Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Movie Review: "Twilight" by David Pretty

I'm always interested when something goes from pop-culture radar blip to a full-blown phenomenon  and like it or not, Twilight certainly qualifies.  In fact, I've been pretty quick to deny the Twi-haters since I personally took a fair share of ribbing for reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone back when it was still being dismissed as a "kid's book".

Twilight is one of the more notable publishing-to-film-to-number-one-with-a-zeitgeist-bullet success stories of late.  And frankly, I'd be lying if I didn't confess to a certain curiosity about the premise since I was such a huge fan of Buffy and Angel's trailblazing sparks.  So, is Twilight really worth all of the hype?  Well, after my first exposure to its inaugural cinematic incarnation, I have to admit that the jury is still decidedly out.

The first half of Twilight actually unspools like a competently-directed, modest little indie film which then flies apart in all directions in the second half.  Director Catherine Hardwicke certainly can't be accused of making an ugly-looking picture and I'm not referring to the cast.  The lush and verdant "Vancouver-as-Seattle" cinematography really helps to ground the film in a certain soggy milieu.

We also get some sharp dialogue and good performances early on which generates a modicum of  sympathy for young, castaway Bella.  The mysterious Cullen clan get plenty of tantalizing build up and the film actually flirts with originality as Bella slowly discovers the secret behind broody Edward's true nature.  Unfortunately, the film starts to pursue some obligatory plot paths and awkward action beats.  It's not long before everything begins to unravel to the point of ruin.

Every story, including fantasy, needs a certain semblance of logic in order to sustain it, otherwise everything becomes an exercise in futility.  When a rival vampire clan rears its ugly (but still coiffed) head, the Cullens inexplicably decide to isolate themselves by scattering across the country.   Since they already outnumbered the bad guys to begin with, I can only assume that the script made them do this just for the sake of isolating Bella and keeping the threat level elevated.      

Now I understand that Stephenie Meyer felt motivated to come up with some original vampire lore but her decision to make all of her bloodsuckers sparkly in direct sunlight is pretty fucking dopey.  And although the notorious baseball scene is reasonably well executed the realization of the vampire's super-human abilities makes them look like understudies to the cast of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Although I can accept that the Cullens want to interact with humans after taming their predatory impulses, the fact that Carlisle is a Doctor and his "kids" go to public school is downright ludicrous.  Look, I've been to Seattle and it isn't always under a constant dome of rain and fog.  So what happens when the sun comes out during the last homeroom period and Edward is forced to run screaming across the parking lot after turning into a undead disco ball?

The verve Kristen Stewart exemplifies in the first half of the film completely evaporates.  All of sudden she seem capable of only one expression: acting as if something foul-smelling is nearby.  Eventually I began to suspect that Bella wasn't in love after all and was just under some sort of old-school vampiric thrall.  By the time Edward turns into a pasty-looking emo dialysis machine towards the end of the film I was pretty much done with it.

Which is kind of a shame since I was still onboard while the characters were just talking and discovering things about each other.  Catherine Hardwicke might have been a solid choice to orchestrate the dialogue scenes but she stumbles consistently during the perfunctory dust-ups.  I also suspect that the meager budget might have hamstrung her true vision of the vampire's preternatural abilities.

If the film ultimately fails, however, it's because of the spotty plotting and wrong-headed stabs at "originality".  I think Twilight flirts with the concept of innovation but second guesses itself by following expectations set by a million other vampire movies.  If it had stuck to its humble little premise it might have resulted in something just as immortal as its undead subject matter.

        Tilt: down.

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