Saturday, November 22, 2008

Twilight / ** (PG-13)

Bella Swan: Kristen Stewart
Edward Cullen: Robert Pattinson
Charlie Swan: Billy Burke
Dr. Carlisle Cullen: Peter Facinelli
Jacob Black: Taylor Lautner
James: Cam Gigandet
Alice Cullen: Ashley Greene
Rosalie Hale: Nikki Reed
Jasper Hale: Jackson Rathbone
Emmet Cullen: Kellan Lutz
Jessica Stanley: Anna Kendrick
Mike Newton: Michael Welch
Eric Yorkie: Justin Chon
Angela Webber: Christian Serratos

Summit Entertainment presents a film directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Written by Melissa Rosenberg. Based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer. Running time: 122 min. Rated PG-13 (for some violence and a scene of sensuality).

When did the vampire turn into a superhero? When I developed my love for them, they were creatures of bloodlust and sexuality. Now, instead of being creatures of horror, they’ve become some of fantasy. Wouldn’t it be fun to be a vampire?! We used to think that too. That’s always been part of their allure. But when they used to be a monster there was the taste of fear that went along with the desire. Today’s vampires hold more in common with Superman than they do with Dracula.

“Twilight” became one of the year’s most anticipated movies almost without anyone noticing. And now that it’s here, I can see that flying in under the radar was probably better for the movie than everyone knowing what they were getting into ahead of time. Then, it may not have seemed worth the bother. Of course, the movie was adapted from the best selling novel by Stephanie Meyer, and I am very much out of the loop having not read it or any of the others in her vampire series. I’m sure it must work better on the page than it does on the screen, or there probably wouldn’t be a movie.

The story involves a teenage girl, Bella (Kristen Stewart, “Jumper”), who moves in with her estranged father after not having visited him since she was a little girl. Her father (Billy Burke, “Untraceable”) is the sheriff of a small town in Washington State, where the weather is perpetually overcast and cold. Bella doesn’t fit in well at school, but soon gathers a small group of friends. But she can’t seem to keep her attention off the outcasts of the school: the Cullen family. Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) in particular strikes her fancy. She doesn’t know what to make of his strange behavior toward her; but after he saves her life under more strange circumstances, they develop a tentative friendship.

They eventually fall in love and Edward must reveal his family’s secret to Bella—they are a coven of vampires. The family patriarch, Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli, FX’s “Damages”), has taught his clan to feed only off animal blood, although the temptation for human blood is strong. This detail is where much of the mythology of their story goes wrong. By breaking the bloodlust for human flesh the sin of vampirism is lost. They retain all of their superhuman powers of heightened strength and accelerated speed, some can even see into the future; but they are more like mutants with superpowers than monsters.

There are some monsters in this new vampire mythology. Another small coven of vampires has been ravaging the town by taking human victims and threatening to expose the Cullens’s secret. When their tracker James (Cam Gigandet, FOX’s “The OC”) discovers a human in the midst of the Cullen clan, he becomes determined to kill Bella and start a battle between the two clans. So now a conflict that was once between the mortal world of morality and the undying temptations of sin has been relegated to a feud between two warring super-powered vampire clans. Humans have all but been eliminated from the equation, except as snacks.

The early passages of the movie play like some overcast and drizzling version of the newly revamped “90210”. But even teen soaps like that have more teeth than this vampire flick. There is a sense of timidity throughout the movie. It’s as if director Catherine Hardwicke (“Lords of Dogtown”) doesn’t want to offend anyone. Her depiction of the vampire’s superpowers is standard and often too weak. Blurring their movement to show their speed is overdone and too often looks just plain goofy in this rather melodramatic context.

The lead actors do well enough in showing their rising passion for each other. But Melissa Rosenberg’s script draws their courtship out for too long before getting to the meat of the issues of hanging out with vampires. I don’t know how closely Rosenberg (a writer for the Showtime serial killer series “Dexter”) follows Meyer’s book, but their needs to be a stronger focus on the bad vampires. They are the threat to this small town, but we never get a chance to feel that.

I had my concerns about seeing a vampire movie that is rated PG-13. The sinful explorations of human temptation for which that the vampire myth was invented does not lend itself well to a light touch. I never expected that touch to be quite as soft spoken as it is here, though. Although these vampires can see their images in a mirror—I’m assuming since they walk around in daylight—there is really nothing there at all.

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