I’ve been in the process these last few days of writing working on a review of Twilight, which I viewed on Friday night at the Regent Fenway. To describe the process as laborious or frustrating would be an epic understatement. I found myself battling the most maddening situation a reviewer can face: overthinking.

The reason? I couldn’t decide whether Twilight was, in film form, either the result of brilliant subliminal messaging delivered through Catherine Hardwicke’s direction or just a really campy movie that fell victim to a director loving her project too much to realize her missteps.

I’m going with Option C instead, and I’m just winging it instead of writing a formal review. Twilight is not the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling young adult novels; what raked in $70.6 million over the weekend is instead a melodramatic movie based on a book.

I’m not trying to quibble semantics here – there really is a difference between the two. The former, embodied by The Lord of the Rings film series and The Shawshank Redemption, captures not only the plot and characters of a work, but also the essence of the material. A book-based movie, on the other hand, features elements of the source material but does not deliver – whether intentionally or not – the spirit evoked from the words on the page.

My initial frustration over the fact that Twilight on screen lacks the dreamy quality inherent to the book left me writing Hardwicke’s picture off. But as I abandoned draft after draft of my snarky review, I realized what was bothering me: I wanted the film adaptation that Hardwicke clearly did not set out to make. In fact, it would have been difficult for the director to come up with anything but a teen-oriented popcorn flick, given the medium with which she had to work.

If you haven’t read Twilight, odds are good you’ve at least been briefed on the plot particulars: girl meets creepy gorgeous guy. Guy plays hot and cold with girl. Girl finds out that he’s a vampire and wants to love her and kill her in equal parts. Girl tells guy/vamp that she doesn’t care. Love story ensues, peppered with arrival of vampire more than willing to suck her dry. Drama ensues. FIN.

But here’s what those who haven’t read the series ought to know: Twilight (and most of the series) is written through a first-person narrative style. We are introduced to this love affair by living tucked away inside heroine (I use the term loosely) Bella Swan’s mind. As such, Meyer lets us understand the logic inherent to half of the Bella/Edward dynamic; lengthy exchanges between the two offer glimpses at the situation from the vampire point of view (Meyer has actually written half of Midnight Sun, that would, if completed, outline Twilight from Edward’s perspective). There is context and connection that fosters the reader’s understanding and acceptance of the scenario. The two lovers are crazy for pursuing a relationship likely to get them both destroyed, but you can’t say that you don’t see where they’re coming from.

Through the film medium, Hardwicke is largely robbed of the connection that makes the novel work. An audience member eager to see these characters on screen is faced with the jarring sensation of being ripped from the context that had grown so familiar on the page. No longer in Bella’s head, the audience is placed instead in the role of the casual observer; key dialogue explaining the why of this relationship requires the audience to rely on information they have read. If they’ve read it.

The audience takes on the all-too-human characteristic vampires recognize in the Twilight world: instinctual fear of the pale-faced, dark-eyed beauties walking among us. If anything, Hardwicke perpetuates this (hence my inner debate) through the use of extreme closeups and silence. Such extreme proximity feels wrong.

I felt myself trying to physically distance myself from Edward, a character to whom I felt drawn in the book. Rather than a over-protective sensitive character who has finally found his soulmate, the character comes across as an unnaturally striking creeper with a bit of a stalking complex. It prompts squirms and the urge to shake a naive 17-year-old girl into realizing that the way her boyfriend is looking at her was the start to a number of Afterschool Specials.

Low-budget special effects aside (and they are extraordinarily cheesy), Twilight is missing the heart that Meyer wrote into her work. Which means that we’re left instead with a melodrama featuring two pretty people pouting at each other while things try to interfere with their journey to true love.

And know what? Audience members will know to expect this in the book-based movies to come (New Moon, Eclipse and, I’m sure, Breaking Dawn). Voyerism will be the name of the game. If you want Robert Pattinson eye candy, head to the theater. But if you want the soul, just go back to your bookshelf.

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