Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Twilight

Review Date: 3-28-09
Release Date:  11-21-08
Runtime:  122 min.
Period: contemporary, 2008, plus fantasy
Costume Designer: Wendy Chuck

I have decided to make these reviews a little shorter, when I can, to keep me from procrastinating.  My first effort at this is Twilight.  Based on the wildly popular series of books by Stephenie Meyer, Twilight is the first in what will surely also become a series of films, aimed squarely at teenaged girls.

The plot: seventeen-year-old Bella (Kristen Stewart) moves to Forks, Washington from Phoenix, Arizona.  Bella moves when her mother and step-dad decide that they want to travel.  Bella goes to live with her dad, who is the police chief in tiny Forks, Washington, population 3,120 (the rainiest place in the contiguous USA).

Bella is seated next to Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) in science class.  He seems immediately repulsed by her, and Bella wants to find out why.  When she is almost run over by a van in the school parking lot, Edward super-humanly dashes (flies?) over to her and stops the van with his bare hands, saving her life, further deepening the mystery.

Meanwhile, strange deaths are taking place in the area – looks like people are getting killed by some kind of animal.  We, the audience, soon discover that these people are actually being killed by a pack of bloodthirsty evil vampires.

Bella invites Edward to the beach to hang out with her friends, but he never shows up.  Jacob, a native teenager who played in the sandbox with Bella when they were tots, tells Bella of the legend of the Quileute (native) people, how they were descended from wolves.  He mentions vaguely how another tribe (the Apotampkin) moved into their space and they fought, and now the “other tribe” can no longer set foot on Quileute land.

Bella and her girlfriends go to the city to try on prom dresses.  Bella sneaks off to a bookstore to buy a book on the Quileute folklore.  Edward miraculously shows up at just the right moment, saving Bella from a foul encounter with a group of drunken frat boys outside the bookstore.  He intimates that he “knows what they were thinking”, and that it was vile.  Bella is insistent on knowing the truth about Edward and his family.  She takes her new Quileute folklore book, and with the help of the internet, puts it together that Edward and the rest of the Cullens are Apotampkin: vampires.

The rest happens quickly: Bella and Edward develop a romance. He exercises great restraint in only kissing her, not going “too far”, meaning biting her and sucking her blood.  This is a big deal for Edward.  He takes her to meet his family.  He tells her that they are “vegetarians” – they only eat animals, not humans.

Bella attends a vampire family baseball game with him and the noise from the game attracts the pack of evil vampires.  They sniff Bella out as a human among them, and James (Cam Gigandet), the “tracker” of the pack, decides Bella would be an excellent “sport kill”.

Edward takes off with Bella, to protect her, and the family hatches a plan – they take Bella back to Arizona, where they think her scent will be undetectable.  James’ tracking skills, however, are too strong.  James tricks Bella into meeting him at her old dance studio, full of mirrors.  Edward shows up and a massive fight ensues.  Broken glass from the mirrors is everywhere, and Bella is bleeding.  The smell of blood overtakes James and he bites Bella’s arm, exposing her to the vampire toxin that would kill her.

The rest of Edward’s family shows up, and they proceed to tear James limb-from-limb, tossing his body parts into a fire (the only sure way to kill him).  Meanwhile, Bella is slowly being poisoned by the vampire bite, and Edward has to suck her wound to clear the poison – but not going so far as to suck the life out of her.  He again exercises restraint, and saves her life.

Bella wakes up in the hospital, and the story of her vampire encounter has been whitewashed – she was injured, supposedly, in a fall down some stairs.  She attends the prom with Edward, wearing a cast on her broken leg.  While alone at the prom, she asks Edward to (basically) make her a vampire, so she can spend eternity with him.  Edward refuses.  Evil vampire Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) watches this exchange from a balcony.  She descends the stairs, and…. The end… until the sequel.

So the costumes in this film are interesting because it is a very, VERY tight color palette.  Bella’s colors are in the brown-smoky green-cadet blue-grey range.  Edward’s costumes are in the (colorless) black-grey-steel blue-grey range.  Bella’s dad’s colors are in the navy (uniform)-black-white-brown-rust-denim range.  It seems as though there are no primary colors in this film at all.  Even Bella’s mom, when they leave Phoenix, is wearing a rust/dried-blood-colored tank top – there are no pure colors in the movie.  Everything is washed-out, or greyed-out, or somehow muted from its original hue.  It really works to create the mood of the film.

Bella’s costumes are layered, with short-sleeved tops worn over thermal shirts, tight hooded pullovers, jackets, mittens, jeans, and an almost complete lack of jewelry except for a ring that she wears on her right index finger.  I am sure that this look took a while to perfect – Bella dresses like a teenager, yes, but a quite conservative (meaning no skin-showing) one at that.  There is no sexuality to her costumes, no oomph, no va-va-voom, and this is notable in a “romance” movie.  Also notable is that her costumage goes into repeats right away – she wears the same garments at different points in the film, indicating a lack of money/means to have a more varied closet.

Kristen Stewart, playing Bella, has imbued her with a certain impassivity for people in general.  She seems an “outsider” everywhere she goes.  She is a tomboy without being too butch, feminine without being girly.  She is rebellious without being annoying – it seems that Bella is seventeen-going-on-thirty-five.  I was intrigued by the absence of sexuality in the costuming, because it is a stretch to believe that a girl who dresses in such a manner is the hot sex object at school, given her indifference for people and her general awkwardness.  But I will admit that the costuming works for the character, inasmuch as it informs the audience of who she is.  I just thought that it was a pretty conservative look to be drawing men like flies, as she does in the film.  But we suspend our disbelief.

And we need to discuss the kids at school – it also seems like a stretch that Forks, WA (demographically speaking, in real life, 81% white) would have such an ethnically diverse student body as appears in the film.  All of these students are hip and pretty well dressed.  So considering this, I am going to chalk up Bella’s conservative “sexpot-ness” to a contrived movieland hyper-reality.  This also goes for the ethnically diverse and hip high school, and for the lack of real “cliques” at the high school – no identifiable nerds, stoners, hot chicks, etc. – there was a lack of that kind of reality in the movie, and all of this points to only one thing: hyper-reality.

I mean, it is a movie about vampires, after all, and if that’s not hyper-real, then what is?!  So we suspend our disbelief somewhat at the seeming inconsistencies and implausibilities that pop up.  So what.  It’s a movie!

For example, Edward – at school he does not carry a book bag, ever.  Does he not read?  Or perhaps, because he is over 100 years old, we presume that he is just “going through the motions” at school, that he knows it all already, so he doesn’t need books?  I think this is the answer.  He’s a vampire for cheese’s sake.

Edward’s costumage is kept very simple.  He wears plain t-shirts in grey, black, blue, and occasionally wears a button-front shirt over a t-shirt, with a coat.  He had two coats that are worth mentioning – a blue zip- and snap-front windbreaker-style, and then a lovely grayish wool pea coat.  His silhouette, with the big hair, smart pea coat, and narrow pants, made him look like the Sid Vicious of romance novels.  Ha-cha-cha!  He looked hot in this movie, and it was elegantly, and simply done.  Toward the end of the movie, when Bella is in the hospital, he wears a charcoal grey hoodie, mirroring the hoodies that Bella wears throughout the movie.  This is the first time we see him in this silhouette, and it serves to underline the bond that has been forged between Edward and Bella.

There is a nice sequence in the film when Bella and Edward come together in their colors (Bella coming from browns and merging into blues; Edward coming from greys and merging into blues) when they have their first heart-to-heart in the flowery meadow.  It was done in a very subtle manner, and hats off, because it worked really well.

The other vampires are interestingly attired.  Edward’s family is comprised of his father Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), mother Esme (Elizabeth Reaser), sisters Rosalie (Nikki Reed) and Alice (Ashley Greene), and brothers Emmett (Kellan Lutz) and Jasper (Jackson Rathbone).  The family is attired in the same hues as Edward:  black, navy, grey, steel blue, purples, arctic white – almost a cold, dead color palette.  Carlisle is a medical doctor, and when we first meet him, he looks like a corpse in his white lab coat and ice-blue shirt.  Chilling!  In later scenes, we see the family at home, but even then they are still “dressed”, not casual – sister Rosalie wears 4-inch heels just hanging out in their big glass house.  It’s a very clever way to separate the Cullen clan from the rest of the Pacific Northwest crowd (rugged, plaid shirts, native American vibe, lumberjack fashion).

During the vampire family baseball game, each family member is attired in some permutation of navy and white – there are various jerseys, hats, pants and socks combinations, but it is curious, because they all seem to be elements of the same team, and yet they play against each other.  I would like to talk with designer Wendy Chuck about the significance of all of this, so stand by for more information!

The evil vampires take the cake, though, for costumes.  James, the tracker, initially appears shirtless wearing only pants and a necklace when he and Victoria attack Waylon (Ned Bellamy) at the boat docks.  Victoria’s signature garment is a cape-like shawl made from an ivory-colored lamb’s skin.  When Waylon is killed he wears a green “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirt.  The next time we see Victoria, she is wearing the dead man’s “Kiss Me I’m Irish” herself. Creepy!  T-shirt trophy!  Laurent (Edi Gathegi) is a dreadlockioed vampire who, when we first really get to meet him, is shirtless, wearing a beautiful orangey-melon-colored leather jacket.  It is a stunner of a piece, and is slightly outside of the color scheme, so he really pops.  It seems that Laurent is the only “sane” evil vampire, and surely he will have more business in the sequels.  But the color choice was deliberate, so stand by for some answers from Wendy about that!

The supporting kids were also costumed within the same muted palette: Jessica (Anna Kendrick) in muted pinks, Angela (Christian Serratos), bespectacled in eggplants, Eric (Justin Chon) in dark colors, neckties, etc.  At the beach, these kids put on wetsuits, notably from Bodyglove.  I couldn’t help but think that it was a brilliant bit of product placement, and I hope that Bodyglove kisses Wendy Chuck’s feet for the rest of her life.

I must say that the film was well acted by its two leads.  These actors felt real in their roles, and just as angst-ridden and moody as teenagers have always been throughout all of time.  Kristen Stewart was only eighteen when this movie was shot, and she brings that youthful insolence to the character in a plausible way.  When she tells her dad off and insults him gravely, we really believe her.  Even when she falls instantly in love with Edward, we believe her – having been teenagers before, we know what the caprice and impulse of youth is all about.  Whereas teenagers can “relate” to the film, adults in the audience will nod their heads and understand.

Edward is nicely portrayed by Robert Pattinson – this is a role that is surely going to be a defining one for him in his career.  He is sexy, he is considerate, he is sensitive, he is heroic – what’s not to like?!  Pattinson played the contradiction of the warm-hearted, cold-blooded vampire very cleverly.  Legions of Twilight fans are proof.

There are definitely some problems with the movie – the special effects of the “vampire skin exposed to sunlight” didn’t work very well, and the “eyes changing color” gag left something to be desired. I also had problems with the “vampire showdown in a mirrored room” situation, because technically, vampires are not supposed to have reflections in a mirror, and yet the room was filled with their reflections.  And if you are a vampire, are you really going to live your life in a glass house, where everyone can see your business? And how do the vampires survive in sunny Phoenix, AZ?  These are some questions for which I could not find answers.  Additionally, some people take issue with the style of acting, writing, and filmmaking, but this is a movie aimed at teenagers, not at film critics.  You have to take it for what it’s worth, and I think that the filmmakers of Twilight hit their mark squarely.

The Pacific Northwest is a character unto itself in this movie.  The location dictates the weather, and the weather dictates the costumes.  So, there is a lot of rain gear, cold-weather gear and so forth in this movie, which would otherwise be absent.  The lovely colors of the forest, and of nature, are reflected in the costumes of the characters, and there seems to be real visual harmony in that sense.

There are people out there who were disappointed in Twilight the movie because it wasn’t meshing with their vision of the characters in the book.  Well, I didn’t read the book, and I think the film held up very well on its own.  If you take it as it is intended, Twilight is charming and interesting.  If you expect Casablanca, you will probably be disappointed.

The Twilight series of books was written, as noted, by Stephenie Meyers, who, as it turns out, is Mormon!  You see, I leave BYU only to encounter more Mormon influences elsewhere.  The themes in Twilight can be looked at (and I think are INTENDED to be looked at) as metaphors for sex, excess, and vice.  The book therefore extols the virtues of chastity and restraint, self-control and selflessness.  These are all good things, actually, and we’ll see if Meyers hits a chord with today’s youth, if the message isn’t too over-their-heads.

Among the teenage romance movie genre titles, the good ones, anyway: Ella Enchanted, Ever After, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Prince and Me, Across the Universe, A Walk To Remember, I think Twilight has established itself as an endearing (and probably enduring) classic.  The film is not for everyone, but if you are female and have a pulse, you can probably sit through this one with little discomfort.  It might even make you love vampires.

So much for the short review!!

–KMB

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