The movie version of
To convert this woozy tale into a movie, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (who also works on the excellent "Dexter" TV series) wisely approached the novel with a machete, whacking out several acres of god-awful lovebird jabber and moving the cool stuff -- mainly a trio of vicious Canadian vampire interlopers -- to the fore. This allowed the director, Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen"), and her editor, Nancy Richardson, to step in and give the story a desperately needed kick in its saggy pants. Unfortunately, all the snappy pacing and swooping camera movement in the world can't finesse the novel's sillier conceits; and bringing some of them into the light only makes them seem a lot sillier.
The movie, like the book, has the approximate structure of a 1950s rock-a-teen B-movie, the kind in which a good girl falls for the leader of a bad motorcycle gang to the horror of her family and friends, who just don't understand how sweet he really is. Here, the good girl is Bella (
Bella and Edward butt heads for about a minute before he saves her life a few times with some very mysterious abilities; then she starts looking at him in a new way. Adding up his endearing oddities -- extreme goth-guy pallor, serious hypothermia -- she realizes that he's a vampire. But she doesn't care. "I'm not afraid of you," she tells him. "I'm only afraid of losing you." Before long, they're off to the woods, where they coo in the trees and nuzzle in the grass amid fat, dewy mushrooms and dreamy acoustic-guitar noodlings on the soundtrack. Edward takes Bella home, out in the middle of nowhere, to meet the family. His dad (
The phenomenal popularity of "Twilight," the novel, is no mystery. It doesn't simply update the vampire genre for the modern teen market -- Lord knows, that's been done. What it does is strip vampires of their murky erotic threat and present them as chaste, untroubling love objects for young teen girls. (Bella and Edward are supposed to be 17, but they don't act that way: Bella's never even had a date.) There's not a whisper of sex in the book, and none in the movie -- which is problematic. Pattinson, such an appealing presence in the Harry Potter films, has been directed here to smolder in such an outlandishly sultry manner that you wonder why he never displays any carnal interest in Bella. Is he gay? (That might have been interesting, actually.) And it doesn't help that he and his vampire brothers have been so heavily caked with face powder and overloaded with hair product that they look like a troupe of unusually fey mimes. (At the screening I attended, the young girls in the audience erupted in squeals of delight when Pattinson's name came up in the opening credits, but downshifted into what sounded like uneasy giggles when he put in his first actual appearance.)
It's the pretty Stewart who holds the movie together, bracing the largely passive character of Bella with glimmers of spirit and determination. She's solidly matched by Reed (who cowrote and starred in "Thirteen") and by Ashley Greene, who plays Edward's other sister, the clairvoyant Alice, as a cheery punkette. And I kind of wish the movie had more of Jackson Rathbone, who plays Edward's brother, Jasper, with a weird, demented intensity.
Certain elements of "Twilight" were doomed to fail on film. Vampire baseball, for instance, was already a tough sell in the novel; here, with all its leaping and zooming around, it looks like a special-ed Quidditch match. And one of Meyer's more curious inventions -- vampires who don't shrivel in the sun, but sparkle instead -- is a bizarre thing to actually see. When Edward soaks up some rays and goes all glittery, he looks like he just stumbled home from an all-night rave.
These attempted additions to the vampire canon seem all the more lusterless in light of the many genre staples that have been cast aside: no coffins, no bat transformations or crucifix panics, no silver-phobia. There's a very brief dream scene in which we see Edward bent over Bella's neck and then rising up with the traditional rivulet of blood running down his chin. It's a fleeting reminder of how much dumb fun is missing from this oddly neutered neo-horror movie, and how little is being offered in its place. In "Twilight," the only characters drained dry are the vampires themselves.
Check out everything we've got on "Twilight."
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