Twilight

The real question regarding the eagerly- awaited “Twilight” is not how good the movie is artistically (it's decidedly mediocre), but to what extent it's critic-proof. The erotic vampire novel, penned by Arizona housewife Stephenie Meyer, adapted to the big screen by Melissa Rosenberg and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, has been generating a huge buzz for almost a year now.

The book's cover and the movie's poster are eye-catching. Author Meyer has said that the apple image represents the forbidden fruit from the book of Genesis, symbolizing Bella's and Edward's love, which is forbidden, not unlike the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is made obvious by the quote from Genesis 2:17 that opens the book.

Summit Films should benefit for its high-profile production, which stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson as the romantic couple, Isabella Swan and Edward Cullen. It's been a while since we saw a commercial vampire film–Neil Jordan's 1994 “Interview With a Vampire”—and “Twilight” should become Hardwicke's most successfully popular feature to date.

Like other movies that are more significant as sociological and demographic than artistic phenomenon, “Twilight” will be embraced by very young female viewers, say ages 10-17, and less so by the female college crowd. If young femmes manage to take their boyfriends to see it as a date movie (and on one level it is a date movie), “Twilight” should score big, really big at the box-office, when it bows November 21. Movie experts have been predicting strong numbers due to repeat viewing, a factor that has helped many blockbusters, including “Titanic” (also embraced by young girls) and more recently “The Dark Knight.”

Though “Twilight” the movie leaves much to be desired, it's far better helmed, more engaging, and more seductive than Hardwicke's last film, the unbearably earnest “Nativity.” The new work is much more in the vein of Hardwicke's feature debut “Thirteen,” still her best work to date, which premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Fest in the Dramatic Competition (she won the Jury Prize for best director).

For those who still need a reminder, the book, the first in a series of “Twilight” novels, was first published in 2005. The movie seems to have been made to order for today's youth market, centering on a teenage girl named Isabella “Bella” Swan, who moves from Phoenix, Arizona to Forks, Washington, where she dangerously falls in love with a vampire named Edward Cullen.

Purist spectators, who like to compare screen versions to their literary source materials, should remember that Meyer's book is no great literature, and sections of her prose are pedestrian and literal, while others are pulpish and overripe. Hence, it's not entirely the fault of screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg that she has penned such an undernourished, perhaps even shallow, yarn. (I have no idea who is responsible for the changes made from the printed page to the big screen, some of which reflect bad choices).

“Bella” relocates from the sunny Phoenix to the rainy Forks to live with her father Charlie so that her mother Rene can travel with her new husband Phil Dwyer, a minor league baseball player. Upon arrival, she begins to attract attention at her new school. When Bella sits next to Edward Cullen in biology class on her first day of school, he seems indifferent to say the least; he even tries to change his schedule to avoid her, which leaves her puzzled.

Later on, she asks a family friend, Jacob Black of the Quileute tribe, to tell her about the Cullens origins, which leads to her conclusion that Edward and his family are vampires. Though she was inexplicably attracted to him even when she thought Edward drank human blood, she is much relieved to learn that the Cullens abstain from drinking human blood, instead using animal blood.

One thing leads to another, and Edward and Bella fall in love. Their relationship is thrown into chaos, however, when another vampire coven sweeps into Forks, and James, a tracker vampire, decides to get Bella for sport. The Cullens plan to distract the tracker by splitting up Bella and Edward, and Bella is sent to her home in Phoenix. She then gets a phone call from James, who tells her that he has her mother. As a result, Bella is forced to give herself up to James at her old dance studio, where he attacks her.

Expectedly, Edward, and the rest of the Cullen family, rescue Bella before James can kill her. Once returning to Forks, Bella goes to the prom with Edward, where she expresses her desire to become a vampire. The rest of the saga can't be told without spoiling the fun.

What's disappointing about “Twilight,” considering its estimable budget and lengthy production, is how incoherent, and how in more than one sequence uninvolving the picture is, possibly a result of Hardwicke trying to combine conventions of different genres, teen romance, vampirism, supernatural thriller, family melodrama.

Stylistically, too, the movie is uneven, containing some sharp visuals, courtesy of ace lender Elliott Davis, but also some dull and dragging scenes. In her use of visual imagery, just as in her narrative, Hardwicke seems conflicted about what kind of movie she wanted to make. Indeed, one reason why “Thirteen” was such a compelling movie was not just its outr?© subject matter and superlative acting by Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood, but also its fast pacing, sort of exploitative look. The problem of PG-13 rating must have been a factor too, restricting the helmer to what she could show graphically, in terms of sex, blood, and violence.

That said, despite the narrative and technical problems, there's no denying that “Twilight” is a more successful picture than Hardwicke's last two efforts, “Lords of Dogtown,” also an incoherent feature, and “Nativity,” which was all pageantry and simply dull.

Acting-wise, Kristen Stewart gives a more impressive performance than Pattinson, which is no minor feat, considering how underwritten her part is. A child-actress, Stewart has considerable experience, having appeared as Jodie Foster's daughter in David Fincher's “Panic Room,” and in Sean Penn's “Into the Wild,” last year. She gets by with her beuatiful look, intense pauses, and poignant gestures, when verbal communication fails.

Already touted a heartthrob, British thespian Pattinson, seen to an advantage as Cedric Driggory in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” is physically right. Sportng a long, dishevelled hair, he's tall, slender, pale, and bizarre. But he has tougher time in being expressive when needed, and in variegating his work from the menacing to the more loving and lyrical. Unlike Stewart's, his performance is more striking physically than emotionally, benefiting from strong assist by special effects and stunt men.

It's no secret, and you don't have to be a Freudian psychologist or Lacanian psychoanalyst, that vampire books and movies draw their allure by appealing to our erotic desires, be they manifest and/or latent. Literary scholars should have no problem analyzing Edward as libidinal, tragic Byron-like hero, and Bella as a “normal” adolescent infatuation with the forbidden, in this case an outsider par excellence. Teetering on risks, and titillating the audience's desires, Edward and Bella's dangerous relationships and their inner
struggles are potent metaphors for the sexual yearnings and the inevitable frustrations that are part and parcel of adolescence as crucial and traumatic phase of life.

There is no doubt that “Twilight” will launch a teen franchise for Summit, based on the three novels that Meyer published after 2005: “New Moon,” Eclipse,” and “Breaking Down.”

Twilight the Book

“Twilight” has received acclaim and won numerous honors, including: New York Times Editor's Choice; Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year; Teen People “Hot List” Pick; American Library Association “Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults” and “Top Ten Books for Reluctant Readers.

Cast

Bella Swan – Kristen Stewart Edward Cullen – Robert Pattinson Charlie Swan – Billy Burke Dr. Carlisle Cullen – Peter Facinelli Esme Cullen – Elizabeth Reaser James/Nomad Vampire – Cam Gigandet Alice Cullen – Ashley Greene Jessica – Anna Kendrick Rosalie Cullen – Nikki Reed Jacob – Taylor Lautner Emmett Cullen – Kellan Lutz Jasper Cullen – Jackson Rathbone Mike Newton – Michael Welch Billy Black – Gil Birmingham Eric – Justin Chon Angela – Christian Serratos Mr. Molina – Jose Zuniga Victoria/Nomad Vampire – Rachelle Lefevre Laurent/Nomad Vampire – Edi Gathegi Rene – Sarah Clarke

Credits

A Summit Entertainment release and presentation of a Temple Hill production, in association with Maverick Films/Imprint Entertainment. Produced by Greg Mooradian, Mark Morgan, Wyck Godfrey. Executive producers: Karen Rosenfelt, Marty Bowen, Guy Oseary, Michele Imperato Stabile. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Screenplay: Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer. Camera: Eliott Davis. Editor: Nancy Richardson. Music: Carter Burwell; music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas. Production designer: Dan Bishop. Set designers: Camille Bratkowski, Tim Croshaw. Set decorator: Gene Serdena. Costume designer: Wendy Chuck. Sound: Glenn Micallef. Supervising sound editor/sound designer, Frank Gaeta; re-recording mixers, Leslie Shatz, Marshall Garlington, Frank Gaeta. Visual effects supervisors: Richard Kidd, Bill George, Jamison Scott Goei. Visual effects and animation: Industrial Light & Magic, CIS Vancouver. Special visual effects: Rez-Illusion; special visual effects and animation, Catalyst Media. Stunt coordinator, Andy Cheng.

MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 120 Minutes.