Love for the sake of love is a story as old as the hills, but I couldn't help wondering if it might be a bit misplaced in our modern times as I watched the screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's popular young adult novel Twilight. In this story's world, if you're the first girl the gorgeous, brooding guy across the cafeteria is suddenly interested in, you've accomplished something worth celebrating. You should not ask why, and you should return his desire for you with a devotion so intense you're even willing to risk death. It's all very dramatic and smacks of an old-fashioned tale of romance and danger. But rather than seeming antiquated, this kind of earnest, obsessive love story manages to be more or less universal enough for today's savvy audiences.
Director Catherine Hardwicke (who knows from movies about teens, having directed Thirteen) smartly casts her leads with talented young actors (Kristen Stewart as the mortal teenager Bella Swan and Rob Pattinson effortlessly playing the self-loathing vampire, Edward Cullen) and centers her film on the slow, boiling passion that builds between them. However, Hardwicke is woefully negligent when it comes to special effects and seems hindered here by a tiny budget. In Meyer's books, the intensity of Edward and Bella's love for each other is matched by the amount of danger that one or both are in due to the vampire stuff. In this movie, the love soars while the supernatural intrigue never gets off the ground, and action sequences land with a hard, laughable thud, making for a somewhat schizophrenic viewing experience. To see what I mean,
After her mother remarries Bella leaves sunny Arizona for a soggy, tiny, town in the Northwest. Bella's a sullen, shy girl, but that doesn't put off the local teens at her new high school who bounce around her like excitable puppies. The boys want to date her, the girls befriend her — it's an easy transition overall. On her first day, Bella notices the Cullen brood enter the building in slow motion while her new friend Jessica explains that they are a mysterious family who only ever hang out with each other. Bella can't help but be transfixed by the show stopper of the bunch: Edward (Judging by the frantic, high-pitched screaming of the youngsters in my screening you may want to bring your earplugs for this scene with Pattinson's entrance). Ultimately, Bella catches on to Edward's secrets, which only make her want to get closer to him. He relents, admitting that the scent of her blood is "like heroin" to him. After revealing the whole truth about his family, he tries to make clear to her that they're loathsome creatures doing the best they can to be good (not kill people), and hunt animals instead.
I'm thankful they dispensed with the book's incessant worship of Edward's physical appearance (no need for that anyway, as Rob radiates a heartthrob-y charisma). I just wish there was a bit more explanation as to why Bella is willing to cross over into the dangerous and uncharted territory of canoodling with the undead. Despite all that, I like the movie's Bella better than the book's Bella. Stewart infuses the young woman with an inner strength and gravitas that makes her more of a likable tomboy rather than a helpless teen with low self-esteem. Even quite seriously hindered by funny pasty make-up, Pattinson makes his Edward far less bossy and overbearing than the book's, and has more of a "misunderstood bad boy" vibe going.
For the uninitiated, there's a lot that goes unexplained. For example, one of Edward's "brothers," Jasper, looks like he's perpetually enduring an enema which caused laughter from the audience each time he was on screen because we all knew he has a harder time than most resisting eating people. If you haven't read the book, you'll just laugh at this ridiculously stiff, stunned-looking actor. But there are moments in the movie, like when Bella and Edward are lying in a field together, where the visuals are so lovely and the look of it so lush, it's impossible not to get a little swept away in the transcendence of young love, whether you've read the book or not.
But for every little moment in the movie that gives it some universal charm, there's something hilariously, well, bad that happens. Like a cheesy flashback. Or crazy bad special effects. Or laugh-out-loud pasty makeup. Still, it's clear the filmmakers did what they could with the source material being what it is and the budget they had. The truth of the matter is it's a fun — sometimes funny, sometimes stirring — ride and at the end of the day, I was entertained. It may baffle some but fans most likely won't be disappointed.
Photos courtesy of Summit Entertainment