By Open Book
It’s no secret the Twilight saga has had some issues in the wardrobe, hair and make-up department. Now to some this may seem rather trivial. Yet, something as subtle as a bad wig can ruin or make a dramatic scene comical. A successful costume design is one that enhances an actor’s performance and aids in telling the story. The Twilight franchise produced five films in all. Beginning with Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn: Part 1 and Breaking Dawn: Part 2. All these films are told from Bella Swan’s perspective, which dictated the “magical realism” (depiction of subjects as they appear in everyday life) production and costume design for these films. In this article we will try to understand if wardrobe, hair and make-up could have helped or hindered the critical credibility of the Twilight films.
What is magic realism?
“Magic realism or magical realism is an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements blend with the real world. The story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought. It is a film, literary and visual art genre.”
One can argue the Twilight series is science-fiction or fantasy given the story is about vampires and werewolves. Yet, the story is narrated by Bella Swan (a real world high school student), which established the literal or realistic position designers needed to recognize. One of the easy mistakes to pick out in costume development is the absence of realism after a character has gone through some traumatic situation. The lack of explanation for why all the vampires clothing was perfectly coiffed despite fighting werewolves and newborn vampires was poorly executed by the writers, director and costume designer. There was never a hair out of place, soiled, torn or ripped sleeves, pockets or pants? Did Bella edit these details when chronicling her story? This failed attempt to illustrate a vampire’s remarkable strength through his wardrobe was in direct contrast to the dramatic performances being portrayed on screen. Now one can go overboard with how much realism to show in melodramas before it goes into campy territory. However, a director when choosing what aesthetic/genre approach to take allows the costume designer to figure out the right balance that will reinforce an actor’s performance. Remember a costume should enhance an actor’s performance and storyline not diminish it and in Eclipse and in some parts of Breaking Dawn: Part 1 the costumes did both.
Apart of a costume designers job is to track the evolution of each character’s costume on screen. Tracking costumes for each scene is one-way continuity can be maintained but before any of that happens it starts with a director’s vision. Keeping the same director throughout a film series is one way to guarantee the production value stays consistent. Take for example Peter Jackson’s critically and commercially successful The Lord of the Rings trilogy or Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. With each film the production design, CGI, directing, acting and costume design is consistent without any drastic or jarring style differences that would compete with the overall storyline or performances. Sure for some franchises choosing a different director has proven to be a critical success, case in point Harry Potter yet Twilight failed at it. Why?
The very first film directed by Catherine Hardwicke had a dark melodramatic style that appealed to MTV female tween audience. Having worked as a production designer Hardwicke knew how to create an intimate environment that complimented the narrative. Her interest in color manipulation, visual metaphors and environments allowed costume designer Wendy Chuck to be more confident with her designs. Chuck states in an interview from Entertainment Weekly,
”I wanted to dress Bella (Kristen Stewart) apart from the Forks kids because she arrives there as an outsider [from Arizona],” explains Twilight‘s costume designer, Wendy Chuck. ”She’s in lots of warm earth tones, with some Southwestern elements thrown in.” Being the new girl in school wasn’t the only obstacle Bella faced: ”Having come from a warm, sunny climate to the rainy gloom of Forks, we wanted to make her unprepared for the cold and the rain.” Which is why, Chuck explains, we don’t see Bella in a raincoat until later on in the tale.”
The success of the first film despite the low-budget set the stage for audiences to get comfortable with how the other films might be handled stylistically. Yet, the next two films brought about drastic aesthetic differences that worked against the romantic intimacy created by Hardwicke.
NEW MOON & ECLIPSE:
Equipped with a bigger budget and new director the production design for New Moon and Eclipse got a complete and drastic makeover. The blue lighting effects in Twilight that intensified the dark melodramatic mood was gone. Instead Chris Weitz (the director of New Moon) paired the melodramatic genre with action. Although, the warm lighting and refined production and costume design was elegant it reduced the intimacy created in the first film. Weitz’s vision to add scope and action overwhelmed the romantic narrative and alienated young audience from the series. Tish Monaghan designed the costumes for both New Moon and Eclipse. Monaghan is the the only designer to attempt to distress Edward’s wardrobe. However, her refined silhouettes in New Moon proved to be too drastic for young audiences despite Weitz and Monaghan complimentary collaboration and refined design detail to the narrative.
David Slade was the third director to come on board for Eclipse. Slade known for directing horror and psychological thrillers added more realism to this film. Combining his dark horror with action he hoped to appeal to a male audience yet coupled with romantic melodrama it did not strike the right balance. Once again audiences were distracted by the drastic style differences and major continuity problems in wardrobe hair and make-up. In Eclipse Monaghan did away with the refined silhouette of sport coats and suits for Edward and his silhouette changed to sweaters, hoodies and jeans. Bella had the biggest makeover given the actress wore four different wigs which became comical and a major distraction from scene to scene. Bella’s wardrobe did not reflect her current situation given she was now a senior in high school and BFF’s with a persistent fashion design vampire named Alice.
In fact one of the most disappointing aspects to the wardrobe was the poor character development. The look of both Edward and Bella were very detached from the characters aspirations. For example, Edward did not dress to impress Bella but instead dressed to blend in with other high school students. Why? In Eclipse Edward was competing with a scantily clad Jacob who could not keep his shirt on! One would think Edward’s wardrobe might reflect his insecurity by overcompensating in the wardrobe department. Hint! We know Bella has a thing for the classics. Bella states in the first Twilight book how attractive Edward looked in a tan leather sport coat. Hmm! What happened? Did the Cullen’s get audited and had to shop at the GAP? Also, the Cullen’s battle attire to fight the newborn vampires never sustained any damage. Eclipse more than any of the other asks audiences to set aside all common sense and forget the storyline which worked against its continuity and credibility of this film.
BREAKING DAWN: PART 1 & PART 2
Bill Condon the critically acclaimed director of Dreamgirls and Kinsey seemed to be an odd choice for Twilight? However, his experience with musicals and drama has proven to be the right mixture. Why? Twilight soundtracks may prove to outlast Edward Cullen himself according to an article in Fast Company,
“The first Twilight soundtrack went double platinum (over two million units); the second went platinum; and the third went gold. Artists such as Muse, Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, The Black Keys, Bon Iver, and Bruno Mars have each experienced sales boosts after being included on the soundtracks, a phenomenon the Boston Herald‘s Jed Gottlieb dubbed the “Twilight bump.”
What Twilight audiences fell in love with was the melodramatic intimacy created by Hardwicke in the first film. So it was no wonder Bill Condon (with his musical/dramatic film background) struck the right cord (no pun intended) with Breaking Dawn: Part 1. Bill Condon told a story for each scene using music and visual metaphors to compliment the storyline. The production and costume design was lavish in scope but romantic and suggestive to the characters consciousness. Michael Wilkinson is the costume designer for Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 & 2. Michael Wilkinson who designed costumes for 300, Watchmen and Man of Steel (Superman reboot) is quite impressive, to say the least. In an interview from Style/MTV Wilkinson talks about his process,
“My first step is to absorb the script and get into the character’s heads to figure out how they feel about themselves and the world around them. We think colors, textures, silhouettes and fabrics and that’s my first step. From that I do massive amounts of research and I put up my boards with all my references for each character. I go online, do extensive research, go through magazine tear sheets and then I hit the stores and I do more research and call on my friends and contacts in the fashion industry. I try to cast the net wide. I don’t think it makes sense on camera if a certain character only wears certain designers.” To read the entire interview click here.
The success of Breaking Dawn in terms of the production and costume design is without a doubt the best in the series so far. Yet, to go back to the issue of realism and believability. The costumes worked against the actor’s performance in one particular scene the Cullen’s vs. Wolves. Unfortunately, the lack of distress clothing after the Cullen’s (who looked to be loosing the battle) with wolves biting and clawing at their limbs was a bit comical. Wow! That is some mighty impressive werewolf resistant fabric.
Also see- Breaking Dawn: Imprinting Deconstructed
Please join our discussion Thursday 12/1/2011@7pE/12UTC