Love at First Bite
All the fevered anticipation for the supernatural romance Twilight left me more than a little puzzled. The movie seemed to come out of nowhere, despite a fanbase for the book series it's based upon apparently rivaling that of the Harry Potter set. Leery as I am about suddenly being told something is all the rage, I went into Twilight with pretty low expectations. Even so, I couldn't help feeling let down, as the story appears rife with laughably melodramatic theatrics you'd expect out of something on The CW, not from one of the year's biggest blockbusters.
Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a moody high schooler, leaves behind sunny Phoenix to live with her estranged dad (Billy Burke) in fog-drenched Forks, Washington. Despite her initial misgivings, she tries her best to live a normal life -- that is, until the day she meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). A member of a well-to-do local clan, Edward seems dashing, mysterious, and handsome, all traits that attract Bella like a moth to a flame. However, there are other characteristics he's not too keen on showing off, particularly his ice-cold skin, superhuman strength, and strange aversion to the sun. It doesn't take long for Bella to put the pieces together and determine that Edward is a vampire, albeit one who opts not to feast on the blood of the living. But instead of heading for the hills, Bella falls head over heels for Edward, though they soon find their burgeoning relationship tested when a particularly vicious bloodsucker (Cam Gigandet) targets Bella as his latest meal.
With the key to Twilight's popularity being Bella and Edward's relationship, you'd think the filmmakers would take special care of it, thereby ensuring viewers would buy into the pair's romance hook, line, and sinker. I can't attest for the novels, but the way it's handled in filmic form reaches eye-rolling proportions. Twilight comes across as no different than those legions of mainstream Hollywood fables in which the lead characters fall in love just because. Actually, as a result of taking itself and the central romance so seriously, it's even worse. Director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) dedicates an alarming amount of time to telling us how much these crazy kids love each other, rather than allowing them to form a natural connection. Things never develop beyond the level of mere infatuation, and yet the filmmakers persist as if they're making another Gone with the Wind. Sure, Pattinson happens to be a good-looking guy, but you'd think his ghoulish demeanor and stalkerish dialogue would make it hard for Bella to swoon over him right off the bat.
Then again, it's hard to take anything in Twilight seriously, let alone a forbidden romance. Vampires used to be tragic figures who retained at least some creepiness, but the emo rejects in this outing are anything but scary. In fact, the myth becomes so diluted, you wonder why the film is about vampires in the first place. Twilight does little else to justify its existence, as the entire production feels too rushed and too half-hearted. The script never gets around to forming an actual plot, dwelling so much on Bella and Edward, it throws together some mess about rival vampires practically as the final credits are rolling. The special effects are dodgy, the dialogue dances on the edge of pretentiousness, and there are enough awkward, useless pauses to fill the Grand Canyon. At least the acting is tolerable, with Stewart and Pattinson giving performances deserving of a much better movie.
Would I call Twilight a bad film? Not necessarily. It features a few salvagable elements, from the rather beautiful cinematography to the misguided but ultimately harmless story. Still, should you choose to soak in this brooding narrative, don't be surprised if it feels like something's missing. Ironically, what Twilight lacks most is bite.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Summit Entertainment and rated "PG-13" for some violence and a scene of sensuality.)