The year is 2008. There’s a clear divide in society with two warring sides. Vampire or werewolf? Team Edward or Jacob? It’s hard to believe that the first installment in the film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series was released a decade ago. Personally, I unashamedly recognise myself as a former “Twihard” – the nickname given to those obsessed with the YA series. Going through my nostalgia box, the Edward (Pattinson) pillowcase and Robert Pattinson calendar reveal this secret.
Ten years ago, I like millions of other teenage girls and women were immediately entranced by Meyer’s world. As the Harry Potter hysteria began to fade, the series came at the ideal moment. For teens, Twilight represented a new era in YA fiction that was more mature and sexy. It kept parents happy too as Meyer’s Mormon background ensured that things were kept strictly PG. Most importantly, the story contained a relatable heroine in the character of Bella Swan. The every-day girl could see herself in the painfully shy Bella (Stewart), a seventeen-year-old girl who’s defining characteristic is that she’s “unconditionally and irrevocably in love” with a vampire.
Watching Twilight back today is jarring when presented alongside the later films. With its gaudy vampire makeup, questionable acting and indie aesthetic, the first movie appears worlds away from the sequels. Obviously, the film’s budget had a part to play in this—the $37 million budget sits in the shadow of the series’ final segment: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2’s which was afforded a whopping $120 million. An article in Vanity Fair actually highlights this very topic commenting on how Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke was forced to make several cuts to the budget and then later witnessed a line of male-only directors follow her legacy.
However, despite any obvious critiques, of all five movies Twilight is the clear winner for me. As a stand-alone film, it is truly a wholesome romance. It’s also the first of many blockbuster franchises to be led by a strong female role model. This trend would only continue to grow with the likes of The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawerence) and Divergent’s Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) and for that, it should receive credit.
Like the preceding female characters, Bella is somewhat outcast in her society. She’s not like other teen girls and appears to revel in the solitude of her own company. Being the new girl in a tiny school makes this lifestyle choice rather difficult as her glowing pale skin draws unwanted attention upon herself. “Aren’t people from Arizona meant to be like really tanned?” asks classmate and future friend, Jessica (Anna Kendrick). The transition isn’t all bad though which we discover as soon as Bella locks eyes with the mysterious Edward Cullen across the school cafeteria. Upon first sight of the Cullen family, she is intrigued. However, Jessica warns her not to waste her time. The foster kids are all dating each other, bar Edward who is too good for anyone. It seems like Bella is not exempt from this treatment either which is apparent in the hostility he shows towards her—we all know the famous scene where Edward appears to have smelt the worst stench of his life as Bella is introduced as his new lab partner in Biology.
She is understandably hurt and plans to confront him. When Edward stops an out of control van from crushing her in the car park with the simple touch of his palm the mystery becomes even bigger. After conducting research via the internet and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) her Quilette childhood friend who tells her about the long-lasting feud between the Cullens and those on the reservation; she comes to the conclusion that he is, in fact, a vampire. Edward’s behaviour was a display of his desire for her which he can barely control. The rest is history. Throw in several vampire killing sprees, a baseball game in a thunderstorm and a prom crashed by a werewolf we have a classic romance on our hands.
While things go steadily downhill from here—in later sequels, CGI appears to hold more importance than the storyline and the films’ showcase toxic male behaviours—Twilight should not be written off as a bad film. The romance between Edward and Bella is actually very sweet. Bella’s self-consciousness and the pair’s awkwardness in navigating their first romantic relationship are endearing to watch. Edward is the perfect gentleman and showcases endless examples of chivalry which truly reflect his old-fashioned values—despite retaining the body of a seventeen-year-old he is over one hundred years old.
Additionally, the whole dynamic between Bella and her father Charlie (Billy Burke) is very entertaining. His suspicious attitude towards Edward’s intentions with his daughter is very funny to watch. Unlike Bella, he is not taken by Edward’s politeness or charm. He will have to earn his respect fair and square. One of the most difficult scenes of the film to watch is one in which Bella must lie to her father about wanting to move back with her mom in order to protect him from the human eating vampires (the Cullen’s are unlike most vampires: they’re vegetarians of a sort opting to eat animals rather than humans) who plan to devour her as their next meal. His heartbreak makes this scene truly emotional and reminds us that this isn’t just a fluffy movie about pretty supernatural creatures. It’s about family and making sacrifices too.
In later films, we see a predictable love triangle between Edward, Jacob and Bella develop. Tensions rise as werewolves are introduced to the story. It’s here that many character flaws begin to develop as Edward becomes abusive in his control of Bella and Jacob who was once a genuinely nice guy is now aggressive and needy. Despite the bizarre occurrence of events happening in his daughter’s life, Charlie decides that they will operate on a “need-to-know” basis and largely ignores any suspicious activity, acting as a perfect loophole for Meyer to throw in whatever bizarre plot twist she wishes. This unsurprisingly creates numerous plot holes. There is also less emphasis on the Bella’s journey of girlhood as female friendships are largely ignored.
The focus is eventually pulled toward mainly showing macho males in high action combat while Bella watches helplessly from the side-lines. It makes you miss the times when Bella was just a teenage girl dancing at prom with her friends. The question must be asked had Hardwicke remained as director or had female directors taken on the sequels would such creative decisions have occurred? Nevertheless, we can look back at Twilight and recognise its worth as a film about teenagers in love. And if you’ve already re-watched the film in celebration of its anniversary you can revive the vampire genre again by watching Sky One’s addictive A Discovery of Witches described by one reviewer as “Twilight after a few glasses of wine.” It’ll satisfy both Harry Potter and Twilight fans with the world of wizardry coming into the mix of this forbidden romance story. You can thank me later.