Vampires live in the 'Twilight': Reviewer finds movie hard to sink his teeth into

Posted: Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Twilight"

Goldcrest Pictures

2 hours 33 minutes

As happens occasionally, I just wasn't able to make it out to the movies this weekend. It's true I was busy, but it's not like the new releases here on the Kenai Peninsula were exactly calling out to me. "Crank 2" and "Fighting"? Come on. The lead character at the end of "Crank" falls out of a helicopter to his death, so immediately I know his exploits in the sequel are going to demand a level of suspension of disbelief that I'm just not prepared to give. And "Fighting" what kind of title is that? So much for subtlety. "Fighting" sounds like the second bill on a triple feature starting with "Getting Drunk" and ending with "Going to Jail." With that in mind, I headed to the video store and picked up a movie that I had studiously avoided when it was on the big screen, despite the fact that it was a huge sensation upon release. I bit the bullet and rented "Twilight."

One of the signs of aging, I think, is a slow disconnect from pop culture. I'd never even heard of "Twilight" and suddenly it was the most highly anticipated fantasy film of the year. For the three people who, like me, were unaware, "Twilight" is the first in a highly popular series of vampire-novels for young adults.

Kind of an Anne Rice meets Judy Blume in the Pacific Northwest. Our hero, Bella, is a wispy pale teen who is deposited in small town Forks, Wash., to live with her estranged father. Dad is the sheriff and sets about making a place for her. Upon enrollment in the local high school, Bella comes face to face with someone paler than she -- Edward. She's intrigued and, after an interminably long back and forth, are-we-aren't-we courtship, the two declare their love, but not before Edward declares that he'd also really like to kill her and drink her blood.

That's right, Edward, along with his whole "family," is a vampire, complete with super-strength, super-speed and super-good looks. This is how I can only imagine the book describes him. Personally I thought he looked like someone had smacked him in the face with a frying pan and then stuck his finger in a light socket, but that's me. So now these two crazy kids are in love, and even though one of the two is 17 and the other is 120, it's all good. Bella meets the folks, and even joins in a family baseball game before all heck breaks loose. A rival band of bloodsuckers happens along and doesn't take kindly to the inclusion of a human. For some reason, one of the three decides to make it his mission in life, or death, to track and kill Bella, leading to an inevitable conflict with our smitten Edward.

It's not a complicated story, and though I can't speak about a book I haven't read, not a particularly original one either. Cribbing from dozens of other sources, author Stephanie Meyers does create one myth of her own, that, rather than cooking them, the sun reveals our vamps to have sparkly skin. Ooooh, that's scary. I have to say, I fail to see what made this film such a sensation. The acting is fine if you like long soulful staring and whispered dialogue. Though production values are high, the effects are laughable, especially the scenes with Edward running at top speed. I felt like I was watching Speedy Gonzalez all of a sudden. A big, flat-faced Speedy Gonzalez with a punk rock hair-cut. I'm sorry. I know it's cheap to mock a character's looks, but this is the big heart throb? Yikes. At least Bella is cute, despite her apparent anemia.

"Twilight" wouldn't have been so bad if they'd just cut down on the love story, which, I realize, is probably like saying "Saving Private Ryan" would have been better if they just cut out a lot of the World War II, but the romance really bogs this film down. By the time the two are side-by-side in a dewy meadow, lost in each others' eyes, I was ready to throw myself off the top of the tallest redwood. And it just goes on and on like this. The final conflict zips by in maybe 15 minutes - the rest of the two-plus hours are devoted to pining and longing, declarations and protestations and lots of chaste cuddling. You see, they can't get too hot and heavy because Edward might accidentally lose control and dismember Bella, so that's kind of a turn off.

Aside from the vampire love, there was another element to the story that I found vaguely off-putting. In most Hollywood teen films, high schools are portrayed as collections of cliques, all of whom hate each other with an intensity that is only bested by the animosity they show toward "the new kid."

Of course this doesn't reflect any kind of reality, and while the cliche gets old, "Twilight" takes it in a new direction. Everyone is extremely nice. Everyone except our hero, who comes off as a Debbie Downer most of the time. All the kids in school are welcoming, falling over themselves to show Bella to class and making room at the cool table. Even the vampire family is nice, welcoming her into their home, blessing her relationship with Edward, not feasting on her. It's actually a relief when the bad vampires show up.

I guess if we have to have a cliche, I'd rather it were that people are kind rather than cruel, but it still seems strange. I guess I'll have a chance to get used to it, though. There's like six more books in the series, and "Twilight" made a ton of money, so it's a cinch we haven't seen the last of Bella and Edward. Lucky us.

Grade: C-

"Twilight" is rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and scenes of vampires going steady.



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