A few months ago I heard about an American teen sensation that had spread over to the UK concerning a set of vampire novels, and a film was being made of the first book. A short while later my girlfriend was reading the novels and seemed quite absorbed, so I decided to take an interest.
A romance involving a seventeen year old girl and her handsome classmate who turns out to be a vampire, Twilight seems standard teen fiction fare, and that's pretty much what it is. Both the book and the film deal primarily with romanticized sexual repression in the guise of a contemporary vampire story, and there are a lot of these stories about nowadays. The fertile seed of Buffy The Vampire Slayer has sprung the fanged offspring of overblown big budget silver screeners such as Underworld and Van Helsing and a series of Russian novel adaptations beginning with Night Watch. American TV has been swamped with the likes of Supernatural and Blood Ties and even Alan Ball, writer of American Beauty and the wonderful series Six Feet Under has got in on the act this year with TV serial True Blood. Forgive me for this, but it has become... a bloody nightmare!
So is Twilight just another drop in the crimson nocturnal ocean, or a stand-out original? Sadly I would have to say the former. Although it is not a totally mindless action romp like Underworld or a terribly off-the-mark and ill-informed Stoker update like Van Helsing, it doesn't have the drive or directorial clout to rise highly enough above other recent stabs at the genre. Okay, it is not supposed to really be either a horror movie or the sub generic 'vampire film', it is essentially a teen romance, and as teen romances go it's better than most. It also sticks pretty faithfully to the story and essence of the novel. But where its real problem lies is in it's over palpable cultivation of coolness. It tries to hard to be teeny, and especially girl-friendly. Catherine Hardwicke directs an over-the-top story with over-the-top camera movements and over the top MTV-style soundtrack, creating something that could never seem real in a million years. Granted, much of the narrative issues lie with the original novel, (the first half of the book is all romantic set up, the second has more action) and as I stated, it is a faithful conversion to film, but within all the swoony and silly romance in Stephanie Meyer's book resides the heart of real teenage angst and doubt, something that the movie seems to negate completely with Hardwicke's exaggerated direction. Attempts at vampiric otherworldliness and beauty often just seem cheesy and the sustained threat to protagonist Bella's safety by these creatures never comes through strongly enough. With a lack of any prosthetics (e.g. the furrowed brow of an angry vamp in Buffy) to the extent of the traditional fangs the Twilight vampires struggle to be scary at all.
The performances are solid though. Kristen Stewart is good as the clumsy out of town every-girl Bella and Harry Potter's Robert Pattison rightfully steals the show as the smoldering pale faced Edward Cullen. Everyone supports the two leads well, and the villain, James (Cam Grigandet), is suitably nasty but lacks the unsettling charm of the novel's equivalent. There just isn't enough spark or humour in the script to elevate anyone to any great heights.
It is a shame that the woman who made Thirteen a few years back could not get an equally realistic edge of teenage life into her adaptation of Twilight. What's more, Hardwicke has already been confirmed to direct the sequel, (which promises to have werewolves in it too) so it's not over yet folks! As the second book in the series is an altogether darker affair there's still hope of redemption for Hardwicke's movie franchise.
Fans of the book will be satisfied, and most teenagers will not be disappointed, but anyone old enough to remember The Lost Boys or Near Dark and wants a new vampire fix I recommend you seek out Alan Ball's True Blood instead.