Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Twilight and The Happening
Twilight (2008): A personal confession: when I was in junior high, I used to daydream about becoming a hero. I dreamt that monsters or terrorists or aliens would take my school or city hostage, including whatever girl I happened to have a crush on that week. I dreamt that I somehow managed to escape from their clutches, that I miraculously gained superpowers or martial arts skills or the ability to fashion a grenade launcher out of my school supplies. Then I would take down the monsters/terrorists/aliens and save the girl. The girl would fall in love with me and everyone would celebrate me as the hero of the story.

That is the story of Twilight, the classic tale of a hero rescuing a damsel in distress and the love story that follows. Only this story isn't a junior high daydream. And it has vampires.

Let me begin by saying that I have read and enjoyed the Twilight books. They have a vampire-like ability to suck you in, captivating your attention for hours at a time. They're good books with interesting characters and a fantastic hero in Edward Cullen. I think that having read the novel significantly affects my critique of the film. They say that "the book is always better than the film." In this case, the film nicely complements the book.

The story is about a teenage girl living in the northwest who encounters and subsequently falls in love with a teenage vampire. In this regard, the film follows the book extremely well. The plot, the scenes, even some of the dialogue are directly from the novel. But I felt that though the film followed the novel's structure, it didn't capture the novel's substance. In the novel, the romance between Bella and Edward is one of the more in-depth teen romances I've ever read. Edward sets boundaries, protects Bella, desires to know Bella as a person before becoming physically intimate, pursues marriage before sex, and bases the relationship on an unconditional love for one another. If I had watched the film without knowing the substance from the novels, I would have felt like the on-screen romance was shallow and based entirely off physical attraction. (Jeffrey Overstreet suggests as much in his posts on the film.) The film portrays Edward as the popular hot guy at school, emphasized by slow motion close-ups of his face. Edward is supposed to be a brooding Prince Charming instead of--and I quote Gus the Intern here--a "creeper" with some serious eyebrow and hair gel issues.

Other aspects of the book don't translate well to film, which I believe to be the fault of the director and screenwriter. Some of the dialogue from the book that sounded romantic now sounds downright creepy (Edward's "I enjoy watching you sleep" for example). The entire scene in the woods where Edward reveals his secret to Bella comes across as angsty and awkward, without the depth or emotion from the novel. The production of the film could have been much better too. The special effects were simply laughable--I actually chuckled out loud when Edward starts doing his vampire run, which I've heard compared to a marionette. I also laughed when he called Bella a "spider-monkey," bringing back memories from this scene (warning: some language). I had to squint to see Edward sparkle in the sunlight, which I expected to be a brilliant kaleidoscope of color instead of looking like he rolled around in glitter. Finally, the makeup on the vampires made them look like they stuck their faces in flour (especially Carlisle and Rosalie). They were to be pale-yet-beautiful, not clownish.

Lest I sound too harsh, I must admit there were aspects of the film I really enjoyed. The casting for a few of the characters was excellent, especially Kristen Stewart as Bella, Kellan Lutz as Emmett, Ashley Greene as Alice, and Taylor Lautner as Jacob. There's also a realism about the teenage interactions in the film, with awkward pauses in conversation and the relational tension that comes with adolescence. The relationship between Bella and her dad is a perfect adaption from the book. Finally, I really enjoyed the baseball scene with the Cullen family.

Here's the thing: while I can list fault after fault from the film, I still liked it. Going against my better judgment, I have to say that I enjoyed the film because I enjoyed the book. If I had never read the book and had gone into the theater without any prior knowledge of Twilight, I probably would have been really disappointed. I think I'll call this the Indy 4 Effect, where all the obvious flaws in a film are excused because of a personal preference I bring into the theater with me. Perhaps it all comes down to imagination. I allowed my own images and perceptions from the novel to fill in the blanks left by the film. My mind's Edward and Bella merged with the film's Edward and Bella, allowing imagination and film imagery to combine and complement.

The Happening (2008): M. Night Shyamalan continues his downward spiral into crappy movie-making with The Happening, his first R-rated film and his worst to date. The film is a B-movie in every sense: cheesy dialogue, cliche characters, unimaginative cinematography, wooden performances, and a plot straight from a Twilight Zone episode. They manage to give away the Shyamalan twist-ending only 30 minutes into the film without every truly explaining what is happening. (Spoiler alert: The big twist is that nature is taking revenge on humanity for hurting the environment, making the film a preachy montage of "go green!" messages.) Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel are completely miscast, with Marky Mark as a high school science teacher and Deschanel as his unhappy wife. The filmmakers even managed to somehow make Miss Deschanel totally unattractive and lifeless. Unless you simply have to see everything that Shyamalan has ever made, don't bother with this film.

Go (1999): A late-90s Pulp Fiction rip-off about delinquent youth in California. Likely best known for being one of Katie Holmes' first feature films. It was a waste of my 90 minutes, with the only redeeming factor being the late-90s soundtrack (No Doubt, LEN, Fatboy Slim) that reminded me of my freshman year in high school. Don't see Go. In a word: stop.

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