01 December 2008
So this is what all the fuss is about? I guess it’s different for teenage girls, who have turned Twilight, the vampire novel by Stephenie Meyer, and its three (and counting) sequels, into the biggest literary phenomenon since a certain boy wizard. But I would hope that even those whose hearts wilt at the mere mention of the eternally-17-year-old, pretty-boy bloodsucker Edward Cullen would notice and take offense to wooden acting and shoddy special effects.
The story is told through the eyes of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a high school junior who moves from sunny Phoenix, Ariz., to rainy, dreary Forks, Wash., to live with her father (Billy Burke), the local police chief, while her mother (Sarah Clarke) travels with her new husband, a minor league baseball player.
Life isn’t so bad for Bella. Dad, like her, is emotionally distant, but he loves her and tries to be a good parent. A childhood friend, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), is still around, living on the nearby Native American reservation. At school, she quickly makes some new friends, including Jessica (Anna Kendrick) and Angela (Christian Serratos). In biology class, she sits next to Edward (Robert Pattinson). She tries to be friendly but he seems repulsed by her and tries to drop the class afterward.
Bella eventually puts the pieces together—the pearly white skin of Edward and his family; his inhuman speed and strength; his “parents” taking him and his “siblings” out of school on those rare sunny days; a local legend related to her by Jacob—and discovers the truth: Edward and the entire Cullen family are vampires.
She’s smitten with him at first sight, and this revelation does nothing to diminish her puppy love. Edward is enthralled with her, too (maybe it’s because she is the palest person to ever come from Arizona), and his initial reaction, he explains, was because the temptation to drink her blood was so great.
The Cullens, you see, aren’t your typical vampires. They live off the blood of animals in an effort to peacefully co-exist with the rest of the community. Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), the patriarch, is a well-known local doctor.
The Cullens are an aberration among their kind, and a rival group of vampires, led by the exceptionally bloodthirsty James (Cam Gigandet) comes to town, killing indiscriminately. James takes his hunt to Bella when he learns of the hospitality the Cullens have shown her. But with all of the Cullenses coming to Bella's defense, it's seven-on-two—which doesn’t make for the most suspenseful climax.
Twilight’s acting problems start with the leads. Stewart, who was Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room (2002) and Emile Hirsch’s potential, though underage, love interest in Into the Wild (2007), mopes through the movie like she's just been dumped instead of being madly in love. Her mood filters down throughout the entire production, which feels as bleak as its setting.
Pattinson, best known as Cedric Diggory from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), is little more than a pretty face. Of course, the target audience is intimately familiar with Edward through the books and a pretty face projected larger than life at 24 frames per second is probably all they need.
For the uninitiated, though, there is little heat between Bella and Edward. See the early seasons of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer for an epic vampire/human love story filled with emotion and intensity.
The director is Catherine Hardwicke, who is making teen movies her specialty, having previously directed Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown and The Nativity Story. The actors and special effects that a relatively low $37 million budget can buy don’t give her much to work with. Aside from the original score by frequent Coen brothers collaborator Carter Burwell, everything about Twilight screams B-movie. There isn’t enough talent here to overcome those limitations. Then again, I’m not the target audience, so what do I know?
(Rated PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality. 122 minutes.)