|Book vs. Film: Twilight||| Print ||
|Written by April Yorke|
|Sunday, 30 November 2008 19:00|
Twilight, the film version of the first novel in Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular (17 million copies sold and counting) saga of the same name, hit theatres on November 21, 2008. It opened at number one in the U.S. with an impressive $70.6 million haul. The books, popular with tween and teen girls, have captured hearts with the star-crossed romance between Bella, a smart but otherwise average 17-year-old girl, and Edward, her century-old vampire boyfriend. Expectations were high, and there was a small riot when relative unknown Robert Pattinson was cast in the key role of the gentlemanly vampire. Now that it's out, how does the film version stack up against its origin? Pretty well, actually. But that's what we're here to talk about.
Full disclosure: "Book vs. Film" is an occasional feature on the AV Club (cf The Other Boleyn Girl) in which the author "compar[es] books to the film adaptations they spawn, often discussing them on a plot-point-by-plot-point basis." All of which is to say: spoilers, bitches.
Book to film adaptations are a tricky business: readers tend to have preconceived notions about what the characters look and sound like, and it can be extremely difficult to manage those expectations. The first Bridget Jones's Diary was a spectacularly successful film adaptation, but it culled events from both of the first two Jones books in order to fill out the film's running time. The second film, which cut away a lot of the madness that pushes Fielding's plot forward, was a sorry mess by comparison.
While Twilight (the movie) plays with the novel's timeline, it doesn't stray from the main events of its source. Bella (Kristen Stewart) moves to Forks, Washington, after her mother's remarriage to a minor league baseball player. Her custody then shifts to her father Charlie (Billy Burke), Forks' Sheriff. Bella's plan to make it though high school unnoticed and head south for college are upended with she spies Edward Cullen (Pattinson) in the cafeteria and is later seated next to him in biology. She notices his intense dislike for her, and, though, she tries to help it, he becomes an immediate obsession for her. She is determined to figure out what, exactly, is different about the Cullens.
All of this would make for some pretty interesting reading if it weren't so boring. Because the novel is told from Bella's point of view, the majority of Twilight (the book) is spent cataloguing her boredom and depression with her day to day existence. Long stretches are spent with marinades, dishes, and calculus. The portions focused on Edward aren't necessarily better: Bella spends a lot of time thinking about how perfect he is and how she's not good enough for him. Of course, Meyer didn't mean her as boring: she made her a void with few recognizable/distinguishing features (one of the few things that stands out is her klutziness) so that the reader could pour herself into the role and be romanced by Edward herself.
By the same token, Edward is more specifically written. Meyer obviously intended her reader to imagine him in a very particular way. At first glance, he's the perfect boyfriend for a shy, inexperienced girl: protective, fiercely loyal, utterly chaste. You can't read much deeper than that, though, or the cracks start to show: Edward's also a selfish, controlling, drama queen.
So, a void matched with a potential abuser? How does that work on screen? Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg went for the simple solution. She filled Bella out and toned Edward down. Bella and her mother's lopsided emails are replaced with more animated phone calls, Bella's functional housemaid status is stubbed out in favour of visits to the local diner (thus giving Charlie more colour as well), and, most importantly, she's less of a doormat and more of a snob to her fellow students. The changes aren't all necessarily good, but they do make her seem like more of a three dimensional person than Meyer would allow. Rosenberg doesn’t let absolutely every male's crush on Bella drop, though.
For his part, Edward's more controlling and manipulative behaviours are pushed aside. Edward and Bella's first interaction outside of school in both versions occurs after he saves her from being crushed by an out of control van in their school's icy parking lot. She tries to point out how impossible it is that he could have crossed the parking lot in nanoseconds and stopped a moving vehicle with his bare hands, which he flatly denies. When she pushes her case, he tells her that no one would believe her. But she doesn't intend to tell anyone.
By now Bella knows she's onto something, and she takes advantage of the first opportunity to flirt her way into the full story from Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a childhood friend who knows the Quileute legend (in the book, Bella first hears of it in a strange outburst from Charlie; in the movie, Billy Black (Gil Birmingham) warns Bella straight off). The legend is the first instance where the book and the movie differ their timelines. In the book, Jacob gives Bella the full story of the wolf men and cold ones immediately. Add one internet search, and Bella's convinced that Edward and his family fall among the latter category. One long, boring walk in the woods later, Bella's down with that. In the movie, however, Jacob's story gets cut off before he can give an explanation of the cold ones, and Bella's preliminary internet search convinces her to . . . buy a book.
The book store visit cum dress excursion with Jessica (Anna Kendrick) and Angela (Christian Serratos) to neighbouring Port Angeles exists in both versions, although in the book Bella is simply interested in expanding her reading material. The trip is also the turning point in her relationship with Edward. Bella gets lost on her way back to her friends after her solo trip to the bookstore and soon finds herself surrounded by four dangerous men. Edward's silver Volvo screeches into view, and he rescues her, taking her back to the restaurant. Having eaten, and gotten their first full view of Edward and Bella together, her friends wisely take off. Over the course of dinner, Bella once again calls Edward on how unlikely it was he was driving down the backroads of Port Angeles at the exact moment she was in need of help. Unlike the last time, however, Edward gives up the pretence and admits that he was following her. He feels protective of her. And oh, by the way, he can read minds (but not Bella's).
Here the movie wisely sidesteps one of Edward's creepier traits: he'll invade anyone's thoughts in order to protect/spy on/gain information about Bella. In the book, Edward admits that he used Jessica's thoughts to follow Bella to Port Angeles and then to the bookstore when she separated from her friends, while complaining about how horrible it was to have to listen to Jessica's perfectly ordinary mind. When he realizes that Jessica and Bella have separated, he follows Bella's scent. Again, although the movie holds to the idea that Bella is the most tantalizing human Edward has ever smelled, that Edward would use that scent to track her falls by the wayside. Instead, he simply read the four frat boys' minds to see the danger Bella was in and raced to the rescue.
The ride home from this event is another moment where the movie's timeline diverges from the book. Bella's already put it together by this point in the book, and she tells Edward she knows the truth. Though he's initially wary, the revelation begins a new period of honesty between the two of them and leads to one of the more genuinely adorable periods in their courtship: they trade off days asking each other questions. Bella describes her likes and dislikes, her relationship with Charlie, her former life in Phoenix. Edward tells her his origin story, more about his family and their hunting preferences (they feed off animals, jokingly referring to it as a "vegetarian" diet). In the movie, however, it only provides her with a single clue: Edward's skin is cold to the touch. Bella picks up her book of Quileute legends, and, a quick internet search later, forms her vampire theory.
The next day at school, in a series of quick cuts, Bella finally puts it together and takes off into the woods with Edward trailing behind. Like in the book, she presents her case, and Edward asks the most important question: Is she afraid? But Bella's already made her decision: No. Here the movie skips over the question period and smashes into the monumental meadow scene (in the book, Bella eye-rollingly refers to it as "declaring themselves"). It's perhaps the most important scene to their relationship in the book, and the movie hews closely to the original for the same impact. Edward reveals why she never sees the Cullen family on a sunny day (their skin glistens like jewels in the sunlight); he runs with her (showing off his superspeed and skipping over the nausea it initially induces in Book-Bella); and, when the possibility of a kiss arises, Edward leaps into a colossal fit about how he's built to allure her and the danger he presents (drama queen).
Of course, it's hard to blame director Catherine Hardwicke for her decision to blend these scenes together. All that talk is boring for the viewer, and it allows Hardwicke to take advantage of the stunning setting that Oregon-passing-for-Washington provides. The lush, green, misty forest is far more visually exciting than watching Bella consider these things in the privacy of her bedroom, and keeping Pattinson on screen helps to up the squee factor. Hardwicke uses the same trick when Bella visits the Cullen home for the first time. Bella once again states that she's not afraid of Edward, but instead of jumping her and pinning her to the couch until she admits that he is a “terrifying monster” like he does in the book, he throws her over his shoulder and takes her out for an afternoon of tree climbing and flirtation.
These aren't the only improvements that the movie makes in Edward's character: gone is his tendency to hang on to Bella by the waist as though she'll be in immediate physical danger if he doesn't protect her; his insistence on driving her back and forth to school for safety's sake (instead, he simply shows up outside her door one morning, making it seem spontaneous and romantic); his handwritten note ('Be safe') when he finally acquiesces to his family to leave her side and go hunting. Though he seems aware of how clumsy she is in the movie (he pulls her up instantly when she loses her balance at one point), he doesn't seem to take it as a personal affront the way he does in the book. Of course, the movie also glosses over the fact that Edward has, in the past, killed people.
The improvements aren't limited to Edward and Bella's characters. The movie also uses colour-blind casting to erase the essential whiteness of Meyer's world and supplies hobbies for secondary characters that are barely sketches under Meyer's pen (Movie-Angela and Eric work for the school paper, for example). The biggest improvement, however, is that we meet James (Cam Gigandet), Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre), and Laurent (Edi Gathegi) early on in the film. A solid half of the book is Bella (boringly) figuring Edward out, then a few cute and many more annoying moments in their relationship. It's nearly three quarters of the way in before we get to the baseball game (a spectacularly captured scene and arguably the best in the movie) and, thus, to James's coven's appearance. Naturally, this leads to more controlling behaviour in the book (at one point, Edward has his brother, Emmett (Kellan Lutz), physically restrain Bella when she suggests that maybe they shouldn't just leave her father to die). In the movie, however, the threat is further personalized when James, Victoria, and Laurent kill a friend of Charlie's.
The final showdown in the ballet school is one of the greatest letdowns in the book (Bella falls unconscious, ending the narrative). Hardwicke is a filmmaker, however, so she remembers to show and not tell. I don't want to spoil it for you, but Alice (Ashley Greene) gets to be a total fucking badass, making the entire sequence that much cooler.
Certainly, not every deviation from the book is for the best. Jasper's power goes unaddressed (the ability to alter people's moods might be a little hard to show), and, obviously, not every one's favourite scenes are going to make the cut. Personally, I missed the traffic jam that Edward causes in order for Tyler to extend to Bella a third unwanted invitation to the ladies' choice dance and, most hilariously, when Jasper tells Bella that she must survive as the Cullens simply cannot go back to mopey Edward, but YMMV.
Book or film? Film. It condenses and plays with the storyline, spends a lot of time staring at Edward and Bella staring at each other, and short shrifts the vampire characters even though they're the only ones that Meyer's pays any mind. It also manages to make an already tame story even more G-rated (they share only two kisses on screen, and the fact that he stays in her bed every night is glossed over). On the other hand, you're spared Bella's low self esteem and Edward and Bella's arguments about who loves who more (for reals), and, believe me, you're better off that way. Plus, that kissing scene is way hot.
Tags: book vs film, books, catherine hardwicke, cinema, kristen stewart, melissa rosenberg, robert pattinson, stephenie meyer, twilight, vampires