Dan’s BOTTOM Everything: Twilight

twiEvery 25 entries, I’m going to take a break listing my favorite things to talk about something I don’t like:

Wow, way to pick a low-hanging fruit, right?

Still, I feel that I am qualified to comment on the badness Twilight. Not only have I read the first book and watched the first movie, but I am easy to please. I’m a big fan of young adult novels and don’t mind teen drama or romance.

I honestly went into Twilight with an open mind. After all the criticism I heard, I didn’t expect it to be a masterpiece, but I can’t count the number of times that hate for something popular has been overblown and I’ve been pleasantly surprised once I actually experienced it.

Well, not this time. Twilight is one of the few novels I’ve read that I actively dislike. Most times when people complain about the series, they do it through snark and generalities. They make fun of world details (“sparkly vampires”) or the genre (“supernatural fiction, aka vampires are hot”) or the characters’ motives and ethics (“Bella encourages girls to want to be stalked”), rejecting the premise without actually considering the craft.

So let me take a reasoned approach, and tell you why all the haters are pretty much right.

There’s a semi-popular meme that I’ve seen around the internet: When a trivial or mean or bitter story is posted, someone will follow up with the comment “still a better love story than Twilight.”

I actually don’t like this joke, because I think the fundamental dynamics of Twilight’s story are interesting: An immortal, super-powerful vampire named Edward falls for a mortal girl named Bella. Meanwhile, another vampire is crazed to bite and kill Bella, so Edward must protect her as he resists the temptation to bit her himself.

I actually think that is a pretty interesting basic concept for a story. It’s not earth-shatteringly novel, but you can see how it naturally generates interesting conflict and character details: There’s the danger of Bella being bitten by the evil vampire, combined with the dual urges of Edward: his affection as well as violence.

Combine that with the struggles of someone ageless and immortal to connect with a teenage girl, and you have the ingredients for an interesting story.

So where does it go wrong? Many places. First problem: Read my two sentence summary again. Tell me: Which character intuitively seems the most interesting, the one who naturally faces the most conflict?

It’s definitely Edward. He has competing desires along with a responsibility to protect Bella: those are some compelling character traits and bits of conflict.

So why on Earth did Stephanie Meyer choose to frame the story from Bella’s perspective? It’s inexplicable to me. If she had somehow made Bella deeper and more interesting and complicated than she seems in a basic outline of the story, then maybe. But, nope, Bella is a remarkably uninteresting and shallow character, completely consumed by infatuation with Edward and little else.

bellaThe next biggest problem — maybe an even bigger one — is that the writing is just horribly edited. This feels like a sloppy first draft that got a few line edits, then went out the door. The book is two or three times longer than it should be, and that’s not an exaggeration.

It’s not just the length, but the pacing and the direction. The first third of the book immerses you in Bella’s distant crush on Edward but spends just as much time introducing other kids at Bella’s school and focusing on her adjustment to a new town.

Then, just as this plot starts to heat up, Edward and Bella become close, and the book almost entirely ditches the other kids. From then on, Edward is all that Bella cares or thinks about. It’s all we as readers really see.

There’s this one date that Bella and Edward go in towards the middle of the book that just seems like it goes on for hundreds of pages. It goes on and on, this walk through the woods they take, sharing minute details of their lives. It’s miserable.

Even if the book had simply cut out half of Bella’s pining for Edward, half the description of her longing and love for this vampire, the book would be far more pleasant. As it stands, I found Twilight borderline unreadable.

There are also some seriously questionable plotting and character choices. I’m a pretty easy sucker for teen romance and first love. But Edward and Bella’s romance is just done in the least interesting or compelling way I can imagine: They both are really attracted to each other from the get-go, and they both want to be together. Edward feels slightly guilty and bothered by his attraction to her. That’s it. That’s the extent of the romantic conflict. Talk about minimizing plot.

There’s no reluctance from Bella, which is a particularly egregious writing issue because her perspective is the central one. She never wavers, and barely questions, her love for Edward. It’s just one note, and it’s not very compelling.

The actual heart of the novel, the plot that seems to be the thrust of the story, is rushed and happens mostly on the periphery of Bella’s perspective. James, an evil “tracker” vampire, chases after Bella, but we mostly just hear about it through good vampires trying to protect her — at least until the final couple chapters.

Those last few chapters at least pick up the pace, but they’re almost discongruous in how intense and violent they are. By the time the ending rolled around, I didn’t even want to read through the last pages.

It’s true that the prose is not great, but that’s not a reason to reject a novel outright. The egregious editing, perspective, character, and plotting choices, on the other hand? Those are the reason that Twilight is the worst book I’ve read in a long time.

twilight-poster_1The movie is very loyal to the source story, which means it was doomed to fail as a screenplay and film. The production is adequate, the acting horrid. People complain about Kristen Stewart, but I honestly think she’s perfectly cast. She projects exactly the lack of complexity or emotional expressiveness that Bella has in the novel (which is to say… she’s just as miserable as everyone says).

Why was Twilight such a sensation? I guess girls are drawn to Bella’s longing for someone so wonderful and beautiful and perfect as Edward. I guess they relate to her obsessive fixation on a boy. I guess they don’t mind the problems with the story because they somehow connect to the fundamental concept and characters in ways that I can’t really appreciate. Because, as far as I’m concerned, this book is less about sucking blood and more about plain sucking.

So, unless someone can convince me that I should give the subsequent books or movies a try, this is probably the last time I will mention Twilight on Earn This.


Dan and Brian from Earn This now have a film review site and podcast:

The Goods: Film Reviews

The Goods: A Film Podcast

Available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, and more.

2 thoughts on “Dan’s BOTTOM Everything: Twilight

  1. Sorry, but I’ve got to disagree with you on KStew. The first Twilight movie has some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen in a major Hollywood movie. It’s only enjoyable as a drinking game–drink every time someone a) confuses you with their acting, b) looks like they read their lines for the first time ten minutes before the shot, or c) goes ridiculously over the top. And the funny thing is, Pattinson wasn’t bad in Water for Elephants, and KStew wasn’t bad in Adventureland (or maybe I’m just biased because she’s one of my top celebrity crushes). So maybe it’s the direction, or maybe they’re coasting because they know it’s terrible stuff.

    • I guess my sarcasm didn’t convey, so I reworded slightly… She’s does an appropriately awful job for an awfully written character, as do most of the other actors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *