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Twilight Walks A Tightrope Between Good and Bad

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Written by Melissa Rosenberg based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer
Summit, 2008

The vampire story has been around so long and has been so popular, every “fresh” look into the legend becomes a sensation.  This decade has been filled with the “action-vampire” take, from Van Helsing to Underworld, skipping the more traditional seductive vampire stories that took place in the previous decade with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview with a Vampire.  And who could forget the coming-of-age vampire tales from the eighties like Once Bitten and the all-time young person’s vampire tale The Lost Boys?

Twilight is a return to the seductive vampire, a combination of Interview and Lost Boys from a more female perspective.  The book has become a sensation as it has tapped into the teenage girl mindset of love, where it seems like love is going to consume them, and that love is eternal and one will die without it.  It is a fantasy just like anything else…what teenage girl doesn’t want to find some dangerous, ethereally attractive guy who only has eyes for her?

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is moving to her cop father Charlie’s (Billy Burke) Washington home while her mom (Sarah Clarke) makes a trip, and thinks about moving to, Jacksonville with her new boyfriend.  Bella goes to school and sees some familiar faces from back in the day, but she’s basically the new girl and has attracted some attention from a few guys, namely Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) who at first appears to despise her, but only because he smells her sweet scent and wants to drain all of her blood.  Edward, along with a clan of other pasty-white Cullens: Alice (Ashley Greene), Emmet (Kellan Lutz), mother Esme (Elizabeth Reaser), the father of the clan, Dr. Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), and two Hales, Rosalie (Hardwicke’s writer/co-star from Thirteen, Nikki Reed) and Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) have all vowed not to give in to temptation and keep a peaceful existence with the humans.

Edward and Bella begin awkwardly, with Edward being rusty at human interaction and seemingly rude in some cases, this love has a hard time getting off the ground.  But then Bella is nearly flattened by a truck in the parking lot only to be quickly saved by Edward, who leaves a dent in the truck and Bella wondering, “What the hell?”  She does what any girl would do after that and researches pasty white guys with superhuman strength and speed and discovers that Ed is probably a vampire, which he later confirms while they’re alone in picturesque woods.  She is not afraid, of course.  She just wants to jump him, because the danger is part of the allure.  Edward warns that if he were to lose control, he might not be able to stop.  So in a necessary way, they can’t really do anything physical.

There’s another obstacle: the Cullens are peaceful vampires, so by rule there must be some non-peaceful ones out there.  A threesome clan is going around the town sucking people dry, and the cops are calling it wild animal attacks.  These three are James (Cam Gigandet), Laurent (Edi Gathegi), and Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre).  Edward’s love of Bella exposes her to the danger, and thus the ultimate conflict is finding a way to save her and her dad from being victims while also finding a way to carry on the eternal love they have found.

So here’s the good: Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen is an awkward masterpiece for awhile.  His aloof expressions, lack of social skills, and unintentional rudeness carry a great deal of this movie and for that it’s a tolerable ride.  I’ve always liked Kristen Stewart, who was one of the many heartbreaking performers in Into the Wild, and she does a fair job here although the character really is just a means to have a love story since Cullen is the draw here.  I think the girl could be practically anyone within reason and it wouldn’t matter to most fans of the book.

But of course, there are those hard-to-sit-through things.  I realize this isn’t exactly made for the above-30 male, but the ideas of “everlasting love” and “can’t live without you” teen romance usually draws the eye-rolls from me.  And we get a lot of that here.  And while this is just a fantasy after all, it reinforces the idea that your first love is going to be your last.  Perhaps it’s not really a flaw of the film to express this, since it works on a “truthy” level.  But it’s agonizing to watch.  It’s kind of like My So-Called Life with vampires: you can just see Claire Danes going up to that vampire Jared Leto and asking, “Why do you act this way?” and he returns, “Like what?” and she screams, “The way you are!”

The movie sets up what the book (which I haven’t read) surely does: A Native American tribe “rumored” to have ties to werewolves and are mortal enemies of vampires are going to figure prominently in the next chapter.  Bella’s friend Jacob Black (Tyler Lautner) has a supernatural tense moment with Edward that will be the basis for the next round of the series.  As a first story, Twilight suffers from a lot of unknowns that only the die-hard readers truly know, so if you walk into this first chapter cold, there are going to be things left unanswered.

After everything is said, I liked this movie more than I expected.  I’m not sure fans of the book are going to love it, since every last detail from a loved book needs to be in a movie for some reason, and I know there are some changes and extractions.  I can’t say I recommend this, but you can sit through worse.  Hell, Underworld is worse.  But I guess most of us guys can at least have a plausible reason for watching trash like that.  You’ll have some explaining to do if you’re caught watching this one alone.

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