Seventeen teenage girls died after fasting for the two months leading up to the release of Twilight. As tragic as that was, it doesn't compare to the Denver Stampede that killed over 30 and injured hundreds more as screaming fans raced to see Twilight star Robert Pattinson. Ultimately, the tragic film went on to make $70 million in its opening weekend, defying already high box office expectations as it nearly doubled its production budget in three days. Twilight, the franchise, had begun.
Two weeks later, movie reviewer Erik Samdahl, who will refer to himself in the third person in this paragraph for no particular reason whatsoever, risked everything, ventured into dangerous downtown Seattle and went to go see what all the hubbub was about. A minor attack by a few hissing teenagers in the darkness was offset by well-prepared ushers armed with pepper spray and holy water, and I was able to seat myself. Expectations weren't particularly high, as the ones who referred to themselves as professional critics had given it a lukewarm reception, and curiosity more than anything else lured the Erik into the dark and ominous abyss that was the movie theater.
Thankfully, low expectations paid off, because the Erik - to henceforth be referred to as "I" - enjoyed Twilight. It's no Harry Potter, but then again, it's not meant to be; it isn't about a magical world, it isn't necessarily aimed at all audiences, and it is more than anything else a romance. A very sanitized romance written by a Mormon. About vampires who love to munch on human flesh.
Twilight is a fun film, with strong performances from all of the actors involved. Kristen Stewart, the new "It" girl, holds her own, though I've seen her better in other things. She's good-looking yet can pull off the loner quite well. As for Pattinson, I haven't quite understood what all the fuss is about, though who knows what goes on in the mind of teenage girls. Nevertheless, Pattinson is surprisingly good as the romantic interest, who also happens to be a super-powered vampire. The supporting cast, which fills out Pattison's vampiric family or Stewart's goofy friends, also do a good job and don't fall into the stereotypical modes that are so easy to fall into in what is essentially a high school soap.
The funny thing is that while Twilight is written by a Mormon and very little other than kissing ensues, the picture is just brimming with sexual tension. This shouldn't concern parents too much, as nothing really happens, yet it does seem like the characters want to pounce on each other and strip down at the first chance. Of course, in reality, Pattinson's character is just trying to avoid eating his girlfriend - and not in the good way. Regardless, Twilight feels like a real romance in many ways, and that should satisfy all of those screaming fans who have probably gone to see the film five times by now.
For the guys, there are also some murders, chases, fights and violence. Thankfully, even though Twilight is heavily skewed toward its female audience, the movie is still entertaining to watch. When the bad vampires finally show up (led by the creepy but underdeveloped Cam Gigandet), things become pretty tense and fast-paced.
Unfortunately, director Catherine Hardwicke is clearly not an action director. While the non-action sequences are done quite well, giving the setting of the picture a beautiful, glossy yet lonely feel to it (as a Washington native, she adequately captures the beauty of the state while still capitalizing on the fact that it "rains all the time"), the "action" involving the vampires leaves little to be desired. I absolutely hated the couple of murder scenes early on in the picture; they are poorly done and look like something out of an old "America's Most Wanted" episode. They aren't scary, creepy or violent, and do little to build a sense of awe early on. The vampires in the movie can move at amazingly quick speeds and do other cool tricks, yet Hardwicke, who directed the excellent (and certainly non-Mormon) Thirteen, doesn't know quite how to capture these "gifts." The vampires' movements look cheesy much of the time, especially when they are running around. The inability to capture non-realistic stuff leads to some disappointing action sequences. The climax isn't terrible, but isn't nearly long or complicated enough to keep us engaged.
Twilight is a surprisingly entertaining movie that is well-paced, but the franchise could be improved by hiring a director who is more comfortable with the task of vampires. Nevertheless, non-teenage girls shouldn't be afraid of the movie, and might even discover that they'll enjoy it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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