Does Twilight have bite? Or does it simply, um, bite? Kimberly Gadette finds out.
Talk about re-vamping your life: shy new girl in town Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) relocates to the mist-laden Pacific Northwest from the blistering desert sun of Phoenix, Arizona.
Even a slightly dopey new classmate feels compelled to ask the extraordinarily pale Bella why she doesn't have even a hint of a tan.
No explanation is given - yet perhaps this is all the more reason that Bella notices the assorted alabaster faces of the Cullen clan, and vice versa. It's possible that this movie isn't about vampires or teenage abstinence or oddball ostracism - maybe matching skin tones is the running theme. Why not? With a plot stretched as thin as the US budget, we can fill in the blanks howsoever we choose. If only we can stay awake.
In case you've been hiding out in your own airless coffin, the Twilight four-book series by Stephenie Meyer has sold over 17 million copies since it first hit the bookstores in 2005. The movie is following in those moneyed footsteps, having made $70.6 million in its debut weekend. So much for commerce echoing art: the film is a long, tedious stare between pouty Bella - a fairly unlikable young woman with a glum expression and a monotone speaking condition - and Edward (Robert Pattinson), a ruby red-lipped Nosferatu who confines his noshing to animals only.
But oh, the lure of the human scent, the temptation to sup upon fleshy treats are as difficult for him to deny as a lifelong dieter her box of chocolate. It seems our Bella's "put a smell on him", and he can't resist. He gasps when he first sees her entering the classroom, his hand flying up to his mouth. Is he attempting to hide the unfashionable crimson lipstick he's wearing? Had he just heard about the film's boffo box office numbers? Or, since Bella's hair flows in a sudden wind, maybe he's simply surprised - seriously, how often do damp high school biology classes spontaneously burst into gusts?
Given the novels' popularity, it seems that the teenage female audience doesn't care about such concepts as a respectable plot, pacing or character development. But the fact that this sodden film, based on an amateur writer's limited imaginings, is held up as a comparison to J.K. Rowling's brilliantly inventive Harry Potter series is like comparing goin' fishin' to nuclear fission. Sarah Palin to paleontology. Hot Rocket to rocket sci - oh, you get the idea.
Though director Catherine Hardwicke has previously captured - accurately - the spirit of a troubled young girl (2003's Thirteen), in this outing she stifles her actors, stripping most of them of any hint of personality. Stewart's Bella has the opportunity to explore other facets of her character, ie her frequently-voiced devotion to her parents. Though she may mouth the words, she treats them both with utter disregard.
Recalling Robert Pattinson's earlier, livelier Cedric Diggory in two of the Harry Potter films, it's as if he's been literally muffled by the Washington fog. Other than the sly Alice (Ashley Greene), Edward's other family members include the frozen, fish-faced Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), the stiff patriarch Carlisle (longtime working actor Peter Facinelli) and the sulky Rosalie (Nikki Reed, so good in Thirteen: the film she co-wrote with Hardwicke).
When she isn't concentrating on her clan of clammy wonders, Hardwicke limply directs the two-dimensional normal kids, including a chirpy Anna Kendrick, far more complex in Rocket Science. The few promising scenes introduce characters from the American Indian Quileute tribe. Since so little onscreen time was spent in this first chapter, here's hoping more develops for them in the sequel.
Much is being made of the movie's abstinence theme, given that Edward dare not touch his beloved for fear of his bloodlust either reducing her to 'stake' tartare, or turning her into yet another member of the undead. Being that novelist Meyer is an active member of the Mormon church, it stands to reason that she would promote an agenda of 'don't you dare touch that'. Which is fine for a lesson in sex education class. But as a film? What next? The Anti-Drug Diaries acted out by heroin heroines, as developed by Sister Mary George Goodshoes? Give us romance, angst, conflict, desire ... but for heaven's sake, frame it within the context of a workable plot.
It seems that the filmmakers were so excited by the seductively easy dollars, alchemising a runaway primer into box office gold, that they forgot all about rendering a decent film along the way. If only they could have seen the Northwest forest for the trees.
Rating: 2 underdeveloped fangs out of 5 – Kimberly Gadette on Twilight Release dates: US: November 21, 2008; UK: December 19 Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke Screenplay by: Melissa Rosenberg Based on the novel by: Stephenie Meyer Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Kellan Lutz, Peter Facinelli, Cam Gigandet, Anna Kendrick Running Time: 122 minutes