I cannot say for the original, wildly popular source novel written by Stephanie Meyer, which I have not read, but I think there is an interesting angle in the teen human-vampire romance in Catherine Hardwicke’s movie version of Twilight. It is probably apt that only a teenager like the story's central character, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) who is a very antisocial 17-year-old and more than just a little fascinated with death would fall in love with a vampire in the first place. The problem with the movie is the so-called romance is not really much of a romance.
Now I know I am clearly not part of the target audience for this story, which, aside from the very watered down vampire elements, is really just another clichéd teenage love story and plays purely on the fantasy of the plain girl falling for the tall and handsome, mysterious, gothic boy in town. But does the romance have to be this cheesy and sappy? Are we not yet past the oldest clichéd ending of those old, tired teenage movies – the big high school prom? And couldn’t the reason the vampire boy, Edward (Robert Pattinson) ends up falling in love with Bella be just a little deeper than the fresh scent of her blood?
Edward turns out, however, to be a part of the Cullen clan who can actually walk around in daylight as long as it is a cloudy or rainy day and deliberately choose to be “good” vampires by feeding off animal blood instead of human blood (although choosing to label himself a “vegetarian” for this is really an insult even to euphemisms). This is why he tells Bella to stay away from him. Of course, being so fancied with death already and doting on Edward’s glances with his eyes that actually change colors, how is she going to resist a temptation like that? In addition, it certainly does not hurt when he has the power to literally see where she is at all times and run in a flash to use his bare hands to stop a truck from hitting her or protect her against a group of lascivious muggers.
As you can guess from the general outlines, the story is really a pilfered rendition of the vampire legend into a purely female-oriented fantasy, which is probably notable for being so rare. This is the first movie I can remember in a long time where all the attention is on the male where he is not only the supposed knight in shining armor but also the forbidden fruit. This, of course, means that any guy dragged to see this love story will actually seriously be left out of the loop and yawn or roll his eyes through much of this... but then it is not often there is a movie that tries to strictly and directly appeal to the fairer gender.
Some of the ladies, however, might even find this love story a little shallow because the director, Catherine Hardwicke and her writer, Melissa Rosenberg do not inject it with the key ingredient of passion. Hardwicke, who previously directed the much better Thirteen in 2003 and seems to specialize in adolescent angst, does a decent job setting up Kristen Stewart’s Bella as a teenager who has just moved away from her divorced and remarried mother to live with her father (Billy Burke), is more than a little troubled and seems more engrossed with mingling with otherworldly beings since she clearly is antisocial in this one. But, as far as I can read about her reason to fall for Edward, there is little more than that. Sure, he has saved her life a couple of times, too, but she looks more enthralled with the near-death experiences she has had than she is grateful for him having saved her life (she herself says, “Death is peaceful, easy. Life is harder.”).
Pattinson’s Edward, on the other hand, has been stuck at the age of 17 for over 100 years and is afraid that if he kisses Bella, he will not be able to control his urge against the pheromone scent of her blood. There is another element of how, for some reason, he cannot read her thoughts when he can read everyone else’s. Fair to say, despite his strong-willed resistance to actually cave in to his primal urges and his passing curiosity at what she is thinking (which, as some others have pointed out, does make a nice allegory on the virtues of abstinence and also leads to the longest almost-kissing scene between a couple I have ever seen), this is not a romance built on any kind of real personality.
Oh yeah, there is also what happens when Edward stands under direct sunlight, which, for me, was the most unintentionally hilarious scene in the movie. No, his skin does not burn under it but it literally starts shimmering like there are diamonds all over. Fine, the teenage girls may swoon over (and in the theater I watched the movie in filled obviously with a lot of teenage girls, most of the audience seemed quietly entranced) but I honestly was having trouble containing my laughter at the cheesy visual effects on display and just the awfully sappy contortion into which they have crumpled the vampire mythology.
That is about the scene when the movie really just falls apart in the second half. The whole sequence in which Edward finally reveals himself to Bella as a vampire is played with dialogue that sounds like a greatest lines medley out of a bad Harlequin romance novel. It also does not help that, despite the movie's mostly effective, chilly blue and gray visual look, the visual effects are so laughable when we see Edward whooshing from tree to tree or just looking like a goofy monkey when he is rapidly climbing up a tree with Bella on his shoulder. Also, the final fight sequence between the good vampire and the truer, I mean, the bad vampire (hey, there are some bound to actually live by their true nature of wanting human blood, right?) is so repetitive and anticlimactic that it almost feels like it was shot as an afterthought. I know Twilight was made as an independent film with a small budget and my suggestion for the next time the filmmakers work with a limited budget is this: Work around the constraints and just rely on good, clever editing for the tree climbing scenes and perhaps have the vampires try to read each other’s minds and outthink one another rather than merely bashing through walls.
As I said before, however, I did find the story of Twilight somewhat intriguing in its setup and I think it is because it could have made a good beginning for an unfulfilled romance. If Bella actually decided to listen to Edward the first time to stay away, then the whole story could have been a closer rumination of the cleft between life and death, humans and vampires. Now that the fruition of the romance has happened this easily and simplistically, I have lost all interest.
Footnote: Also in limited release right now in the