Monday, December 22, 2008

TWILIGHT (2008) aka Book Proves Secret Fear of Writers to be True

There are some immensely popular books that seem to be fluff but are so well written that even if the material isn't one's cup of laai cha, one can’t help but feel a begrudging respect. For me, the Harry Potter series is an example of this. I just don't care for wizards, magic and spells. It's a matter of personal preference. Still, it's clear those books are writen extremely well.

Then there is TWILIGHT, a bestseller by Stephenie Meyer which has now spurned a film adaptation. So Jene, who loves the Harry Potter series and has introduced me to many books that I would have otherwise skipped, suggested I read the book as an exercise to see how it would be adapted for the screen.

Adapting a very popular novel to the screen is always difficult since a strong fan base demands that the film not deviate from the book even if this strict adhesion to the source material works against the film. On the other hand, it also means a minimum x number of fans of the book will flock to theaters regardless of how the adaptation is done.

At the risk of being called out for sour grapes (which I must harbor at some level since my own books haven't sold well), my main impression of the novel is that it seems to have been written by an 11-year-old for other 11-year-olds. The sentences are clunky and scenes go on for much too long. The vampire story seems to be rehashed from existing works of that genre and there's very little that could be called complex or sophisticated. I can't quite understand how any grown-up could derive enjoyment from this piece of junk.

The remarkable success of a book like this makes me question my own sanity. To me, it's so evident that this book is so unbelievably lacking in every way, yet it has somehow won the praise of hundreds of thousands of readers. It's enough to make a writer lose faith in the reader and wonder why he or she even bothers.

Whenever I read a complete piece of rubbish like this that's sold millions of copies, I can't help but think back to the writers I've known in my life (most whom I met when I was in university or freshly out of university). In their unguarded moments, nearly every writer I know has told me that as cynical as it sounds, deep down he or she has come to accept that the worst most talentless writers are the ones who make it commercially.

I don't agree with this view since it's a blanket statement and it's clear that there are exceptions. But TWILIGHT certainly seems to providence ammunition for such a claim. Sure not every novel has to say something serious or important, and there is a place in this world for fluff. But this book isn't even good fluff.

That said, the only sense I can make for how and why this book works(and rather well obviously given its success) is that it does, in its inane, childish and clumsy way, try to tell an earnest story of incredibly intense first love. BELLA, the narrator and main character, sees and studies the beautiful EDWARD, who is actually a vampire, as no one else at her school does. The bulk of the book is long passages of Bella obsessing and agonizing over the meaning behind Edward's tiniest gestures, words, and actions.

As for the film adaptation, this is precisely where it fails. Without the film equivalent of Bella's obsessing over the object of her first love, the intensity of the obsession/first love doesn't come through on screen. It also doesn't help that the film treats these scenes of fascination-turning-to-obsession-to-purest love quickly and as merely a means to get to some special-effects-driven good vampire vs. bad vampire fight sequences.

Despite this shift in focus, which I can only guess must have been made to try to add production value to the film and make it feel more like a movie, the special effects are poor and there’s very little to distinguish the film from a small TV show except that Robert Pattison plays the moody vampire. Overall, the film plays worse than most recent TV shows about supernatural elements mixing with the ordinary populace set in high schools, which as a TV genre, tends to be far more witty and sophisticated.

The classic BUFFY THE VAMPIRE series, which also featured a moody vampire love story, epitomizes this. The genius of that series and its creator Joss Whedon is that each episode also worked as social commentary about familiar issues in high school life (eg. Eating disorders, cliques, losing one’s virginity…)

Lacking this sophistication in the source material, the film adaptation of TWILIGHT also disappoints because it fails to show the earnest obsessive intensity of first love that is the book's focus and main strength.


shin said...

i found your site through geoexpat. i'm a 17 year old, very interested in acting and writing, but i'm only here till the 30th of dec. what i want you to know is that i'll be staying here from sept 2009 onwards, and i would love to take part in whatever film which you will be making in the future. i have all the energy in the world, and enthusiasm. and i'm crazy enough to try anything. (except pornography of course, and sex) anyway, i loved your criticism on twilight. 'written by an 11 year old, for other 11 year olds.' very well said.

the book is pretty much a shame to literature. and the film's cliche as the topic has already been overdone. dialogues are way too predictable. i spent 2 hours in the theatre guessing what's going to come next.

anyway, i hope we can work together in the future! my email's

mao365 said...


Sounds good. Contact me again in Sept 2009.