Friday, November 21, 2008

Review: Twilight (***)

Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Kellan Lutz, Peter Facinelli, Cam Gigandet, Taylor Lautner, Anna Kendrick, Michael Welch, Justin Chon, Christian Serratos, Gil Birmingham.
2008--122 min.
Rated PG-13 (violence, sensuality)
Reviewed by the Teen Critic on November 22.
Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series is second only to Harry Potter on the list of modern literary pop culture phenomena. There's a reason for that. The first book (the only one I've read) is provocative, sumptuous entertainment; anyone who claims it is only for the mid-teenage girl crowd is simply biased against a novel that is truly something special. More about one's inevitable mortality than about a girl and vampire falling in love, "Twilight" is one of the better teen-aimed books I've read in a few years.
The filmic adaptation, directed with a schizoid tone by Catherine Hardwicke, doesn't even come close to the book. At a mere 122 minutes (this could easily have been 145 minutes, considering the slower pace of the novel), "Twilight" is a tad too short for its own good. If lengthier, the tone could have been a little more balanced between effective drama and morbid comedy. As is, the tone is all over the place. But more on the flaws later.

Bella Swan is a confused teenager (the phrase seems all the more redundant as of late) whose mother and stepfather decide to move to Florida at an inopportune time in Bella's life. So, to compensate, Bella's mother sends her to her father's place in Forks, Oregon. She almost immediately makes a few friends.

Enter the Cullens and the Hales. They all live together under the roof of one Dr. Carlisle Cullen--as in, live together. None of the family members is related, so a few of them date each other, making their walkings-in awkward to look at for others (and making for some quirkily funny sequences). They are not a pleasant bunch to hang around, but Bella quickly befriends the most mysterious--and single--of the family, Edward. But Edward is not as he seems. He seems super-fast. He's uncommonly strong. His skin is pale white. What is he? Bella knows and hopes she's wrong.

On the surface, "Twilight" is so sappy that it could pass for a "True Blood"/"Everwood" crossover made for the SoapNet. Underneath, a pall of deep sadness lingers over the proceedings, as if none of the characters wants to be in their present position. The way Meyer wrote the book--and, to a lesser extent, the way Hardwicke directs the film--is to present the romance between Bella and Edward as realistic with a tinge of "Dracula" thrown in. This is simply a romance that cannot work as it should. Edward is a vampire, and there would be problems. "I would be the next meal," Bella says slyly.

First order of business is the flaws, and there are a few. The musical score used is awful and ranks as one of the worst this year. The tender scenes between girl and vampire are score with electric guitars and drums. The few moments the score does work are crane shots or the occasional action scene. The other stuff is dreck and should never have been released. It actually takes away from the experience at times. Also, as I mentioned before, the tone is all over the place, the film awkwardly positioning comedy within dramatic scenes and vice versa.

There are a steady, if not overwhelming, number of good things to be had, however, including some beautiful cinematography that never wavers below "amazing." Primarily made up of blues, blacks, and grays, "Twilight" is stunning to look at. The CGI, thankfully used in only a few scenes, is also top-notch.

Robert Pattinson is nothing less than excellent as Edward Cullen. Sure, he's a handsome guy, but his charms go beyond that. He's also a really good actor, and he makes Edward his own. Kristen Stewart nevers falters as Bella Swan, but she's good in everything (just see last year's excellent "In the Land of Women"). Stewart doesn't hold a candle to Pattinson, but she's solid anyway. Smaller supporting roles, such as Billy Burke, wonderful as Bella's father, and Cam Gigandet, snaky and creepy as James, are successes in their own right. The film, however, belongs to Stewart and, especially, Pattinson.

In a time of big, CG-infested movies, here is an entertaining, albeit flawed and uneven, supernatural romance. It works. "Twilight" may be far from a great film--couldn't they have tightened up the loose screws of the tone a bit?--but it's a lot better than last week's box-office smash, "Quantum of Solace" and deserves every penny it will get. It will get a lot of pennies, no doubt, and judging by this film, a sequel is welcome. Perhaps even better is to come.

1 comment:

Actionman said...

Nice review. Sounds like you were a fan of the book. I just can't generate any interest in this one. Maybe I am a cold-hearted bastard but the film, based solely on the trailers, looks beyond cheesy. But, glad you liked it -- that's all that matters at the end of the day.