Grab the Totally Twilight Button!
The Twilight novels were released between October 2005 and August 2008. In that time, they managed to find legions of extraordinarily devoted fans. Just a few months later - November 2008 - the first Twilight movie was released. Where before Twilight was popular among YA book lovers, after the movie was released, it was all Twilight, all the time. People screaming, crying, and fainting as they professed their love for Edward/Rob (which one did they really care for?). Everywhere you went - the gym, the beach, the bus - people were reading Twilight books. Each movie release and even each DVD release was an international event. The books, the characters, and the actors all became controversial - you loved or hated them - very little middle ground.
For those of us who are fans of the books (whether in addition to the movies or not), the hoopla about the Twilight franchise can be distressing. Unlike a lot of people, I am a big fan of the movies as well as being a big fan of the books. I'm also quite into the actors - although I'm not about to tattoo Rob's face on my arm or anything.
But it makes me wonder - would Twilight the franchise be better off without the movies? What have the movies taken away from the series and what have they added to it?
Have the Twilight movies helped or hurt the books?
1) New Readers: The movies have brought legions of new readers to the Twilight books. Teenagers and adults (both men and women) who would not have stepped near a bookstore or the YA section otherwise have read the Twilight series because of the movies. Perhaps they loved the movies, they dream of having Rob's babies, they hate the movies, they're curious about the controversy...whatever. The key thing is that the movies have brought new people to the books. Some of these people hated the books, but some loved them. I am in favor of anything that gets people reading more and the movies have undoubtedly accomplished that.
2) Visualization: You can argue - and I will - that this is a good and bad thing. On the good side, I love having images to place alongside the words. The Twilight world is much richer now that I've seen the movies. In my head, Rob, Kristen, and Taylor are Edward, Bella, and Jacob. Since I read the books a little before the movies came out, I initially formed my own images for the characters. Kristin in particular looks almost exactly as I envisioned Bella. Rob and Taylor are close enough that I happily replaced their faces with my imagined characters. Aside from the characters' looks, other visual aspects of the movies made the books richer: the gorgeous northwest scenery, the clothes and jewelry that highlighted the characters' personalities, the facial expressions that helped convey emotions better than words, and more.
3) Good Movies: The Twilight movies are not perfect by a long shot. But here's the deal...they could be so much worse! Apparently, the first script that was put out there (long before Summit and Catherine Hardwicke signed on to do the film) had Bella as a high school track star and Edward and the Cullens as goth fang-bearing vamps. While that may have made an interesting stand-alone film, if Twilight is going to be made into a movie, I want it as close to the books as possible. Catherine Hardwicke started off the series right. She was truly passionate about the books and wanted to honor Twilight as best she could in the first film. Melissa Rosenberg was on board too. The other directors have remained true to the spirit of the books. I also like how much they've involved Stephenie in the filmmaking process. They could have completely ignored the author. Like the Harry Potter films, the Twilight films valued the books.
The acting is definitely not Oscar-worthy in any of the films, but I like seeing the actors improve noticeably with each film. It's like watching them grow up on screen. Additionally, the main characters are not particularly emotive in the books, so Kristen and Rob's somewhat stand-offish, awkward performances are not out of place. With each film, there are scenes that I'm disappointed with or omissions that I miss, but on the whole it honors the book upon which it is based and even enriches it. The films are good enough to steer a lot of people toward the books.
1) Haters: Attention can be a double edged sword. The popularity of the Twilight movies has garnered legions of fans to the series, but also tons of people who hate it. Their reasons vary. Perhaps they thought the movies were poorly acted and poorly written. Perhaps the movies led them to read the books and they hated them. Perhaps they think the movies and books are anti-feminist. Perhaps they like to hate on anything that is "popular."
It's become cool and sophisticated to raz on Twilight. Sort of like how a 4 year old is obsessed with Barney, but that same child as a 6 year old is convinced that Barney is for babies. Complaining about Twilight's popularity or pedestrian nature is a way to show that you're hip. That's not to say that some people don't have legitimate reasons to dislike Twilight, but the knee-jerk reaction is too often to ridicule the franchise. Even bloggers are sometimes embarrassed to admit that they're fans.
2) Gossip: The actors are so strongly identified with their corresponding Twilight characters that their personal lives bleed into the franchise. Are Rob and Kristen dating? Are they going to get married and have a mutant child? Is Kristen cheating on Rob with Taylor? Are all the Twilight actors best friends or do they hate each other? Ooh! Ashley is dating Joe Jonas. Look - there's Ashley and Kellan heading to the gym for the thousandth time. Nikki got married super quick to an American Idol reject. And more. I love the gossip, but it can be easy to forget the the actors are not the book characters, particularly since none of them had big pre-Twilight careers. It's a distraction from the books.
3) Visualization Part 2: One of the most enjoyable parts of reading is the forced imagination. Sights and sounds are described through words only. The experience of reading is a joint action between the author's prose and the reader's interpretation. A movie changes all that. You sit there while sights and sounds are created for you. When the movie is interpreting a book you've already read, it inevitably clashes with your imagination. I said above that Rob, Kristen, and Taylor all look pretty similar to how I envisioned their characters. Unfortunately, the other Cullens - particularly Ashley Greene and Kellan Lutz - look nothing like how I imagine them. Plus, the costume designers can't make up their mind about the characters' hair. From the previous. Carlisle's hair looks particularly horrific in Breaking Dawn. The films get most of the scenery right, except for the Cullen house. The modern northwestern architecture is beautiful in its own right, but where is the white three-story Victorian? That's the house I want to see. When the movies continuously portray characters badly it detracts away from the essence of the film and makes it look amateur.
4. Bad Movies: Plenty of people ridicule the Twilight films for being lousy and assume that carries over to the books. I congratulate the Twilight directors and Melissa Rosenberg for trying so hard to be loyal to the books. But sometimes books don't translate well to screen. There are numerous lines that were cheesy cute in the books but are cheesy cheesy in the films. Other times, I wonder why they aren't closer to the books. Why, for example, don't we see Vera's baby in Rosalie's flashback scene in Eclipse? Or why don't we see the scene of when Alice and Jasper met?
As I said above, I don't have a problem with Kristen and Rob's acting, or the other characters, even though it's not the best. Kristen's ticky awkward Bella gets mocked. It's irritating to watch, but I could easily see book Bella acting that way. Similarly, Rob's Edward is so closed and sullen at times that people wonder if he's even trying. But I see Angst-ward as not outwardly expressing his feelings. Still, if the leading stars' acting detracts from a lot of people's enjoyment of the movies, it is going to hurt their view of the franchise as a whole.
Let's not forget the various scenes where the audience is laughing at the movie rather than with it. Two scenes stick out in my mind. The biology scene in the first movie where everyone thought Edward looked constipated. And Bella and Edward's sparkly romp through the woods in Alice's vision in New Moon. Even the director now says he wishes he hadn't done that scene. Monumentally bad scenes often linger in people's minds far longer than great ones.
I happen to be very fond of the movies, but I am also biased towards liking them. If I was not a Twilight fan, the movies' issues might well steer me away from the series.
This is a hard one. I want to say undoubtedly that the movies have benefited the Twilight franchise, because I love the movies. But they are so controversial and so overhyped that they detract from the books. The films do their best to translate the books, but they only touch the surface of the characters and plots. The movies aren't great and some of the ridicule is deserved; however, at the macro level, I don't know how or whether they could have been better. In some ways, the films emphasize the imperfections of the Twilight novels.
I lean slightly towards the "helped" side for my first point alone - the movies have brought millions of people to the books. They have definitely created enemies of the franchise, but there is something to the saying "any publicity is good publicity." One happy new reader outweighs a dozen disgruntled filmgoers.
What do you think? Have the Twilight movies helped or hurt the books