Twilight (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Twilight Poster

In a statement that borders on the obvious, this review is not being written for the legions of loyal fans who have made Stephanie Meyer's novel Twilight the most popular piece of young adult literature to come along since Harry Potter left Hogwarts. Undoubtedly, Catherine Hardwicke's film adaptation of the book will be met in those quarters with rapturous praise. But just because the fans love something doesn't mean it's a good movie. Die-hards are often on the other side of the fence from those who view a particular nugget of pop culture from a distance, and that's fine. Just keep in mind where this review is coming from.

Twilight isn't an especially good movie, but neither is it an abomination. At times, the dialogue is laugh-aloud bad - almost to the point of being hilarious - and some of the acting is reminiscent of what we saw taking center stage in George Lucas' Star Wars prequel trilogy. The pace is uneven, there are an abundance of secondary characters who serve no real purpose (presumably, their existence will have a point in future installments), and there are a few scenes that drag on too long. Nevertheless, as the momentum builds and the romantic melodrama soars to a crescendo, it's hard not to be entertained - at least a little bit - by what's transpiring. This is a Harlequin romance by way of Dark Shadows. If it was a little better made and more tightly plotted, it might satisfy the requirements of a guilty pleasure.

For a teenager, one of the hardest life changes is to be transferred to a new school in the middle of a grade, especially if that grade is in high school. Such is the unenviable situation of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who has moved from Phoenix to the small Washington State town of Forks in the midst of her junior year. Her new school isn't a bad place. Despite the small size of the student body, it has all the usual cliques: jocks, nerds, outcasts, and Goths. The final group is unusual in that it's not comprised of Marilyn Manson lookalikes but real-life vampires. Of course, no one knows that. One suspects that if such a thing became public knowledge, it would be grounds for expulsion - or at least a few detentions.

Bella is immediately attracted to Edward (Robert Pattinson), a stud who looks like a young Brendan Frasier, cops a James Dean attitude, and is as stiff as Hayden Christensen's interpretation of Anakin Skywalker. The two get off to a rocky start, but eventually they bond, make out, and go tree climbing. It's all very cute and PG-13 romantic, but there's also a lot of angst. Edward advises Bella to stay away from him because he might lose control and do things one shouldn't do to one's potential prom date. (Ah, the sexual double entendres that pervade this movie.) This just elevates Bella's level of interest. You'd think she wants to be eaten. Ultimately, there's no sex but there is some biting. It turns out that Edward and his "family" aren't into human snacks. They're "vegetarians." That doesn't apply to all vampires, however, as Bella discovers when a nasty piece of work named James (Cam Gigandet) gets a nostrils-full of her delicious scent.

Call me old school, but I get irritated when authors decide to re-write the vampire rule book to suit their desires. And making them dark and brooding doesn't make them interesting, just kind of pathetic. Meyer's vision of the undead is that they don't have any fatal problems with sunlight (they sparkle but don't burst into flame and shrivel up), and crucifixes and holy water don't pose a problem. Nor, apparently, do stakes through the heart - since killing requires that they be torn to pieces and torched. What's left? Well, they drink blood and can scamper around like bats and rats. They're super-fast and super-strong, and they have ice-cold skin. This proves not to be a problem for Bella, who happily cuddles with a man whose flesh is refrigerated.

It takes an inordinate amount of time for Twilight to hit its stride. It stumbles along for the better part of an hour introducing secondary characters who serve no purpose and having Bella and Edward trade bad dialogue and they gaze longingly at one another. Who needs to touch when one has those looks? If a viewer wanted to scratch just beneath the surface, it's possible to view the human/vampire romance as an analog for a more traditional forbidden love story. But bloodsuckers are so much more interesting, anyway.

Kristen Stewart, who may be familiar to some viewers from appearances in In the Land of Women and Into the Wild, acquits herself admirably, managing to avoid becoming stuck in the copious amounts of cheese that surround her. She brings a seriousness to Bella that works because she plays the role absolutely straight. We believe her because she sells the character. The same cannot be said of her male co-star. Robert Pattinson was clearly chosen more for his looks than his acting ability. There is some chemistry between the leads, but it's not explosive - more like a slow burn that's still trying to catch fire when the end credits role. No one else in the film merits mention. There are a lot of characters but, aside from Bella and Edward, none leaves much of an impression.

Arguably the most fascinating thing about Twilight are the bits and pieces of vampire culture to which we are exposed, although I'm still trying to figure out why vampires only play baseball during thunderstorms. I'm sure this, like many things, is better explored in the book. In fact, for a non-convert to the Gospel According to Stephanie Meyer, the movie often comes across like it was made for a club of which I'm not a member. In other words, if you really want to be pulled into Twilight, you have to read the book. Here's a better idea for those interested in exploring juvenile vampire love on the big screen: try out the Swedish movie Let the Right One In. It lacks Twilight's pedigree and budget, but what it loses in popularity, it makes up for in atmosphere, characterization, and story. Twilight is for girls who have outgrown The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants but aren't quite old enough for Sex and the City, and that represents a potentially significant box office power. If its muscles are flexed, we can expect three more of these movies. Hopefully, like the Harry Potter films, they'll get better as they go along.

Twilight (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 2:02
U.S. Release Date: 2008-11-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1