A lot of the time producer’s market films based on trends, this was the case with Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008, USA), the first film in a series that was adapted from Stephanie Meyer’s popular novel of the same name. The film focuses on the relationship that builds between a teenage girl Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and highlights the consequences they have to face in order to be together, with Edward and his family trying to keep Bella safe from a series of evil vampires craving her blood. The story’s adaption to film was a success majorly due to it tapping into the pre-existing fan base of the book and reviving the long existent vampire trend, which includes a list of horror films that have culminated into existence since Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922, Germany) and Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931, USA). Perhaps more of a contemporary sub trend the film adheres to is vampire relationships, with Anne Billson noting that it wasn’t until Joss Whedon turned Buffy (Joss Whedon, 1997-2003, USA) into a TV phenomenon in 1997, “that girls really got to grips with the bloodsuckers” (Billson 2008; para. 2). Buffy was filled with, “metaphors for the agonies of teenage love… transgressive sex, forced abstinence, viruses, physical transformation and personality change… all part of the vampire subtext” (Billson 2008; para. 3). Twilight can be seen to revive these subtexts into a current form of text for younger generations unaware of its existence and reawakens nostalgia for those who may have been exposed to it years ago.
The film’s box office ratings grew throughout the series with Twilight taking a profit of $192,769,854 and all of the films in total taking over $1,363,537,109 at the box office. In the analysis of the film’s success it’s important to note the target audience and the fan culture that culminated after the films transgressed to the screen. This success is somewhat defined in the question, ‘are you Team Edward of or Team Jacob?’ which saw patrons actively engage with the text after the film. This lends itself to the notion of female spectatorship, which the film obviously caters towards, and is worth noting when analysing the reception of the film. Lisa Bode’s extensive article ‘Transitional tastes: Teen girls and genre in the critical reception of Twilight examines some of, “the different way in which film critics, in their reviews of Twilight, construct the film’s teen girl audiences and, in relation to this figure, reaffirm both their own taste formations and their cultural values” (Bode 2010; p. 717). By examining different reviews of the film, Bode reveals a focus on the gender and age of the film’s audience and how, “the teen, tween or adolescent girl, her tastes and affective response, are evoked in different ways by many reviewers to denigrate the film” (Bode 2010; p. 707).
Bode draws upon Mark Jancovich to state, “reviews are products of specific taste formations, and also function specifically as gate-keeper or guardians of specific taste formations” (Janovich 2013 in Bode 2010; p. 708). Bode’s research highlights how the majority of negative reviewers, “use the girl as a means to leverage their own cultural superiority: their individualized and aesthetically informed responses to the film; their detached, rational and critical disposition; and importantly, too, their knowledge of vampire and horror film genre that enables them to distinguish between greater and lesser examples” (Bode 2010; p. 710). This negativity also stems from the expectations of the horror genre that vampire films seem to be pigeon holed within. Horror film enthusiast, Felix Vasquez ridicules Twilight, “for turning our monster of the night into [a] Daytime television drama” (Vasquez 2008 in Bode 201; p. 711). Bode emphasises how this type of viewpoint highlights the way in which a, “youthful female audience can be positioned as a threat to the definition of horror genres, due to the idea that it may be in their taste (or lack of taste) that becomes the dominant economic determination” (Bode 2010; p. 711). Consequently, critics have used the fan base to sideline the film into a field of mass commerciality aimed to spark profits through teen euphoria, some even using the genre to further negative views, but perhaps their negativity towards the film can be seen as a reflection of their personal negativity towards adolescents in general.
The huge fan base built around the film demonstrates the cultural resonance the film has extended into society, for example there’s a ‘Twilight Wiki’ and ‘Vulture Online’ considers Twilight fans the third ‘Most Devoted Fan Base,’ after Game of Thrones (David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, 2011-Present, USA) and Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977, USA). Despite this fan base the adapted film has had distaste even from its fans with a 5.2 rating on IMbD and a 42% rate on Rotten Tomatoes. Reviews go so far as to state, “The scene where Edward glitters is pathetic. It looks someone dumped some glitter on him,” “The movie was hyped up to an extreme so it was obvious it would be a letdown,” and, “The book was better” (IMbD & Rotten Tomatoes). This last review is particularly significant as it highlights one of the consequences of adaption film, the chance that the vision will not fulfil the expectations of the audience. To ensure a faithful adaptation, Twilight’s author Stephanie Meyer was kept very involved in the production process, being invited to visit the set during filming and even asked to give notes on the script and a rough cut of the film. Despite this approval of the film by the author, the above review highlights the continual debate over adaptation films as many believe stories aren’t given justice in their implementation to the screen. The familiar phrase ‘the book will always be better than the movie’ rounds off this argument, with many people contending that an original book will always be superior to the adapted film after it. As this is a subjective view and differs from text to text it’s unfeasible to work out whether this argument is in fact true or not. However, it should be argued that perhaps the ideal that the books is better transcends from fact it’s the medium that first envisioned the story and therefore being exposed to it firsthand creates a sense of possession. This sense of exclusivity seems to be lost in a big theatre. Therefore, comparing the book to the film is somewhat impractical, as though both are a form of entertainment, one asks for a uniquely personal experience in the envisioning of the story while the other requires spectatorship that fulfils this vision.
Despite the poor reviews mentioned above, Twilight has received positivity in its implementation to the screen. Bode describes the positive reviewers which comment on the film to, “have empathetic or affectionate regards for Twilight’s perceived or imagined audience, and for female adolescents and adolescent in general” (Bode 2010; p. 713). Bode further notes that, “these writers strive to reconnect with their own adolescent yearnings… or produce a reading of adolescent imagination as a complex and liminal state, on the cusp of cultural and sexual knowledge” (Bode 2010, p. 713). In these statements Bode conveys that these positive reviewers enjoy the film because they’re able to watch it through the adolescent audience it’s targeted towards. They accept the film’s, “invitation and its attempt to appeal to our ‘inner teenage,’” instead of transferring the, “film’s affects onto this ‘other’ audience, and draw firm lines around who the film is ‘for,’” as many negative reviewers do (Bode 2010; p. 708). Other reviewers praise the film’s restraint with, “the ‘giggling’ and ‘sighs’ of the teen girl audience [being found] ‘endearing,’ because they suggest an innocence,” and validate the audience who are, “just hovering on the cusp of sexual knowledge” (Bode 2010; p.714-715). Bode also explains that these positive reviews tended to note Twilight as more of a teen romance film rather than vampire film, with many reviewers referring to , “nineteenth-century romance novels and romantic heroes,” (Bode 2010; p. 711) to extend this view. For example, Sukhdev Sandu calls Edward, “‘a Heathcliff for adolescents,’” (Sandu 2008 in Bode 2010; p. 713) furthering the films, “unsettling capacity to insinuate itself under the skin, invoking memories of a feeling of the heightened hormonal awareness and emotional fog of adolescent longing” (Bode 2010; p. 708). This is achieved through the character of Edward, who becomes what Billson states, “a good-looking blank slate on to which young fans can project their emo fantasies” (Billson 2008; para. 4).This appropriation of Edward to Emily Brontë’s tortured romantic in ‘Wuthering Heights’ also displays the film’s connectedness to the culture that surrounds it and more importantly it’s influences from other texts. Furthermore, the film’s creation has also informed the development of similar vampire culture after its success, with television shows True Blood (Alan Ball, 2008-Present, USA) and The Vampire Diaries (Julie Plec & Kevin Williamson, 2009-Present, USA) progressing with the trend, and the story provoking the fan fiction novel and film 50 Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2015, USA).
Though box office statistics show Twilight was a successful film, its poor ratings and mainly negative critical reviews displays how success isn’t always based on acclaim. The films large fan base exhibits how tapping into and revising pre-existing markets can garner success within the film industry, which then can transcended into further forms of adaptations throughout society. Additionally, the adolescent audience provides to be a paramount framework to viewing and appreciating the film as it acts to reawaken this ideal in the spectator. Just like adolescence, the film represents a stage we’ve all been through, and now that it’s over fans will move on to other things, like the Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012, USA) (Hiscock 2010; para. 6).
Team Edward or Jacob, everyone’s welcome to give a star rating for Twilight: