20 December 2008
There's something curiously compelling about Twilight. Be it that it's a phenomenon of Harry Potter-like proportions that no-one except its fanbase has heard of, or that it managed to sneak into the bespectacled wizard's Christmas timeslot without Warner Brothers noticing. Perhaps, even, that what has been declared an overly sugary and relatively poorly written source novel could've produced such a tolerable film.
And tolerable it is - go in expecting an insufferable tween-fest of High School Musical proportions, and you're going to be pleasantly surprised. On the flip-side of the coin, however, if you go in expecting a blooded tale of epic vampire love with the drinking and copious spilling of the claret in the vein of Interview with a Vampire, you'll probably come out disappointed. This is most certainly the silver lining of this dark cloud of a genre, but an enjoyable skirting nonetheless.
The story goes that Bella Swan has moved to the small town of Forks in Washington to live with her father. She quickly makes a lot of friends at her new school, but is curiously shunned by a group of rather pale kids known only as 'the Cullens'. In particular, she notices that the one named Edward seems to have nothing but contempt for her - that is, until he saves her from being crushed by an out-of-control van. Turns out, the Cullens are a family of vampires sworn only to hunt animal blood. Over the next few weeks, Bella ingratiates herself into Edward's life, and the two fall helplessly in love with each other. Unfortunately, there are other vampires out there, and it would seem Bella is of a particularly delicious blood-type, so Edward must protect his newfound beloved.
Not exactly the most original of concepts is it? Take Romeo and Juliet, throw in vampires and a dash of dumbing down et voilà: the story of Twilight. But that's not what makes the film interesting - it's all in the execution. Catherine Hardwicke was perhaps the only person who could've possibly taken the helm on this one - the above sentence could've been changed to 'Take Thirteen, throw in vampires and remove the drugs et voilà: the story of Twilight'. Well...almost, but the heady scent of teenage rebellion still lingers, and Harwicke capitalises on it to the full - close camera work, 'almost' moments left right and centre, all build the sexual tension in the burgeoning relationship. It all culminates in a scene where there's a real sense of release, a visible retreating of the camera and a brief wash of saturation in the colour - it's the closest we're going to get to an on-screen orgasm in a 12A, but like I said: it's all in the execution.
A lot of this is down to the very readily apparent chemistry between Kirsten Stewart and Robert Pattison. Stewart is darkly pretty and pouty as Bella, totally lost in her iPod and her own thoughts, although her constantly quivering lip may come off as just pathetic after a while. But the real discovery is Pattison, sculpting a performance of a romantic, Byronic hero from the block of wood that was Cedric Diggory in the Potter films. It's a fantastic turn, and he just about carries the whole movie on Edward's pale shoulders. The support is solid, too, with all of the Cullens putting in various degrees of charismatic as the 'vegetarian' vampires. The antagonists of the piece are suitably menacing, if lacking in any true sense of threat.
But some of the best scenes - well, two of them anyway - come between Pattision and Billy Burke as Bella's father, the initial, 'formal' introduction hilarious thanks to the presence of a breach-loading shotgun. Gimmicky, maybe, but it's wonderfully played out by both actors, and if neither has drawn from real-life experiences with parents and kids respectively, I'll declare myself a Dutchman.
Unfortunately, those are the only moments when the script truly shines. There're a couple of zingers here and there ('And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.' 'What a stupid lamb.' 'What a sick, masochistic lion!'), but just as many clunkers ('you're my own personal brand of heroin'; 'I'd rather die than stay away from you!'; the latter seemingly repeated about 12 times), though whether these are from the source or the brain children of adapter Melissa Rosenberg will remain - to me, at least - a mystery. The story, too, is disjointed at best and nonexistent at worst - more time is dedicated to the burgeoning 'true love' than the actual meat of the story. It's also curiously bloodless for a vampire movie - but this may well be to secure the PG-13/12A rating to get the fanbase into the cinema, so is almost forgivable.
But on the plus side, it never grates, even with a rather hefty 122-minute running time, and that's something of an achievement, considering how insufferable teenage-orientated romance usually is. If you're in possession of the XX chromosome and under the age of 17, this is probably going to be your film of the year. For the rest of us, it's solidly entertaining fare, but perhaps that little bit too fluffy to remain in our memory for long.