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Twilight   D

Summit Entertainment

Year Released: 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg (based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer)
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Ashley Greene, Jackson Rathbone, Kellan Lutz.

Review by Rob Vaux

I'm about to tear this film a new one, but before I do, it's worth mentioning that Twilight most definitely does not have my demographic in mind. I am not now nor have I ever been a 12-year-old girl, and whatever magic this grab-bag of badly articulated vampire clichés holds, it's clearly intended for them and them alone. I understand that and even sympathize to a certain extent. Folks my age had a movie like this too. It was called The Lost Boys and back in the day we thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Then we grew up and realized how tacky and cheesy it really was, but it was still our cheese and so we forgave it. Twilight's going to do the same thing with the current batch of tweeners. Twenty years from now, they'll blush at the mention of it, and laugh about it with their friends, and wonder how they could have thought so much of such obvious twaddle. But it will be part of their youth, and they'll have shared it with other folks their age, and that will lend it a special significance. Such experiences are part of what makes the movies so marvelous, and if Twilight gives you a little shiver of delight when you watch it, then don't ever let any of us grouchy cynics tear it down for you.

Now, having said that... what the hell are you kids on?!

This is not a vampire movie. This is not a heartfelt teen romance. This is not a Romeo and Juliet for a new generation. It wants very badly to be all those things, following the patterns like an earnest child playing dress-up with her parents' clothes. But it doesn't understand what they entail. It has no concept of the emotional reality behind them. Even worse, it files down the ugliest and most disturbing parts of them in order to become more enticing to its audience. In the process, it loses the passion and conflict that makes such stories work.

Take, for example, the film's raison d'être: a torrid, overwhelming love affair between new-girl-in-town Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and nice-guy vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Their attraction is intended to evoke a combination of danger and compulsion, like keeping a Bengal tiger as a beloved pet. Bella knows that Edward could lose control and rip her throat out, and yet she chooses to stay with him because her devotion is just that intense. Except that Edward doesn't feel dangerous. At all. He broods like Percy Shelley and gives pretty speeches about how intoxicating she smells, but he never conveys that vital sense of coiled menace: the animal on the chain lurking below a will just barely strong enough to contain it.

When we see the rest of his vampire family, it's easy to understand such toothlessness. The Cullens have renounced feeding off of humans and try to live a normal life in small-town Washington while hiding their true identity from their neighbors. They play baseball, they spoon in the parking lot, and they have no apparent weaknesses to balance out their strength, good looks and eternal youth. Sunlight won't kill them (they sparkle instead, and I'm not even going to touch that little piece of silliness), traditional weaknesses are nowhere to be seen, and for all of Edward's moaning, their bloodlust is limited to a few tepid lines about how hard it can be to keep their cool. By positing them in such soft, fluffy terms, Twilight removes the danger and tragedy that makes vampires so compelling in the first place. Small wonder these specimens fritter away immortality in high-school biology class.

So too does the heroine herself end up tripping over the starting blocks. According to the press notes, Bella is a "quirky outsider," but her life carries no hint of the alienation or iconoclasm which that entails. Upon setting foot in her new school, she instantly collects a gaggle of true-blue buddies who coo and squee over her hunky new boyfriend in appropriately excited tones. Her father (Billy Boyd) is loving and protective without "hovering," while her divorced mom (Sarah Clarke) calls up to talk boys and clothes whenever she gets lonely. Talk to a few real outsiders at your local high school, and you'll likely get a very different take on life than the prom-queen-next-door experience here.

In light of that, Edward's attraction to her -- predicated on her "special" qualities -- becomes utterly unconvincing. Director Catharine Hardwicke conveys it via a few doe-eye looks and some exquisitely painful dialogue of the shall-I-compare-thee-to-a-summer's-day variety. (Similarly crude technical problems bedevil other parts of the film too, from the amateurish wirework to the hastily constructed verbal sparring utterly devoid of emotional resonance.) The PG-13 rating lends an air of chastity to their coupling -- stressing the poetry of it all and avoiding anything too steamy -- which, like the horror elements, drains their relationship of any potency. How can we believe they would die for each other when the very act of physical contact feels awkward and rehearsed?

The resolute sugar coating of the material likely comes by design, and may even explain the staggering popularity of the source novel. It permits indulgence in a consequence-free fantasy, appropriating the pretense of real drama without ever actually engaging with the ideas it seems so madly in love with. Supporters may argue that future installments bring more depth, but soup this thin rarely improves with age. The target audience will lap it up, the studio will collect on a hefty payday, and time will inevitably reveal the hopeless mediocrity upon which it is all based. Let the youthful fans -- and those who want to remember what being that age was like -- enjoy it. When they're ready to take off the training wheels, there will be plenty of real vampire stories waiting for them.

Review published 11.23.2008.

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