Dir. Catherine Hardwicke
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Bill Burke, Peter Facinelli
Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart from Into the Wild and The Messengers) leaves her Arizona-based mother to come and live with her father in the rainy mountain town of Forks, Washington. Starting in her new school she immediately becomes the most popular girl in class. The boys line up to ask her out to prom. But she only has eyes for her brooding classmate Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). He saves her life. He saves her life again. They start dating, He saves her life again. They go to the prom. All pretty exciting. It should be mentioned, however, that Edward and his family are all vampires.
However, the Cullens are *good* vampires. They only feed on animal blood and they act to protect the people of Forks from some new *bad* vampires who show up. The vampires are not the savage monsters of 30 Days of Night; they are cultured, European-ish vamps. They are drop-dead gorgeous, they are impeccably-dressed, they drive flash motors and they listen to opera and Debussy. One of the new vamps in town, Laurent (Edi Gathegi), even speaks with a French accent. Daylight does not kill them; it just makes them sparkle as though they are wearing gold body glitter. “This is the skin of a killer!” Edward warns Bella dramatically, whilst glimmering like a Rio samba dancer. It must be flattering to be a gawky, clumsy small-town girl who attracts not only her new male classmates and drunken rapists but also a vampire who, presumably, could have anyone he wanted.
Edward is strangely drawn towards Bella. She is the one person whose mind he is unable to read. “I feel very protective of you” he says. This explains his romantic behaviour – following her when she goes out, spying on her from the bushes, breaking into her bedroom to watch her while she is sleeping. Hang on – that’s not romantic – that’s creepy! Plus, let’s remember that she is 17 and he is over 100 years old. Aw-kward!
It is almost a metaphor for abusive relationships. She is withdrawn and clumsy. When he reveals that he is a vampire she immediately thinks that his inability to read her mind makes her the freak (“I tell you I can read minds and you think there’s something wrong with you?”). She is hot for him, but he rebuffs her in the middle of a hot make-out session. If he ever did get too, y’know, passionate, he would probably end up killing her, so that’s a no-no. “I hate you for making me want you so much”, he tells her, charmingly. So instead they climb trees, play baseball with his family and attend the prom, all very chastely.
|Bat wings are sooooo last century!|
It is easy to be cynical about Twilight. Its gender politics are stranded somewhere pre-Mad Men. It certainly does not set a very empowering message to the young girls who are presumably its target audience: they exist to find the right boy, be put on a pedestal, and be protected. Because they cannot protect themselves. At one point Bella is driving her truck; Edward joins her; she immediately shifts over so that he can drive. Because driving is something men do. I should hate the film.
But I don’t. That’s the surprising thing. It cracks along, it tells a relatively straightforward story pretty well, and it sets up characters for later in the series. It certainly plays better than, say, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which had too many characters, too many integral settings and too much story to effectively fit into the first film of a series. Harry Potter was, I thought, about trying to cram in as many ‘best bits’ that the books’ readers would appreciate and love. Although I have not read Twilight the balance on screen seems to be much better. The film is just shy of two hours, but a lot of that consists of Edward and Bella just staring at each other, or scenic shots of clouds bubbling over the pine-forested mountains and limpid lakes of Washington. The film of Twilight is able to, I don’t know, evoke an atmosphere and create a setting rather than rushing to shoehorn in plot point after plot point. The soundtrack by Carter Burwell (who also composed the scores to Raising Arizona, Doc Hollywood, Fargo, No Country for Old Men and The Blind Side) mostly complements the action too (with two exceptions: one scene where a song plays over a heart-to-heart between Bella and Edward and the baseball game which is overlaid with Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole).
At the end of the day (literally), I enjoyed watching Twilight. And while I would not read any of the books (I would be mortified! Reading A Passage to India on the train to work, as I am at the moment, is a lot more acceptable for a 35-year-old man than reading Twilight) I would be interested in watching the later films in the series. They maybe would not be top of my list, but I would not consciously avoid them.
What have I learnt about Washington?
It is very wet. And icy. And cloudy. In fact, that’s why the Cullens live there. They sparkle in sunlight so they need somewhere permanently overcast, so Washington fits the bill. On the rare days that are sunny the younger vampires are pulled out of school to ‘go hiking’: Washington schools seemingly have a very liberal attendance record!
More memorable than the weather, though, is the scenery. The film dwells lovingly on the soaring peaks, the shimmering lakes, the surf-pounded beaches and the towering pine trees of the Pacific North West. The characters never seem to be more than a minute away from forest.
There are still Native Americans living on reservations in Washington. They attend their own schools separate from the other kids.
Perhaps most importantly, Washington is not Arizona. The desaturated greys and greens of Forks are contrasted with the bright sunshine of Phoenix.
Can we go there?
The film is set in the real-life town of Forks, Washington. It is located in the north-west of the Olympic Peninsula. The mountains and forests of Olympic National Park lie to the east; the coast to the west also has a section of Park, with a chunk cut out for the Quileute Indian Reservation. The beach at La Push is located on the reservation. Bella, Jessica and Angela go dress shopping in Port Angeles. Edward and Bella attend Forks High School (‘Home of the Spartans’). Forks has now become a popular stop on the tourist trail due to its Twilight links. Before Twilight was published the town received 10,000 visitors a year; by 2010 it received 73,000. The town website markets the link heavily.
The tourist information office even has Bella's truk from the film!
The tragic thing is this: the film was not shot there. It was filmed in Oregon instead. The ‘Olde Towne’ of St. Helens and Vernonia were the main locations. For just $159 Experience Twilight can guide you around the principal sites. I have, however, managed to identify some locations. The Swann’s residence is 184 S 6th Street in St. Helens. The Cullens’ wonderful ‘Falling Water’-esque home is the M1 Residence in Forest Park, Portland. Indian Beach in Ecola State Park not far from where The Goonies was shot) was used for La Push. Madison High School in Portland was used for the interior of Forks High School and Kalama High School in Washington for the exterior (including the parking lot). The prom takes place at the View Point Inn in Corbett.
Overall Rating: 3/5