Twilight was a solid adaptation of Stephenie Meyers’ bestselling novel, but what details did the film leave out about the main villain James?
Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight was a solid movie adaptation of Stephenie Meyers’ bestselling novel, but the film left out certain details about the main villain, Cam Gigandet’s James. Released in 2008, Twilight was a highly hyped adaptation of Stephenie Meyers’ teen paranormal romance sensation of the same name. Like any popular adaptation, the movie came burdened with significant fan anticipation, and many critics were eager to dismiss the film series as terrible due to its target audience being tweens.
Fortunately, Thirteen director Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation mostly did the source novel justice, balancing a self-aware sense of humor with a grungy visual aesthetic which helped elevate the potentially cringeworthy content. But while Hardwicke’s film was well-liked by fans (even if nothing could deter critics from hating the Twilight films), the fast-paced Twilight didn’t have room for everything from the source novel, including a lot of the most interesting details surrounding chief villain James. Easy A actor Cam Gigandet still made an impression as the imposing figure, but what did the film leave out about his character?
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James plays a pivotal role as the primary antagonist of the original Twilight novel, but he’s also the only standalone villain in the series who isn’t related to the saga’s sprawling lore (well he is later villain Victoria’s mate, but that minor connection is nowhere near as complicated as the complex history of the Volturi, and Victoria’s re-cast return is more of a callback than an addition to the Twilight franchise’s massive mythology). Unfortunately for fans of the novel, a lack of screen time means that Twilight left out a lot of the most interesting details of James’ character despite him being the film’s primary villain, with the film never delving into his backstory, his original appearance, or his abilities. That said, the film did find time to add some effective touches to James’ villainy that made up for missing elements, and the character’s gory backstory may have been a touch too much for the romantic flick.
Twilight Changes James’ Appearance
Like almost all of the cast, James’ movie appearance doesn’t quite match his book description. In both Twilight and its retelling Midnight Sun, James is described as having short black hair where the film gives him a long blonde ponytail, a change which may have been made to accommodate his actor’s coloring but also serves to make the villain a more campy and over-the-top presence than his book counterpart. It would be harder to imagine the film’s version of James blending into a crowd thanks to his distinctive locks, although the rest of his coven’s members are also somewhat theatrical in their appearance and they do have very little reason to hide in a crowd, as they’re the most dangerous characters in the movie. Admittedly the new do is a little harder to take seriously than the book’s more demure appearance, but Gigandet nonetheless does a solid job in the role and is well-cast for the part despite this change. The actor also went above and beyond the call of duty for the part, doing many of his own stunts for the film, like Tom Cruise.
Twilight Ignores James’ Book Backstory
James is a powerful hunter in the film, but Twilight doesn’t disclose that the source series’ detail that this ability is due to his skill as a tracker from his human life. The Twilight books give him a solid backstory that, like that of Rami Malek’s Benjamin, is elided by the film for the sake of time. And like Benjamin’s backstory, it’s a shame that viewers missed out on the personal history of James. Unlike most villainous backstories, James’ tale doesn’t make him much more sympathetic to the viewer, as it proves he was just as bloodthirsty during his human life as he is in his un-death. In the novel canon, he’s a cocky tracker who inherited his gift for following and killing animals from his father, and his hubris leads him to bet a mysterious, strange drifter that he can out-hunt him. As the drifter is one of Twilight‘s almost-immortal vampires, James loses this bet when his competitor catches and kills a deer in a matter of seconds.
James then demands that the drifter disclose his secret advantage—and gets himself bitten and turned into a vampire for his troubles. However, this “be careful what you wish for” set up doesn’t lead James to do much self-reflection or tragic introspection. No, instead of an Interview With A Vampire-style long dark night of the soul, the newly-turned vampire James opts to hone his already impressive hunting skills as he now has the heightened senses of a vampire, bides his time, and finally hunts down and kills the vampire who turned him for the sake of “winning” their bet. It’s not going to bring many viewers over to his side, but the backstory is still a solid slice of dark, Dracula-style gothic horror that the film could have done with. After all, for all its good qualities Hardwicke’s Twilight is severely lacking in anything resembling a scare factor, given that it’s ostensibly a vampire movie.
What The Twilight Movies Added In About James
While Twilight could have done with adding in James’ backstory to give the story a darker, gorier edge, the movie did find time to throw in some elements not present in the source novel, and fortunately like the Cullen family crest, these movie-only additions are a valuable addition the saga’s lore. There’s a nice detail added in the film wherein James collects trinkets and keepsakes from each of his victims, a dark touch which gives the villain a classic serial killer feel. It’s a detail that contrasts nicely with Edward’s peaceful manner and the character’s conflicted feelings about his vampirism, as the tortured internal dilemma of Robert Pattinson’s vampire couldn’t be further from James’ confident and uncaring bloodletting. And speaking of the character’s bloodletting, the film also ups the body count of the Forks-set killing spree undertaken by James and his fellow coven members Laurent and Victoria.
The first victim of James’ coven, unfortunate local Waylon Forge, doesn’t appear in the novel, wherein it is implied that James’ coven has had their fair share of victims pre-Bella but never actually confirmed. Where the novels leave their bloody hunting spree to the reader’s imagination, in the film the stakes of James’ villainy are confirmed in an early scene where he, Laurent, and Victoria corner and kill Waylon. While this marks James out as a stone-cold killer (even if the small-town murder is more True Blood than Twilight tonally), the film also adds a weird weakness for the character. In the novel Bella realizes she forgot her pepper spray at home when she’s faced with James, a believable and tense addition that makes the scene scarier and more intense. In the film, however, there’s a short scene of Bella successfully using pepper spray on James, which seems like an odd weapon to work on such a supposedly-strong vampire. Granted, it doesn’t incapacitate him for long, but given what the rest of the Twilight franchise puts its vampires through this seems like a strange weakness for such a prominent villain.
More: Twilight: The Cullen Family Crest Explained
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