Q: When is a vampire not a vampire?
A: When it goes out in daylight, sees itself in a mirror, doesn’t drink human blood, and still manages to suck.
The release of “Twilight” achieves two significant objectives; not only has Stephanie Meyer’s ponderous salute to teen abstinence and patriarchal supremacy been given physical form, but it also marks the endgame for what has been a decades-long castration of the vampire genre. Anne Rice could pause to savor her flawless victory if she hadn’t turned her back on books about bloodsuckers, and indeed “Twilight” is something Rice herself might have created had she returned to religion in 1978 instead of 1998 and never actually learned to write.
This first adaptation of Meyer’s Sweet Carpathian Valley High series introduces us to awkward teen Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who moves from Phoenix, AZ to live with her sheriff father Charlie (Billy Burke) in Forks, Washington. Forks is one of the rainiest places in the mainland U.S., which naturally makes it the perfect location for the local vampire clan.
These vamps are a kindler, gentler breed that have weaned themselves off of human blood. The “father,” Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli), even serves as the town’s doctor. His foster children, including the brooding Edward (Robert Pattinson), attend the local high school with the normal kids. Their presence raises eyebrows due to their unearthly good looks (and diabolical amounts of ivory Max Factor foundation) and the fact that they don’t date outside the clan. How very Mormon.
All this changes when Bella and Edward meet. Bella has some strange pheromone/hemoglobin combination that turns the normally non-murderous Edward into the wolf from those Tex Avery cartoons. Nevertheless, Bella feels more kinship with the unnaturally sophisticated and mysterious Edward than she does with the multicultural group of local kids she’s befriended (that doesn’t seem at all out of place in a rural Washington town of 3,000).
And who wouldn’t? With his yearning eyes and tortured past, Edward is the romantic ideal for most 13-year old girls (and some boys): he’s androgynously gorgeous, has a dope ride, and doesn’t want to do anything but talk about your feelings and snuggle. It would appear that in addition to robbing his brood of their need for blood, Carlisle also removed their balls.
This quaint fantasy of the boy putting the brakes on would never fly in a traditional romance, hence the “vampire” angle, and the first half of the movie is devoted almost exclusively to the pair’s budding courtship. Unfortunately, this translates into scene after scene of Bella and Edward gazing longingly at each other – in the forest, up a tree, beside the cold and lonely sea – before any real tension develops. The conflict comes courtesy of a wandering trio of nomadic vampires committing murders for no apparent reason and not Edward’s “family,” which is largely (and dubiously) accepting of Bella’s potentially disastrous presence. In fact, the only one who shows any sense is his sister Rosalie (Nikki Reed), who wisely suggests killing her before she dooms them all.
True, bumping off Bella would be the prudent vampire course of action, but as I already said, these are some lousy bloodsuckers (direct sunlight doesn’t kill them, for example, it makes them sparkle). And honestly, what have they really got to lose? Edward and company are immortal, possessing super strength and heightened senses, and they’re unburdened by most of the traditional vampire weaknesses. And how have they utilized this awesome power? By going to high school for a hundred years. Worse than that, James – the bad vamp who tracks Bella back to Arizona and is the only wampyr in the movie with any joie de unvivre – is rewarded for embracing his dark gift with dismemberment and immolation. The message is clear: don’t inconvenience that handsome boy who was so gallant in resisting your base urges by also straying beyond the boundaries of domestic complacency.
The action finally picks up in the second act, primarily due to the Cullens’ blunder (hey, we outnumber these guys 7 to 3… let’s split up!), leading to a climax that might have been satisfying had the audience not been lulled to sleep by 90 minutes of soporific direction and eye-rolling dialogue. There’s no doubt “Twilight” will satisfy rabid fans of the book, but it isn’t likely to make converts of anyone else.