Friday, November 21, 2008

There Won’t Be Blood [Twilight]

Twilight [PG-13]
Grade: D
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Peter Facinelli

There Won’t Be Blood in Twilight. Nor will there be sex, either.

As if not to disturb the chaste sensitivities of its girly audience, Catherine Hardwicke’s mostly bloodless adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s popular vampire series plays on the swoony side, passing on vein-piercing horror in favor of a teen-age romantic vibe. Whether or not that has the planet’s undead population spinning in their non-graves is hard to say.

The story is so prim that its good-guy vampires, the Cullens, favor sucking animal blood over human blood. All the better to fit into society with, my dear, a necessity when the father vampire is a respected doctor. Yet for a vampire, not only is that like being forced to eat bran flakes when you’re coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs; it’s also kind of wimpy. I guess we can toss that whole Dracula sexual metaphor out the castle window.

That has got to suck in high school. So to speak. Of course, that doesn’t prevent the school’s undercover bloodsucker, Edward Cullen (played by your daughter’s new teen sensation Robert Pattinson), from drawing flies. All James Dean glances and sexy eyebrows, this is one vampire who definitely can see himself in the mirror. Yet he keeps to himself to hide his dark, dark, dark secret – he belongs to a vampire clan that, judging by its moussed-up hairstyles and liberal use of white makeup and lip gloss, must have been bitten on the way to a Duran Duran concert sometime around Rio. (Even better, the dreadlocked leader of a rival clan looks like Eddy Grant as he rocks down to Electric Avenue. Perhaps he made it for the opening act.) If Twilight offers useful makeup tips for its young female fans, it’s how the Cullens keep it from smearing in neverending rain.

Edward quickly catches the eye and imagination of Bella Swan (Into the Wild’s Kristen Stewart), the new girl in town. Awkward and quiet despite her beauty (a name like Bella Swan is a lot to live up to), she quickly develops a thing for her dark, dark, dark dreamboat of a lab partner. Who ever thought microscope slides could be …. huuuuusssssssssh …. so romantic! Soon, he’s saving her from those everday dangers of hydroplaning minivans and horny loggers. You see, he reveals his superhuman side … only to her! All of this despite the fact, we soon find out, that Edward’s instincts are telling him to eat beautiful Bella (Ohhhhh, but not in that way. Not in this story. Nuh-uuuuuh.). It says sooooo much. When the boy of your dreams. Resists his overwhelming urge. To turn you into his granola bar.

Is it just destiny, then, an act of fate, the gods of love smiling ever down, that led young Bella to leave her Phoenix home to live in this small, cozy spot in the woods, Forks, Wash., with her stoic, distant father? As police chief, he spends most of his time enforcing the city’s ban on sentences longer than six words. He’s also looking into a mysterious chain of suspicious animal maulings. Judging by the peculiar use of fangs as a murder weapon, a serial killing critter appears to be on the loose around town. Not to mention dodging the authorities far more mastermindedly than you would expect from a rabid dog. Or a pissed-off wolf. Or a razorback hog hopped up on meth. Who’s to say, really, when we don’t have a description of the suspect?

Badly shot and cheaply made, Twilight labors painfully under its low-budget origins. Hopefully blockbuster status will rectify this situation in future chapters. At least it could improve the special effects to presentable. For instance, when Edward climbs into sunlight to reveal his glittering skin, we can barely see a difference. Meanwhile, like many first books going to the screen, Twilight gets bogged down in explanations. The dramatic structure comes unbalanced. It spends too long postponing the plot to work repetitively on the relationship.

I can live with the fact that, from a male adult perspective, the verbal declarations of love seem flat. Yet the limits placed upon the carnal impulses are stifling. In a book, younger readers are tricked into thinking of heated wording as passion, while older readers with greater sexual experience can read between the lines. Film forces choices. The result is too many sterile romantic scenes – two young lovers chatting and staring intensely, while the camera circles, desperately looking for a way to make the scene interesting. Hardwicke tries to use the lush environment to suggest deeper sexual rhythms– as Joe Wright did magnificently in Pride and Prejudice three years ago– but it isn’t strong enough. The swampy moodiness of the Pacific Northwest – mastered for various purposes in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and The X-Files– too often seems impotent here.

I do like certain things about Twilight. The Coen Brothers’ man Carter Burwell delivers a nice score. The leads are friendly, if not scintillating. Maybe next time. Enough of the story remains intact that I could see why its fans have fallen in love with it. It does have one inspired scene, in which we learn that the only bats that interest these vampires have to do with baseball. The freaky family plays the sport with superhuman speed and spirit. Frankly, I wish the film would spend more time with the vampires and less with the humans.

Will Twilight satisfy its fans? Yes. No. Some. Not others. As always. Does Twilight work? As a man, I feel genetically insufficient to say. What I can do is compare it to similarly swoony romances. It’s certainly preferable to George Lucas’ goofy vocabulary in the Star Wars prequels or the waffles-and-bad-teenage-poetry of Spiderman 3. But I would rather re-watch Titanic or, even better, re-visit Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice. That film’s joy stayed with my secret girly side for several weeks. I don’t think Twilight is of the same caliber.

4 comments:

Daniel Getahun said...

Jeez, this makes me even less curious about this movie than I already wasn't...

Alexander Coleman said...

Hahahahaha, hilarious. I'll never, ever see this.

Nick Plowman said...

I am dying to see this....

K. Bowen said...

You know, the thing is, I would probably write the first x number of paragraphs the same way even if I had liked the film. I think it makes it sound a little harsher than it is.

You guys ought to go, if only because it's a fun film to review.