Movie Review: Twilight
By Matthew Huntley
November 24, 2008

Nothing like a nice dinner with a vampire, especially when he wants you for dinner.

Believe it or not, I never even heard of Twilight until last summer. By that time, Stephenie Meyers' four-part books series had sold over 25 million copies worldwide and fans were already standing in line to catch a glimpse of the first movie at the San Diego Comic-Con. Where had I been?

Simple: I'm not the intended audience for Twilight, and for any other unintended audience members, they'll probably feel like the filmmakers never kept them in mind when making the movie. Director Catherine Hardwicke and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg seem to focus their attention solely on appeasing the already-established fan base, making it hard for the rest of us to make a connection with the material.

The Harry Potter movies never seem to have this problem, maybe because the nature and context of Harry Potter's world is more universally appealing and interesting, even for people who haven't read the books. Or, and I'm willing to lend more weight to this latter theory, the "Harry Potter" movies are simply better made.

For the uninformed, Twilight tells the watered-down love story between Bella (short for Isabella), a human teenager, and Edward, a 100-plus-year-old vampire who permanently looks 17. Theirs is a forbidden love because Edward wants very badly to drink Bella's blood and read her mind (hers is the only one he can't penetrate). She frustrates him so much that he loves her, and for all the reasons they shouldn't be together, she loves him in return. In this movie, the two cannot make physical love because, he says, "I can't lose control with you," which, I take it, means if he were to sexually climax, he'd wind up sucking her blood and killing her.

At the beginning of the movie, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is uprooted from her mother (Sarah Clarke) and step-dad in Arizona to go live with her complacent biological father (Billy Burke) in Forks, Washington. In Forks, it's cold, it rains and the sun rarely shines. It's a perfect place for the pale undead to reside.

Bella fits in with a nice group of friends at school but still finds herself drawn to Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the white-faced, red lipstick-wearing junior who only hangs out with members of his presumably incestuous family on the other side of the cafeteria. Edward's four siblings consist of two married couples, Emmet and Rosalie (Kellan Lutz and Nikki Reed) and Jasper and Alice (Jackson Rathbone and Ashley Greene). His guardians are Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli) and Esme (Elizabeth Reaser). All of them are vampires, but no one in town knows this, although some people are suspicious.

At first, Edward shows resistance to Bella and hates the idea of sitting next to her in biology. He starts to come around and inexplicably saves her from being hit by a van. Bella can't figure this guy out - does he like her or doesn't he? After being a told a Native American legend about the Cullen clan and conducting her own research on Google, Bella discovers Edward's secret.

They begin dating and Edward tells her his history and displays his powers, including his remarkable speed, strength, and abilities to climb trees and jump great distances. Unlike traditional vampire mythology, Edward isn't harmed by sunlight. Instead, his skin sparkles in it, "like diamonds." He and his family have also learned to feed on the blood of animals so they can live peacefully among humans. In this respect, they're different from other living vampires, including the evil James (Cam Gigandet) and Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre), who hunt humans for sport and have their eyes set on Bella.

If you're used to any number of television shows on the CW network, you should have a fair idea of what Twilight is like. That is to say, the dialogue is brief and literal, the characters are very image-conscious and the acting is laughable. I resist calling the movie bad because it wasn't made for me. It was made for people who read and enjoyed the book. They'll eat this up because they'll look beyond the writing, directing, acting and special effects simply because their idols and favorite characters are occupying the screen.

I, on the other hand, won't look beyond the movie's flaws. The direction is dry and uninspired, the acting is stiff and the special effects are drab and shoddy. The acting, in particular, induces unintentional laughter because the actors appear so self-conscious and speak their words in monotone. There's no fluctuation or emotion behind them. It has the air of a teenage soap opera, which, I understand, some people enjoy, but aren't the standards of a theatrical movie experience supposed to be higher than this?

There are some good moments too. I liked, for example, the idea of Bella feeling nervous that Edward's family isn't going to like her - not because she's human, but because she's different. It's kind of touching when the entire Cullen clan goes out of their way to make Italian food for her. There's also a great looking aerial shot of Edward and Bella high up in a pine tree. It looks as though the actors were really up there without any safety nets.

Ultimately, though, from the point of view of someone who looks at "Twilight" as a movie and not as a way of life, I found it amateurish. When you place it alongside the plethora of other vampire stories within the pop culture landscape, the most comparable being the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, it lacks wit, sophistication and insight. It feels superficial and seems to only care about giving fans of the book what they want, not what's good enough for the narrative or medium.

I didn't have a bad time at Twilight necessarily; in fact, the movie held my attention and made me laugh a lot. It works as second-rate escapism and will likely please fans of the book (I say this because I met one on the way out, a 13-year-old girl, who was gushing over the movie), but this will probably be the only group it pleases.