TWILIGHT, the film version of Stephenie Meyer’s young adult novel, operates on two levels of fantasy, one traditional that speaks to many of the roiling and contradictory impulses that lurk in the collective subconscious of us all: to dominate, to fit in, to cheat death. It also speaks to the other irresistible impulses, roiling and contradictory, that lurk in the collective subconscious of teenage girls: to be envied, to flirt with sexuality and to do so with a hunky guy who is at once dangerous and completely safe. It’s that second set of roilings that have made the novel and its three sequels best sellers. Judging by the way those same teenage girl squealed and cheered with delight at the preview screening I attended, the film’s investors have no worries about recouping their investment and then some.
The traditional fantasy involves vampires. The irresistible one involves the brooding hero of the novels, Edward (Robert Pattinson), a beautiful young man whose vampirism prevents him from doing anything more than sharing a few chaste kisses with the Bella (Kirsten Stewart), the heroine. Their time together involves him actually talking to her, and more, listening to her. And because her blood smells better to him than anyone else’s, his attraction to her will never end and neither will his temptation to not only drink Bella’s blood in a frenzy of thirst, but also to have his more carnal way with her in a frenzy of lust. He suffers because of his baser instincts, making him more or less, the almost perfect boyfriend.
It all takes place in the rainiest place in the continental United States, Forks, Washington, whither Bella has come to live with her father, Charlie (Billy Burke), in order to give some much needed space to her mother and his her husband back in Phoenix. Carrying a cactus and a load of good intentions, she braves a new school full of strangers in mid-year, and a father who adores her but has trouble expressing it in so many words. Forks, being a town of barely 3,000, finds Bella the most exciting thing to have happened lately. She makes friends easily, and one enemy, just as easily. That would be Edward, whose strange beauty and even stranger antipathy towards her sparks her interest. Of course, it’s just a matter of time before the reasons for that antipathy are declared, before Edward and Bella admit their mutual desire, and before the Cullens, Edward’s foster family, also vampires, come around to accepting Bella as part of their family. Mostly.
Edward stands out not so much for his very pale skin, pale even by rainy Pacific Northwest standards, nor for his very good looks, lovely without being girlishly pretty, no this guy stands out in this small town for being an obvious and avowed metrosexual. The rest of the family is pale to luminescence, which is odd in a coven that is trying to pass as human, but the amount of hair product in Edward’s carefully sculpted locks must cause more than a little comment considering it probably cleaned out the town’s supply and that of the area as a whole. Not unlike the comment caused by the pained expression on foster brother Jasper’s face. Jackson Rathbone, who plays him, looks as though he has just been through a particularly unpleasant session of electro-shock therapy, including hair that stands on end. The others, Alice, Rosalie, Esme, and Emmett look relatively well-adjusted. Carlisle, the patriarch of the family seems well-adjusted, too, but the amount of dead-white pancake powder applied to his face is too chalky to pass muster, though Peter Facinelli has the right warmth for the role of the leader of “vegetarian” vampires, i.e. those who don’t prey on humans.
The script has taken a few liberties with the novel, but all serve to make the plot zip along in a cinema-friendly fashion. There is also a puckish expansion of the relationship between Bella and her father, Charlie, a man of few words, but of deep feelings. When Edward appears to formally introduce himself to Charlie, it just happens to be when the latter is cleaning his rifle and the way he snaps the weapon shut while telling Bella to bring him in speaks volumes about the nature of their relationship and that of fathers and daughters as a whole through the ages. The relationship between Edward and Bella is nicely handled. If the story itself is a cliché, Pattinson and Stewart invest a touching sincerity in their characters that allows for a modicum of playfulness amidst the brooding and angst of their forbidden love. The secondary humans of the story are lively, multi-cultural, and, like the rest of the town of Forks, because the story demands it t work, oddly dense when it comes to the vampire brood in their midst. Less dense, and certainly more intriguing are the Native Americans, including Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who crushes on Bella and knows the local legends about just who the Cullens really are.
Less successful are the special effects, which range from adequate, when the vampires fly with bounding leaps through the air, to clunky and awkward. Edward carrying Bella on his back as he races at barely subsonic speeds is something that works better on the printed page than on the silver screen. Clever and sensitive camera work that telescopes time in an evocative fashion distracts from the deficiency, but can’t overcome it.
TWILIGHT’s built-in audience that won’t be disappointed in the way the characters have been brought to life. They are lovely, anguished, and plucky as they break the rules their respective societies have laid down for them. Far from a masterpiece, though, it manages to be a fairly entertaining bit of fantasy with a take on the vampire myth that is a refreshing change from the ordinary.