know that Ms. Hardwicke knows all this, it just has to translate on screen.

Lastly, and not previously touched upon, I am noting my strong dissappoinment with the musical score.  I was about to buy it off of iTunes prior to seeing the movie as I am a sucker for great romantic orchestration, but decided to wait...glad I did.  I don't think I have to go into the significant role that music plays in cinematic storytelling, as if a character unto it's own.  You only have to go to the Hollywood Bowl on Movie Music night to feel what the right piece of music brings to a story.  From what I heard, the orchestration was a strange melange of electric guitar riffs and mood music.  No, no, no!  You even had 'Claire De Lune' to work with and that is one of the most heartbreaking impressionist pieces ever!  (You're probably getting that I love my scores right about now- listen to 'The Mission' if you are new to this music genre).  Thank goodness in the pivotal kiss scene (though not in the book as such) there was no music.  Luckily the actors could handle creating the passion on their own and the silence only added to the intensity but you better bring on the great score next time around! 

Actually, I could also delve into my opinions on the omitted, abbreviated or 'new to the story' scenes, but most Twilight fans have already expressed their views and displeasure at the omission of the full meadow scene, the abbreviated Port Angeles attack scene and the constructed 'say it out loud: vampire' scene to add punch to Bella's realization that Edward is indeed a vamp, so I'll leave it at that and really what's the point.  A movie usually tries to adhere to a 3 act structure and those changes were deemed necessary and prudent to move the story along and close it under two hours.  I get it, I probably would have given those notes too if I had stayed on the studio path and was an executive on the project.  (But now I personally would just love to see a 6 hour epic mini-series true to the book, like Pride and Prejudice but who's going to make that in this economy?)  I have to admit that I missed having the human foil for Bella in the Lauren character but Ms. Hardwicke showed her strengths when it came to fleshing out the supporting high school characters, characters who were highly underdeveloped in the book and who sparkled in the film, even if their scenes were cut in half, due to excellent casting (Anna Kendrick, who played Jessica, is flawless in Rocket Science- see it!) and I'm thrilled they'll have the chance to play those characters again in the next film.     

The most important thing that I took away from this film, however and regardless of the sophomoric cinematic visual result and muddled attempts at staying true to the book, was a desire to see it again.  'Ack, really???' you ask.  Yes, I'm unequivocally hooked on this love story, whether on page or on celluloid.  I can't wait to pull out 'New Moon' tomorrow on the plane to New York and get lost in this world again.  I guess Edward best put it best when answering Bella's pivotal question, "how long have you been 17 for?"..."A long time".  Must say that appears to be the case for me as well.  And on that note, back to work in the real world and I'll let this vampire thing rest for a while- promise...Be back soon.

All Things T  

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