Twilight: 50 Shades of OG
Sparkley vampires. Mormon references. Team Edward or Team Jacob? Badly written fan fiction. With its hold on the cultural zeitgeist, it’s hard to believe that Twilight was only published in 2005. What’s more, a film version came together quickly. Twilight the movie was released in 2008, just three years after the book became a worldwide bestseller. It took Millennium three times as long to transition from short story to feature-length film twenty years prior.
Unless you’ve been living on a remote island for the last ten years, you know at least some of the story. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) decides to leave Phoenix behind and live with her father in dreary Forks, Washington. She settles into her new life all right, with one exception. She’s hate-attracted to the weird Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). And her attraction may prove deadly. Cullen is a vampire, and needs blood to stay alive. While his family only feed from the blood of animals, other vampires aren’t so discriminating. By entering into a relationship with Edward, Bella puts her life in danger.
First things first: Twilight is an okay movie. Critics seem split on just how okay it was. While 48% on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t great, it’s light years ahead of Twilight’s protégé, 50 Shades of Grey. Is it a good movie? Not really. But given its influence, good is beside the point.
Consider its successes. The movie crushed it financially. The first movie in the eventual five-part Twilight Saga grossed almost $400 million worldwide on a $37 million budget. Its $192 million domestic gross makes it the highest-grossing movie ever by a female director. Thanks to Twilight, interest in Forks, Washington caused that town’s tourism to increase by 600 percent.
Second, a group of highly talented people cut their teeth on Twilight. The film comes early in the career of several rising stars, such as Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Anna Kendrick, and Taylor Lautner. And the writing deserves a special mention. The screenwriter is the exceptionally talented Melissa Rosenberg, who as a showrunner brought us both Jessica Jones and the better seasons of Dexter. Rosenberg kept author Stephanie Meyer on hand during filming. The author visited the set during filming and gave input on a rough cut of the film. This positive relationship between author and filmmaker produced a stronger movie that stayed faithful to the source material while standing on its own as a film.
Something about Twilight struck a chord with audiences worldwide. In 2009 I was traveling in Southeast Asia on vacation and was chatting to a woman in an airport while waiting for my flight. At the time, Google Maps was a relatively new thing, and I was showing its capabilities to this lady.
“You can use this website to see anywhere in the world,” I said.
She asked to see Quileute, Washington. At the time, I had never heard of the place (despite having lived in Washington for nine years), but I dutifully put it into the search bar. What returned was the Quileute Indian Reservation, where Jacob Black lives. This random person in a random airport knew next to nothing about Washington State, but she knew about the Quileute Indian Reservation.
Quality aside, Twilight was financially successful and became a part of the culture. I could have spent this article talking about how bad a movie it is, but that has a) already been done and b) ignores its accomplishments. In an era when female directors are struggling to find work, audiences should do what they can to support big-budget blockbusters directed by women. Twilight might not be the best movie around, but it produced a solid return on investment while remaining faithful to its source material and spawning several successful sequels. I’d call that a success.
Quick summary: When Bella moves to Forks, Washington to be with her dad, she’s the new kid in school, making friends wherever she goes. But one friend might prove hazardous to her health: the vampire Edward Cullen.
Too many writers? Nope: the phenomenal Melissa Rosenberg (Jessica Jones, Dexter) delivers the best script she possible from the source material.
Recommended if you like: Breathing life into age-old tropes.
Verdict: Good and bad are irrelevant; Twilight was both successful and faithful to its source material.
Related Reading: Wiki article