Today is the day! Twilight, the film based on the first in a series of wildly successful YA novels written by Stephenie Meyer, opens, with a dedicated fan base of vampire-lovers. The story follows Bella (Kristen Stewart), a young girl who moves to the Pacific Northwest, as she falls in lust — yet maintains a chaste relationship — with a handsome "vegetarian" vampire (in that he doesn't eat human blood) named Edward (Robert Pattinson). The teenage couple desires a physical relationship, but contact must be avoided, because Edward's instinct to drink Bella's blood is so strong. So, what do the non-teenage critics think of all the brooding and sexual tension between Bella and Edward? The reviews, after the jump.Time:
Hardwicke, who directed the teen outsider films Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown and The Nativity Story (another fable about a special girl with a condition that's hard to explain), is no great shakes as an auteur. She dawdles in sketching Bella's high school chums, and her direction of the dialogue will often bore those who aren't mouthing it from memory as the actors speak it. But she chose her leads wisely: the pretty Stewart is a questioning, questing presence; the Brit Pattinson, a sensitive-stud dreamboat. And Hardwicke is faithful to the book's chaste eroticism. The couple must put off having sex because, well, it could kill Bella. (aids metaphors are unavoidable here.) Yet waiting has its own delicious tension. So Twilight isn't a masterpiece - no matter. It rekindles the warmth of great Hollywood romances, where foreplay was the climax and a kiss was never just a kiss.
Admittedly, it's a relief that Rosenberg dispenses with Meyer's often embarrassingly overripe prose ("His hair was dripping wet, disheveled ... his dazzling face was friendly, open, a slight smile on his flawless lips"), and pic's selective rewriting of the rules of vampire lore (no coffins, no garlic, no fatal aversion to sunlight) does hold interest. There's a fleeting moment when the two leads — standing together in a secluded glade, their bodies circled by the camera — come close to capturing the tale's lush, swooning romanticism.
Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular novel, Twilight-the first in a four-book series about a 17-year-old girl who falls in love with the hunky vampire who sits next to her in biology class-bored me silly, but that's clearly a minority opinion. In the novel, Bella and her cold-to-the-touch lothario, Edward, talk and talk and talk. For the beautifully photographed (by cinematographer Elliot Davis) film version, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (bless her) has pared the couple's blather down to the essentials, as when Edward (Robert Pattinson) says to Bella (Kristen Stewart), "You're my own personal brand of heroin." Poor girl. How could she not succumb?
For girls, the intense, ego-stroking appeal of Meyer's novel was the way that Bella becomes this undead Byronic stud's soul mate without quite knowing why she's worthy. She's a Kewl Generation damsel waiting to be rescued from her jaded heart. Stewart is an ideal casting choice - she conveys Bella's detachment, as well as her need to bust through it. And getting Catherine Hardwicke to direct Twilight was a shrewd move, because the youthquake specialist of Thirteen treats teen confusion without a trace of condescension: She gets their grand passions and prickly defense mechanisms. She has reconjured Meyer's novel as a cloudburst mood piece filled with stormy skies, rippling hormones, and understated visual effects. What Hardwicke can't quite triumph over is the book's lackluster plot. On screen, Twilight is repetitive and a tad sodden, too prosaic to really soar. But Hardwicke stirs this teen pulp to a pleasing simmer.
Neither strong sunlight nor the sight of oozing blood will deter the romance between a teenage girl and her vampire dreamboat in Twilight (** out of four). And despite questionable casting, wooden acting, laughable dialogue and truly awful makeup, nothing is likely to stop young girls from swarming to this kitschy adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's popular novel.
I never quite bought Edward's extraordinary running, jumping and tree-climbing ability, either. Hardwick relies too much on motion blur, a cheat that looks oddly dated, given the F/X capabilities evident in, say, the "Spider-Man" movies. And the scene in which Edward reveals what his skin looks like — like diamonds, according to Meyer — is frustratingly vague. "This is what I really look like," he says, stepping out of the constant fog into a rare shaft of sunlight. What? Out of focus? But these are minor complaints. On the whole, "Twilight" works as both love story and vampire story, thanks mainly to the performances of its principals. Pattinson and Stewart want to convince you that their characters are an undead freak and the girl who, against all logic, loves him. Yet they do it not by selling you on what makes Edward and Bella so different, but by finding their flesh-and-blood humanity.
Should a woman fall in love with a man because he desires her so much? Men seem to think so. It's not about the woman, it's about the man's desire. We all know there is no such thing as a vampire. Come on now, what is "Twilight" really about? It's about a teenage boy trying to practice abstinence, and how, in the heat of the moment, it's really, really hard. And about a girl who wants to go all the way with him, and doesn't care what might happen. He's so beautiful she would do anything for him. She is the embodiment of the sentiment, "I'd die for you." She is, like many adolescents, a thanatophile. If there were no vampires in "Twilight," it would be a thin-blooded teenage romance, about two good-looking kids who want each other so much because they want each other so much. Sometimes that's all it's about, isn't it? They're in love with being in love. In "Twilight," however, they have a seductive disagreement about whether he should kill her. She's like, I don't especially want to die, but if that's what it takes, count me in. She is touched by his devotion. Think what a sacrifice he is making on her behalf.
Although this film will seem bloated to newcomers, and the plot kicks into gear slowly, "Twilight" never has the rushed or stilted feel of a 500-page book that's been adapted into a two-hour film. Small things seem to be missing, but considering the number of characters introduced and themes that are explored, it's a credit to Hardwicke and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg that the movie remains coherent throughout. The production also benefits from two good leads: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, as Bella and Edward. Pattinson in particular is convincing as a 100-year-old vampire stuck in a "Groundhog Day"-style existence that has him going to high school after high school, surrounded by a supermarket full of the young blood he craves but cannot eat.
Hardwicke, whose first film was the harrowing mother-daughter melodrama Thirteen (2003), has a keen sense memory for female adolescence-not just the social insecurity of that time but the grandiosity that can make self-destructive decisions feel somehow divinely fated. Unwholesome, sure, but arguably no more so than Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, two better-written Gothic romances about young women in thrall to a remote, charismatic, often cruel hero. And while Pattinson's Edward is a bit of a vain prig, no one you'd want to risk your immortal soul for, his worthiness doesn't really matter. Twilight is a story about pining for the one person you can, and should, never have, and who among us hasn't at least once experienced that vampiric craving? As a life lesson for teenage girls, Twilight (excuse the pun) sucks. As a parable for the dark side of female desire, it's weirdly powerful.
And though the story's action quotient has been increased to appeal to the random males who might show up at the multiplex, Twilight is unabashedly a romance. All the story's inherent silliness aside, it is intent on conveying the magic of meeting that one special person you've been waiting for. Maybe it is possible to be 13 and female after all - for a few hours, at least.
If you're coming into this material cold, though, you will be seriously baffled as to what the fuss is all about, and that becomes glaringly obvious in the way Hardwicke has staged her action sequences. When Edward leaps from one spot to another to show off his physical prowess, or when he races through the forest with Bella strapped to his back, it looks distractingly jumpy and false. (The moment when he sparkles in the sunlight looks especially cheesy.) There's nothing transporting about the visuals. "Twilight" was a famously low-budget production compared to most traditional blockbusters, but this is ridiculous. It doesn't help that, as Bella, Kristen Stewart looks singularly sullen the entire time. She's supposed to be enraptured by the thrills of her first love. Instead, she merely appears to be in the throes of pain. Sure, they can feel like the same thing when you're a teenager, but Stewart's one-note performance makes it difficult to get swept away by Bella's forbidden, romantic adventure.
Attention, all 13-year-old female readers of this newspaper: Run, do not walk, to the nearest multiplex playing "Twilight," the screen version of Stephenie Meyer's best-selling potboiler about a principled vampire and the teenage girl who loves him. Others needn't run. Or walk.
Stewart is likable as Bella, who is not always a likable character, and while Pattinson's role is inevitably more ridiculous, he does as reliable a job with it as might be hoped. The rest of the cast is fine as well, with Burke standing out as Bella's taciturn, drily humorous dad. The direction by Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown) is capable, though the film's special effects—mostly very fast running, jumping, and tree-climbing—might've done with a little more work. Ultimately, Twilight is silly and melodramatic and hard to dislike in much the same way as its target audience, with a distinctly teenage sense of tragedy.
Hardwicke's vision of the book stands by itself, anyway. "Twilight" is a slightly awkward picture: Sometimes Hardwicke hits a sweepingly majestic groove, only to stop short before she reaches the peak of go-for-broke swooning. In other places, she's too heavy-handed with the honey dripper — some of the movie's creepy romantic goop is ladled out in sticky puddles. Steel yourself, too, for some howlingly bad makeup: The vampire characters sport a marble-toned pallor that looks as if it was applied with a spray gun.
Though her filmmaking can be shaky, the director Catherine Hardwicke has an eye for pretty young things and a feel for the private worlds that younger people make for themselves. But she's working in shackles here. In her best movie, "Lords of Dogtown," about the birth of the modern skateboard movement, a teenage boy sneaks out at night by slaloming off a roof while holding a surfboard. It's a blissful declaration of freedom, including freedom from the big parental no.
TWILIGHT is a very sweet and crushingly romantic film, but it's a lite romantic movie. I guarantee that fans of the book won't LOVE the movie like they did the book. The reason? Because Hardwicke and the producers of this film didn't trust in the conversations and the expressions of the characters thoughts. Sure, the movie is 2 hours long and to add in the substance of all those conversations. To do more than just the common cheap exchanging of glances and the hanging out in treetops and saving her from certain death… that takes real courage and real understanding of love. But that's why TWILIGHT is simply a good Romantic film, whilst Linklater's BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE SUNRISE are amongst the greatest Romantic films. Those TALKING HEAD scenes in CASABLANCA really killed it, didn't they?
Twilight takes the theme of vampirism as sexual sublimation to a whole new level, and it's hard to overlook the religious undertones of the scene when Edward catches an apple Bella drops and offers it to her on his open palms like the cover of the Twilight books. Or when Bella trustingly cuddles up to him while he intones, "And so the lion fell in love with the lamb." This line garnered shrieks from the teens in the audience because it's a direct quote from the book, but the religious symbolism couldn't be more obvious (or disturbing). Keep your religion out of our vampires, Hollywood!
'Twilight' opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.