By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 19, 2008 4:00PM
What's the most hotly-anticipated event of the fall besides the presidential election? The release of Twilight, a movie based on the best-selling young adult novels by Stephenie Meyer. Security was so stringent at the press screening, not even Roger Ebert got off easy. Cell phones had to be turned in prior to admittance and everyone was wanded. So has all the expectant frenzy been worth it? In our view, Twilight may not be the movie everyone has been anticipating. And that's entirely a good thing.
Bella has just moved to the sleepy small town of Forks, Washington to live with her divorced dad, the local police chief. She's a tomboyish teen who's a bit of a loner. This, of course, makes her the perfect candidate for a romance with Edward, a moody dreamboat with pasty white skin. He's played by Robert Pattinson in a canny performance that channels both James Dean and Crispin Glover. The pasty skin isn't because he's a goth. It's because he's undead. Naturally, this creates a few problems for the couple: dinner dates are awkward (he never eats) and kissing is dangerous (he thirsts for her blood). But the heart will always have its way, and the movie's portrait of their relationship is quite believable. Here, the sexual overtones of vampirism are cleverly meshed with teenagers' emotional fragility. There's genuine erotic sparks between Bella and Edward, especially since they can never consummate their love. Lengthy glances and fleeting touches carry much more charge than a sloppy makeout session. Twilight wrings every drop of double meaning from dialog like, "I can't ever lose control with you," and, "I was afraid I wouldn't be able to stop."
Soon enough Edward introduces Bella to his "family," a group of good vampires who have learned to control their urges and drink only animal blood. There's the saintly Dr. Cullen, sullen Alice, and uber-emo Jasper (played by Jackson Rathbone, a dead ringer for Kill Hannah's Mathew Devine). One day, however, they cross paths with a band of bad vampires, a trio dressed as if they'd just attended a Janis Joplin concert. One of them, James, develops an unholy thirst for Bella's blood, leading to a battle between good and evil.
And yet the final showdown is handled in an almost perfunctory manner with a sequence that barely lasts five minutes. This movie is much more Rebel Without a Cause than The Lost Boys. The result being that Twilight was not the heavy-breathing melodrama we'd been expecting. Instead, it's refreshingly low-key and almost gentle, closer to Beauty and the Beast than Dracula. These vampires are more like vulnerable superheroes than monsters. But unlike the usual first installment of a superhero movie franchise, the movie wisely keeps the back-story exposition to a minimum. It's much more concerned with Bella and Edward. Unfortunately, this also leads to a soggy, clichéd ending, complete with a date at the high school prom and slow-dancing under the stars, but, hey, it's what the kids want.
Twilight READ poster available from the American Library Association