Twilight doesn't suck, but it doesn't have much bite either

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By Scotty McDaniel

2 1/2 out of 5 stars


Rated PG-13

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

Based on novel by: Stephenie Meyer

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson


Judging by the $70.6M the film made in its crushing box office debut, it appears Twilight fans were out in full force over the weekend.

Stephanie Meyer's young adult vampire/romance novel series is the latest fad in high schools across the country. The four books are currently the bestselling teen books in the world, and they remain at the top of the bestseller list on Amazon.com in all book categories. For some perspective, Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope is number 9 on the list.

Twilight is the first book of the series, and therefore was the first to be adapted into a movie. And while fans of the book are making Twilight a box office success, that doesn't mean the movie is good.

In vampire terms: The film doesn't suck, but it really doesn't bother to bite into the nitty-gritty of the story.

The tale follows 17-year-old Bella Swan as she moves to Forks, Wash. to live with her dad and finish out high school.

She's the quiet type who appreciates her alone time, but her curiosity gets the best of her when she sets her eyes on the insanely good-looking Cullen family.

When the Cullens made their first appearance in the film, I was reminded that 95 percent of the theater was filled with giggling teenage girls. I think I actually heard them blush.

By the end of the film one girl passed out in the audience. Sure, it turned out she was having a diabetic episode, but there was an uninformed split second where I considered that maybe she just couldn't handle the sex appeal of one Cullen in particular - Edward.

Bella certainly can't, and the mysterious Edward is equally drawn to her, by her delicious scent and his inability to read her mind - a gift that works on all other humans. He has to talk to her to learn what she's thinking, and in the process he becomes fascinated by her. Thus, the love story of two unlikely soulmates begins - Bella the insightful human, and Edward the vampire.

The Cullens are a "vegetarian" vampire family, feeding only on animals, not humans. Still, it's not safe for a human to keep company with a vampire. Their thirst is sometimes hard to keep under control. Edward devotes himself to loving Bella, and not eating her, but when a group of similarly peculiar strangers come to town, he has more than just his own thirst to worry about.

I've read and enjoyed the books in the Twilight series. They develop original characters you can care about and take them through a story of suspenseful supernatural elements mixed in with romance and humor. Meyer tells a story in a way that makes the reader repeatedly say, "OK, I'll read one more chapter and stop for a while," then fail to do so.

But anytime a novel as obsessed over by its fans as this one is gets turned into a 2-hour movie, every detail is going to be dissected for accuracy, thoroughness and impact. And while excited fans might just be happy to see their beloved characters on the big screen, anybody looking close will see flaws that are hard to ignore.

Casting is subject to imagination, but for me the faces of Twilight were spot on. Kristen Stewart is as I imagined Bella to be -- plain, but with pleasant features and deep intriguing brown eyes. The Cullens are pale, gorgeous, and have an air of confidence that comes with having special abilities and many, many years of life, or I guess death, experience.

Unfortunately, the faces had to act, and the performances were average at best.

The acting bounced between cheesy and bland. Stewart is best when showing Bella's thoughtful gazes, but where's the cleverness that made readers like Bella? In the book Bella's charm was that she could come out of her shell with a witty remark to add a spark to any situation. In the movie she's boring, and her dialogue too often ends the exact same way -- with rapidly batting eyelids and an uncomfortable airy exhale. (You'll hate that I mentioned this, because you'll notice it every time now.)

Robert Pattinson does a good job showing Edward Cullen's mysteriousness, but where are the radiant smiles that awed Bella so frequently in the novel? There are a couple times when he flashes one in the film, but Bella doesn't seem to notice. Most of the time he just appears stressed or angry, tensing up in a way that looks like he's battling constipation.

And instead of wowing me with his super speed and strength like he does Bella, I couldn't look past the fact that the special effects were cheap and mirror that of films made in the late 80s. In short, the movie felt like a full-length teenage sitcom.

The biggest problem for the film is that there's not enough depth transferred from the novel to the film to make the story make sense and the relationships seem believable. Bella is extremely reflective in the book, but she can't just spew out all of her thoughts to the camera. As a result, no character really gets developed in the film, so only Twilighters can feel attached to them.

Fans of the books might be able to fill in the blanks by remembering the depth of the novels, but those who haven't read the books will probably feel a little lost and not understand what drives anyone to do what they do. It's plot without reasoning.

The movie version of Twilight bares its fangs and tells a good story, but ultimately only gets a taste of the book's excellence.