Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
On the surface, there’s very little difference between this and teen-minded dogs like “The Covenant” or “Blood and Chocolate” or even a less entertaining “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with better production values. Yet any gleeful desire one might have to tear apart and analyze every aspect of the movie serves little purpose, because let’s face it, nothing anyone can say or do could possibly convince the millions of women who’ve already bought their opening day tickets to ask for a refund.
The film’s set-up is straight out of the pilot of far too many teen-oriented TV dramas. Kristen Stewart’s Bella Swan moves to a new neighborhood and tries to make new friends on her first day of school at the denizens of a local high school. The weirdest clique at this school is the Cullen family, five sophisticated teens whom keep to themselves. When Bella first makes visual contact with Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen, sparks immediately fly, but he pushes her away and tries to keep her at arm’s length, much to Bella’s annoyance. A freak accident puts Bella’s life in danger and Edward miraculously saves her, and Bella starts to wonder if there’s more to the strange boy than just his rude behavior, and she starts digging into the truth about Edward and his family. It’ll take the next hour for her to figure things out are the Cullens vampires or werewolves or aliens or are they just a weird incestuous family who wear too much pancake make-up, drive cool cars and act weird around others? By the time the “v” word is actually used, you wonder how no one else in town has figured it out by now.
The movie’s biggest problem is that the two main actors don’t have enough personality to keep the movie interesting. Stewart’s slightly better in her “bored cool” monotonic delivery she’s perfected, while Pattinson’s strengths lies in his ability to brood and throw longing looks at his leading lady. Whomever thought Cedric Diggory could play a leading man like this one was surely going merely by his looks, which would be par for the course for a movie that’s all surface with little depth. The two actors have very little chemistry, spending much of the movie acting awkward around each other, because after all, Edward can’t be in love with a human; that would be like a guy falling in love with his juicy hamburger. No, these are immortal vampires sworn not to drink human blood, so instead they act strange, glitter like sparkle in the sunlight and play baseball in thunderstorms. Yes, you read that last part right.
The rest of the young cast aren’t bad–it’s certainly nice seeing indie up ‘n’ comers like Anna Kendrick and others being used well–but the movie bogs itself down with over-exposition, especially while following Bella’s search for the truth about Edward. The bland writing does very little to keep one interested, though there are some funny bits involving Bella’s male friends and their interest in her, plus Billy Burke does get some genuine laughs as her overprotective father, but otherwise, the humor is mostly inside jokes for the sake of those who read the books. Most of the movie is sooooo high school that after a while, one can’t help feeling that director Catherine Hardwicke needs to stop playing with teens and start playing with people her own age.
It takes a good ninety minutes for the “bad vampires,” the ones that act normal by killing and eating humans, to show up and face “Team Edward.” Thankfully, we’re spared an actual baseball game between the two factions and are given a passing introduction to James (Cam Cigandet), the bad guy who also sets his eye on Bella as the target for his desire to hunt and kill his food. It’s just bad storytelling to wait so long to properly introduce such a major character and after Bella and Edward are chased across the country to escape, he’s disposed of so easily, one wonders why even bother introducing any antagonist into the situation. Even so, that doesn’t stop Hardwicke from setting up the next movie, which one can probably figure out by who’s left standing.
One can give Hardwicke suitable credit for finding an excellent DP in Elliot Davis, who makes every shot look stunning, whether it’s the panoramic vistas of Oregon (doubling for Washington) or the tight close-ups on the intensity of the two leads. It was also a smart decision hiring Carter Burwell to do the score, embellishing the film’s soundtrack, which is certainly its strong suit, as you would expect from a movie trying to cater to the CW generation. The entire movie just relies too much on the slick commercial look of the movie rather than the quality of the performances or pacing of the storytelling, the latter possibly being faulted to their desire to be faithful to Meyer’s source.
The movie’s production values falter tragically when it comes to the action scenes, as few as there are, mostly done using sloppy wirework and poorly-executed time-lapsing FX to show Edward using his super-speed. It’s embarrassing how bad the scenes look considering the money at Hardwicke’s disposal, compared to Asian action films like “Kung Fu Hustle” which look amazing at a fraction of that cost. Fortunately, the women going to see this movie won’t really care about that, as long as they get a scene of Bella and Edward swooning over each other afterwards. Actual fans of vampire movies looking for any amount of blood-rending terror will be thoroughly disappointed by the innocuous way the violence is handled in the movie.
What really worries me is that movies like this one (and Meyer’s books) set up unrealistic expectations for young women about romance, while making it impossible for real guys to live up to the standards set by Edward, who is just ridiculously and incredulously perfect in every way. Even so, with all of the throbbing unconsummated sexual energy permeating the movie, one can probably expect teen pregnancy to explode in the coming months as girls try to find the romantic intimacy of Bella and Edward and spend the rest of their lives being disappointed by reality.
The Bottom Line: