"Low-key" is not the adjective you'd expect to describe a highly anticipated vampire movie, but there it is.
"Twilight" is a film of intelligent strengths and easily avoidable weaknesses, a modest film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's publishing phenomenon. It is faithful to its source material, which will likely please the fan base. It's also better written than Meyer's book, which tends toward froth and fulmination. (Sample line: "I was in danger of being distracted by his livid, glorious face.")
Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg delineates the cliques and claques of the Forks, Washington, high school students, human and otherwise, with an eye toward actual teen dynamics.
And she tones up her heroine, who was a passive Victorian simp -- pure fainting-couch material -- on the page.
Director Catherine Hardwicke, who made "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown," didn't have the money (or, likely, the impulse) for blockbuster machinery. She keeps the scale of things intimate, focusing on all the fervent, sexually charged but doggedly chaste murmurings of her charismatically sullen stars: Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan, the new kid with the "Daria" vibe and the complicated emotional defense system, and Robert Pattinson (cue the teen screaming) as Edward Cullen, tortured, sensitive vampire with astonishing fwoopy hair. I mean it: astonishing. The first time Bella accidentally brushes against Edward, she recoils. "Your hand is so cold," she utters. She may as well add: "And your hair is so fwoopy!"
Young Bella relocates from Arizona to rainy Washington to be with her police chief father (Billy Burke, who seems to be about 10 years older than she is). Unexplained "animal attacks" have beset his quiet corner of the world. The movie wastes no time explaining the unexplained, jumping right in with a blurry forest pursuit involving a spooked deer and its crafty, fleet-footed predator.
The way Edward peers into Bella's soul and ravishes her with his unholy gaze, she's all, like, "zing went the strings of my heart," and while he must control his animal urge to drain her of her blood, he's fighting the good fight. Besides, he belongs to a special "vegetarian" vampire sect, and feasts on critters, not humans. So he's a bad boy and a good boy. True to Meyer's Mormon beliefs, there is neither hanky nor panky nor anything resembling a third or even a second base between Bella and her dreamboat. At least not in Book 1.
So where does the movie fall down? On a simple but crucial matter of visual magic. Whenever something fantastic requires straightforward on-screen depiction, "Twilight" looks like a weaker episode from Season 6 of "Charmed." The superfast running effects, with Edward dashing up mountains, or rival, evil vampires swooping here and there at amazing speed, look genuinely cheesy, like the guy running the race in the smart-phone ad. I'm surprised Hardwicke and her colleagues couldn't solve this one more effectively. Set pieces such as a vampire baseball game fall flat as well.
Hardwicke was right to concentrate on getting the smoldering down between her stars, but the story depends on Bella's (and the audience's) amazement at this strange new world of supernatural feats.
If there's a sequel -- and there likely will be -- here's Job One: Show us, in a striking way, what these undead can do when they're not letting their hair do the fwooping.
Twilight Vampire Movie Trailer
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some violence, and a scene of sensuality).
Running time: 2:01.
Starring: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan); Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen); Billy Burke (Charlie Swan); Peter Facinelli (Dr. Carlisle Cullen).
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke; written by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer; photographed by Elliot Davis; edited by Nancy Richardson; music by Carter Burwell; produced by Greg Mooradian, Mark Morgan and Wyck Godfrey. A Summit Entertainment release.
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