I am not the target audience of the "Twilight" franchise. I'm a man who loves manly movies. "Dirty Harry" and "Magnum Force" are films that get replayed a few times a year, as does the ultimate action movie, "Hard Boiled." Yet despite all this, I walked out of a theater late last year and realized, "I enjoyed 'Twilight.'" All kidding aside, it's not the fact that "Twilight" is a love story that would alienate me from it's target demographic ("Casablanca," "Pride and Prejudice," and "Closer" also sit on the same shelves as the films of McQueen and Lee Marvin), it's the fact that it's a love story about teenagers, adapted from a series, initially aimed at teenage girls. I went into the film back in November, coming off some minor initial disappointment from "Quantum of Solace," and figured I had two-hours of teen crap ahead of me, but "Twilight" wasn't any of this.
"Twilight" for those not familiar, is the first book in an immensely popular and successful series by Stephenie Meyer. I will be upfront right now, I've never read any of the books and despite enjoying this film, will most likely never do so in the future. I can't speak about how faithful they were, only how good the film was from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the series. "Twilight" is also about vampires. This was the first aspect I felt would make me hate it. The vampires in "Twilight" are not your typical vampires and definitely not one of cinema's great portrayals (for the record, "Near Dark" remains one of my favorite vampire films, and in many ways shares many themes with "Twilight," but is tone wise and content wise, the polar opposite of this film), but they are an interesting take nonetheless.
Robert Pattinson (Cedric Diggory from the Harry Potter films) tackles the lead role as Edward Cullen, a brooding vampire, perpetually stuck looking 17. I enjoyed Pattinson as Cedric Diggory, but while he is far from terrible in "Twilight," I felt he struggled with an American accent, leading to a few scenes straight from the "William Shatner School of Dramatic Delivery." His love interest and fellow lead is Bella, played by Kristen Stewart. She is tasked with the role of your typical, new kid in school, sent to live with her father as her mother travels the country with her new, baseball-playing husband. Stewart's performance is good; she handles her scenes well and the narration she provides felt natural. Most importantly, the two leads have chemistry together and this chemistry is what keeps the film from crumbling.
The acting for supporting players on the other hand, is far from great. Bella's high school friends have quite a few stilted lines, and at times the acting is on par with something you might have heard in a mid 90s PSA for teens. Edward's family fairs a bit better, but I suspect the bits of awkwardness here are due to a lack of character development in the film. Having heard the love for these supporting characters from fans, I feel that the movie most likely shortchanged them, in the interest of time.
In terms of storytelling, "Twilight" is very by the books. The story doesn't bring anything new to the table, and it's here where the film digs a hole from which it can't elevate itself to something fresh. I would hope that the source material is a bit more fleshed out, as it's hard to justify the worldwide hype with what is presented here. What is nice about the story of the film though, is it isn't trashy. Too often have I seen films with tasteless stories marketed towards teens, so despite, the average quality of the story, it's refreshing to see something appropriate for the young teen demographic. It's a love story, but sex is never a blatant topic. Granted, the subtext is there in places, but the overwhelming theme I gleaned from the film was that love can be formed without it.
The last aspect of the film that must be mentioned, is a negative, and that is the special effects. The film had a $33,000,000 budget, but the special effects look straight out of the live-action "Amazing Spider-Man" series from the 1970s. In comparison, "Cloverfield" had a budget of $8,000,000 less and I thought the effects were much more credible. More than a few moments broke my suspension of disbelief and got me to chuckle; when Edward takes Bella on a journey through the forest, the theme to the previously mentioned "Spider-Man" series popped in my head. I really hope, for future films in the series, that the effects budget is either raised or a better effects house is contracted, because this is not feature-length quality.
All in all, "Twilight" is not an easy film to review. It's a pedestrian story with good lead performances, but as a complete package, feels like a slightly better movie than it should be. It exceeded my initial expectations, which were arguably very low, but even when revisiting it on DVD here, I enjoyed the experience. It is quite brisk for a two-hour film, and the scenery (filmed in the Pacific Northwest) is quite pleasant, despite the dreary look of it all (this is important, story wise). It's charming and for a teen-marketed film, is at the top of its class. I could think of a number of recent films I'd rather watch again on DVD, but at the same time, I could think of quite a few more, that I could do without. If you're on the fence, I would say it wouldn't hurt to check "Twilight" out.
"Twilight" is presented in a 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen presentation, and much like I was with the film itself, the transfer surprised me as well. Summit has put out a very good looking DVD, while it's not nearly as sharp as any other big budget Hollywood releases from last year, it's not horrid looking. I would actually say it's a better transfer than 'The Dark Knight." There is some noticeable edge enhancement, but that is the most glaring problem I spotted. During any of the film's numerous "misty" scenes, I saw no compression artifacts in the fog, which can often be a problem. The dreary, grayish color palette comes across nicely, despite the previously mentioned overall soft look of the film.
As with the transfer, "Twilight's" audio is also better than expected. It's a well balanced English Dolby 5.1 track and uses the surrounds to good effect in a few scenes: notably Vampire Baseball and the other vampire's attack on a character at a dock. The swirling/swooping surround effect helps create an illusion obviously hindered visually by the limitations of the special effects. The modern alternative rock soundtrack of course is used to good effect, as is Carter Burwell's original score. A Spanish Dolby 5.1 track, Spanish subtitles, and English subtitles for the hearing impaired are also included.
The last big surprise I got from this package was the quite extensive set of extras, considering the genre of film and target audience. On Disc 1 is a group of extended scenes from the existing film as well as three music videos from the bands Muse, Paramore, and Linkin Park respectively. Some of the videos have intros by the director. The most substantial extra on the disc though is the feature-length commentary by director Catherine Hardwicke, Kristen Stewart, and Robert Pattinson. It's far from the greatest commentary, but the trio seems to have a good time talking about filming. There are some dead spots, that turn into the group mentioning the obvious and giggling from time to time, but I've heard much worse tracks.
On Disc 2, is a nearly hour long documentary on the making of the film. It plays like an extended making of featurettes with a lot of talking head pieces and narration over scenes of filming. It begins with a bit of background on the novels from the author as well as an intro to the cast of characters, then covers the filming of some major scenes, before wrapping up abruptly in post-production. The end of this segment really is awkward as it concludes on a thought from Hardwicke on the music. I honestly wonder if this was cut down for reasons unknown. Next up is a brief segment on the Comic-Con appearance by cast and crew, it's a disposable piece as it's mostly a bunch of female fans going crazy over everything. A series of deleted scenes is included, each with an introduction by the director. Despite, the running time feeling shorter than it was, I would safely say these cuts were wise as some feel very redundant. Last up is a collection of promotional pieces that served to build up buzz for the theatrical release; the theatrical trailers are included in this segment.
While it's far from the best film of 2008, "Twilight" is still quite enjoyable. As someone who is obviously the opposite of the target audience and hasn't read the books, I found the story to be charming and the acting very serviceable. The bottom line is, I've seen a few teen targeted films over the past years and found all of them to be disposable garbage; "Twilight" strikes me as a bright spot for this demographic. It's not mean-spirited, nor trashy. I went into the theater expecting to hate every minute of it and didn't. When it came time to revisit it on DVD again, I figured it wouldn't be as entertaining, and I was shocked that it still was. Add to all this, a good audio/video presentation, and a fairly comprehensive set of extras (I'm looking at you, "Quantum of Solace"), and you have a worthwhile DVD package. Highly Recommended.