[Teen Vamps] Compared to a lot of other much-loved books, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight seemed like a perfect candidate for cinematic interpretation. After all, there's little about the story that couldn't be improved upon by removing Meyer’s writing.
Simmer down, Edward-ians. I recognize the appeal of the basic premise Meyer created for her literary phenomenon; I give her props for creating both a love story and a complex mythology with uniquely fascinating elements. But actually hiking through the author's mountains of exposition and her clumsy prose? Yikes.
So there’s much to be said for giving that story a platform where the visual side can take over. And that story remains the same: Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a solitary 16-year-old, moves from Arizona to live with her single father (Billy Burke) in the drizzly small town of Forks, Wash. There she meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a mysteriously dreamy high-school classmate whose initial expressions of disdain towards her mask deeper feelings. See, he’s got a secret to hide, and a side of himself that he fears …
Aw, c’mon, let’s not pretend it’s a “spoiler.” Edward and his “family” are a clan of vampires with a personal moral code that precludes feeding on humans, and the heart of the story is the tension in the romance between Bella and Edward. Will she abandon her humanity to be with him eternally? Can they ever consummate their love? As plot devices go for keeping romantic heroes separated, this one’s a humdinger, and director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (TV’s Dexter) do a terrific job of translating it to the screen. The scenes between Stewart and Pattinson really sizzle, including a drawn-out prelude to a first kiss that should have audiences shrieking with glee. When the focus is squarely on this forbidden love, Twilight proves surprisingly potent.
Unfortunately, there’s also the part of the story that’s a supernatural thriller. Here, Hardwicke either had a seriously goofy vision for how vampire behavior would actually look, or her special effects team needed to be fired mid-production. The combination of funky super-speed effects and stylized slow-motion do little to convey the graceful movements of natural predators, and the leaping wire-work doesn’t rise to the level of a community theater production of Peter Pan. The producers clearly hired Hardwicke for the human part of the Twilight story, and that’s pretty much all she delivers.
Also, maybe that’s enough. Her casting proves uniformly superb, from the two leads, to Burke as Bella’s laconic police-officer dad, to Anna Kendrick as Bella’s giggly best friend. Hardwicke and Rosenberg grasp both the mundane and operatic elements of Bella’s teenage life, and they convey Meyer’s singular way of exploring temptation and moral choices. Twilight the movie knows what to keep from the books—and what it has the good fortune to be able to discard. (Scott Renshaw)