Friday 24 April 2009

Twilight (2008)

Friday 24 April 2009

We've heard this story a thousand times before. You may have read it a thousand times before, too -- if you're a teenage girl obsessed with author Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, that is. It's another lonely-girl-meets-sexy-vampire variant (see also True Blood and Moonlight recently), with precious little to make it stand out from the crowd. It's difficult to see the merit in Meyer's premise or story, but easy to see why it's been adapted into a movie: the books have sold millions (so it has a readymade audience), it's relatively inexpensive to produce (despite its subject, there's barely a need for FX), and there are three written sequels to keep the accountants happy 'till 2011, at least...

Isabella "Bella" Swann (Kristen Stewart) is a saturnine outsider from sunny Phoenix, Arizona, who moves to rainy Forks, Washington to stay with her estranged father Charlie (Billy Burke). As she adjusts to life in a backwater forest town that's permanently overcast, Bella meets the impossibly handsome Edward Cullen (living anime Robert Pattinson, with walnut whip hair.) After getting off on the wrong foot in chemistry class, it soon becomes clear that Edward has the hots for Bella, who has the hots for Edward...

Trouble is, reclusive Edward's not like ordinary guys; he's super-fast, super-strong, can read minds, and is cold to touch. After a bit of research in a local library, the crazy truth dawns on Bella: Edward's a "cold one" (er, vampire), and his whole family are nosferatu that have chosen to become "vegetarians" (well, they feed on woodland animals and use their abilities to play superhuman baseball during thunderstorms1.)

There's really not a whole lot going on here. It takes a full hour just for Twilight to set-up Bella and Edward as "an item" (with all the weight of a Mills & Boon novel), then there's a half-hour of "meet the family", before a rather forced twenty minutes of actual incident (a rival gang of full-blooded vamps target Bella), and a fifteen minute denouement at Prom Night that sets up the inevitable lupine sequels2.

Okay, I'm definitely not the target demographic, so a lot of Twilight's charm will be lost on me. But I still find it frustrating that such derivative pulp is being stomached by impressionable girls who should look elsewhere for a decent vampire love story. The plot is thinner than Kirsten Stewart's legs and there's nothing screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (a writer/exec on Dexter) can do to change that. There's a drip-fed "murder mystery" that Scooby Doo could solve blindfolded (might the town's "animal attacks" be the work of... bad vampires?) and the motivation of villainous nomadic neckbiter James (Cam Gigandet) felt as substantial as a cobweb.

Admittedly, there are elements that work quite well. Kirsten Stewart and Robert Pattinson are perfectly cast, it has to be said. Stewart has that beautiful, porcelain emptiness that teenage girls can project themselves into, while Pattinson turns a thin character into something more appealing through pure charisma. Everyone else just disappears into the background, though –- some awaiting the limelight of sequels, others unable to draw your eye away from Stewart's earnest beauty and Pattinson's cheek-bones. Both are entirely responsible for my 2-star rating.

And I didn't have too many complaints with what few FX there were (the twinkling of vampire skin in sunlight, running vertically up trees, and a Blade II-style punch-up in a mirrored ballet hall.) Laudably, this isn't a movie that churns out FX to cover its faults -- but that does expose the lack of a decent story or a unique perspective on the vampire subgenre. A few tweaks to vampire lore is about as creative as Stephenie Meyer gets -- and she shoehorns in mind-reading and precognition just to aide the plot. It's also very predictable and self-indulgent, clocking in at a ridiculous two hours to tell a story that barely justifies one.

Undoubtedly, if you're the target demographic and own dog-eared copies of Meyer's books, you'll love Twilight. I felt it was an utterly disposable, unimaginative and weightless vampire romance, but it features a pretty loner falling in love with a mysterious superman who won't have sex before marriage (echoing the author's Mormon views on chastity) -- and clearly a lot of 14-year-old girls can't resist that. I only hope Twilight will act as a gateway to more accomplished work in the same genre.

Summit Entertainment
Budget: $37 million
121 minutes

Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg (based on the book by Stephenie Meyer)

Cast: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Peter Facinelli (Carlisle Cullen), Elizabeth Reaser (Esme Cullen), Ashley Greene (Alice Cullen), Jackson Rathbone (Jasper Hale), Nikki Reed (Rosalie Hale), Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen), Billy Burke (Charlie Swan), Cam Gigandet (James), Rachelle Lefevre (Victoria), Edi Gathegi (Laurent), Sarah Chalke (Renee Dwyer), Matt Bushell (Phil Dwyer), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black), Gil Birmingham (Billy Black), Solomon Trimble (Sam Uley), Christian Serratos (Angela Weber), Michael Welch (Mike Newton), Anna Kendrick (Jessica Stanley), Gregory Tyree Boyce (Tyler Crowley), Justin Chon (Eric Yorkie), Ned Bellamy (Waylon Forge) & Jose Zuniga (Mr. Molina)

1. Did I miss something about that scene? Edward's vampire family only play baseball during a thunderstorm because... the noise drowns out their activity? Aren't they already in a remote part of the forest?

2. Admittedly, I'm intrigued by the news that the third movie (Eclipse) will be directed by David Slade; no stranger to vampires after 30 Days Of Night, but also a controversial director thanks to paedophile thriller Hard Candy. This could be a Alfonso Cuaron-style appointment, who similarly energized the Harry Potter franchise with its third outing.