Yes, this is the first one, from last year. Why am I reviewing it? Because I'll be reviewing its sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon, opening this week, and seeing as it's a saga and all, I figured I'd do it justice and start from the beginning. I gotta say, I'm already quite biased against this entire series. I've read so much feminist commentary about it, how it teaches teenage girls all the wrong lessons about love and relationships, how the heroine is such a godawful Mary Sue, how it perverts the vampire mythos, and how Stephenie Meyer is a really really bad writer. So I was fully expecting to scoff all the way through this movie.
I'm so proud of my ability to be objective. Hey, it's a gift.
Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) has just moved to the small town of Forks, Washington with her divorced father Charlie (Billy Burke), the local chief of police. She is fascinated by Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who saves her life twice yet acts aloof with her - and when she learns that he is a 108-year-old vampire, her fascination turns into passionate love. Edward falls in love with her too, and the rest of the Cullen vampire family welcome her with open arms - but not all vampires are "vegetarian", who abstain from killing humans, like they are. Another pack of vampires are on the hunt in Forks, leaving a string of grisly murders in their wake.
Okay, it's not as bad as I thought (hoped?). But it is still quite bad. Take the vampires - or rather, vampires in name only. They happily walk around in daylight; in fact, they chose to live in Forks for the constantly cloudly, gloomy weather, because when direct sunlight hits them, they, um, sparkle. This is one of the most reviled aspects of the Twilight world, and it really is ridiculous. It looks ridiculous too, and it isn't helped by Edward growling "This is the skin of a killer!" as he sparkles. And the tinkly bells sound effect that accompanies it really doesn't help. Really, its entire depiction of vampires is full of fail. The motion-blur vampire super-speed effect is laughable, and the vampire makeup doesn't look so much like an undead immortal creature as it does like bedak sejuk. And just when I thought we'd finally get to see some vampire fangs... it very conspicuously shows that these vampires have no fangs. Aiyoo, movie and Ms. Meyer, what laa??
And then there's the Edward-Bella relationship. I can almost buy Bella as an impulsive teenager who falls for the totally dreamy guy, but I don't know what's going on with Edward. He really does seem like he's just emotionally jerking Bella around, telling her "I can't be with you" and then chatting her up anyway. He's as awkward and hesitant with her as a teenage boy, which means he's not in the least bit believable as a hundred-year-old vampire - which brings us to the creepy pedophiliac subtext of a really old guy hitting on a teenage girl. Other than some magical explanation of how her blood smells intoxicatingly sweet to him and that she's the one mind he can't read (oh, did I mention? He reads minds), there's little reason for him to fall for her. And the thing about him sneaking into her room to watch her sleep - and her thinking that's sooo sweeeeet - is really really facepalm.
Is Bella a Mary Sue? Somewhat, yes. For no reason other than that she's new in town, everyone fawns over her - all the boys crush on her, and all the girls want to be her BFF. Now, if we were to accept that we're seeing all this through her eyes, her classmates' incessant attention may just be a metaphor for how awkward and gawky she feels in a new school. (At least there aren't any stereotypical bitchy Libbys.) But really, having two boys ask her to the prom, only to settle for other girls - who are happy to accept her leftovers - is really a bit much. And more than a bit much is how she in turn is pretty damn unfriendly to them - to everyone other than Edward, in fact. There's one scene in which she behaves like the worst kind of bratty kid to her own father, who just stands by ineffectually. Yes, I know, there's an explanation for it, but it doesn't really make much sense.
It was a weird experience watching this - there's a decent teen-fantasy-romance in here, if Edward weren't so skeevy, if the vampires weren't so lame, and if Bella weren't such a useless heroine. (Really, she doesn't do a single thing worthwhile or admirable. All she does is let Edward save her.) Things start picking up in the second half, when evil vampires show up and start being all evil - I enjoyed this bit, more than it probably deserved. Not that the vamp-on-vamp fight was particularly cool, or that there weren't any more WTF-worthy moments; just that I was glad for some actual narrative momentum after all the sappy love scenes.
And they're an odd kind of sappy love scene, to be honest. Edward and Bella never smile. They never once seem to actually be happy together. It's just a lot of smoldering looks and chaste making out. (And yes, I know that the whole series is a metaphor for teen chastity.) I don't know if it's director Catherine Hardwicke or the actors. I liked Pattinson in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, although I haven't seen Stewart before in anything, but really, the chemistry between these two is as wet as the weather in Forks. The ripe dialogue they're forced to spout doesn't help either. Billy Burke is a totally cool dad, which makes you even more annoyed at how Bella treats him. I suppose here's where I should mention Taylor Lautner, who plays Jacob Black - yes, he'll be more prominent in the sequel, but here he's just another boy making googly eyes at Bella.
The really weird thing is that I actually wanted to like this. My own imagination kept wanting to fill in the gaps in the plot and characterization. I suppose Ms. Meyer deserves credit for tapping the vein of vampire mythology (because vampire mythology is cool) and successfully transplanting it to the teen romance milieu (because really, both genres go together pretty well). And from all I've heard, it's a far better movie than it is a book. I wanted to hate it, but I ended up wanting to like it - and in fact, I'm even looking forward to New Moon now, just a bit. That's actually quite impressive... even if I didn't really like it.