Film Review: Twilight

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"Twilight" already has such a buzz that you sense all we really need to do is stand back to let hordes of teenage girls rush into theaters to exalt in this romance between a human girl and a vampire boy.

Its success is predetermined, and two more films -- all based on a four-book series by Stephenie Meyer -- are in the works. But if that's the case, couldn't director Catherine Hardwicke, whose "thirteen" shows that she knows something about teenage girls, have taken enough care to make a film that doesn't talk down to young people?

The boxoffice question comes down to this: Every teenage girl in America, and presumably more than a few overseas, wants to see this movie. But do any guys? To a male, a vampire movie means blood 'n' guts and horror in the night. What's all this mushy stuff? The guess here is that girls determine what happens on Friday-night dates more than is recognized, so guys will have to tolerate a PG-13 vampire movie and crack jokes at all that mushy stuff.
Indeed, Hardwicke seems to invite wisecracks. Scene: a high school chemistry lab. Human girl enters. Vampire boy sees her. She stares. He stares. Both are smitten. Music swells. The chemistry teacher brings over some worms. Isn't this romantic?

OK, a scene like this is one thing. But over and over again Hardwicke goes for the camp factor. Operas have arias; "Twilight" has stares. Nothing in Melissa Rosenberg's fairly intelligent screenplay suggests the need for this much ornate direction. Nor should her two actors, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, be condemned to performances that will have girls' dates screaming with laughter. When left to their own devices, these are sensitive young actors who more than deliver the complexities of two people in love who must surmount formidable barriers.

The movie features an exquisite look in terms of cinematography and design. The movie takes place in a dark, misty Pacific Northwest -- vampires prefer a lack of sunlight -- where a family of the Undead hides under cloud cover as it were. The camera seems positively free from any connection to earth. It floats, tilts, bobs, weaves, rushes and dives with easy grace. The costumes and decor are always just right and the actors exceptionally good, especially in light of the heavy doses of camp.

Stewart, as pale and even darker than the vampire family, sensitively plays a young woman with an insatiable curiosity and romantic soul. Pattinson, his eyes encased in dark contact lenses, skin pasty and hair swept back like a '50s rocker, is the modern expression of vampirism. He's superstrong yet delicate, one of the "vegetarian" clan -- they only kills animals, not humans -- and like Stewart he is undeniably sexy.

Family members on both sides of the Living/Undead divide are all interesting and deserve more screen time. This includes Billy Burke as the girl's divorced police chief father; Peter Facinelli as the doctor who heads the vampire clan; Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone and Kellan Lutz as fellow "good" vampires; and three actors who portray the nomadic (or bad) vampires. The problem is that the villainy is de rigeur: The film desperately needs a bad guy for the third act, so it falls to Cam Gigandet's bad vampire. Yet his treachery and a climactic battle between him and Pattinson feel very ... well, anti-climactic.

Nevetheless, there is considerable potential for this apparent franchise. One can only hope when it's done, everyone recognizes that the first film was the weakest.
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