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THE SCREENING ROOM | ‘Twilight’ gives fans a fangless vamp romance
To put it in teenspeak — of which there is much in “Twilight,” the cinematic version of Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling novel — the movie is, like, so totally cool.
If you’re a TwiHard, that is.
Taking in $70.6 million at the box office in its opening weekend and already making way for a green-lit sequel, “Twilight” has easily drained even its toughest competition. Theaters filled with squealing fanpires made the viewing experience a collective one; mine included a theater vibrating with excitement buzz even before previews began, and giggles and shouts lasted long through the drama to applause at its very end.
Combine the anticipation of prom and the magic of a first kiss, and you’ve clearly got the formula for a smashing motion picture debut.
“Twilight” tells the tale of shy Arizonan teen Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who moves to perpetually rainy Forks to live with her small-town police chief dad. It’s there Bella meets classmate Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a dark and devastatingly chiseled vampire, stuck forever being 17-years-old.
The forbidden love between the two is fuel for the mostly basic plotline: Edward tries to resist Bella and her tempting scent (“You’re like my own personal blend of heroine,” he says) but ultimately professes his love. She returns it in wide-eyed fascination at his “vegetarian” (no drinking blood from humans) ways, super speed and strength and skin that glitters in sunlight.
After a first half full of staring into one another’s eyes, Bella and Edward’s journey takes an active turn when her scent is also caught by a group of enemy vampires passing through the area, leaving in their wake a string of grisly attacks that have befuddled Clallam County officials.
(It’s here Kitsap County’s sheriffs get a shout out of their very own.)
Edward must protect Bella without losing control (enter Aesopian metaphor for teen abstinence), and the race to escape leads to an ending shamelessly teasing the story’s second chapter.
Director Catherine Hardwicke captures the West Coast in a flashy, stylized manner, the cinematography at times dizzyingly picturesque. Stewart (“Into the Wild”) disappears into the film, offering the standard in emo-teen expression (see her in “Speak” to be truly impressed), while Pattinson delivers every word with an emphatic slowness that is part intriguing, part irksome. Their chemistry is at first lackadaisical, then quickly tumults into a hard and fast Shakespearian romance only those young and in love could understand.
Anna Kendrick and Michael Welch as Forks teen locals Jessica Stanley and Mike Newton provide welcome comedic reprieves from the heavy disquietude (see: Kendrick’s line “Aren’t people from Arizona supposed to be, like, really tan?” as a perfect high school-esque reading.)
Edward’s family of vampires is ethereal and slick, though unfortunately caked in heavy white makeup, while Bella’s father, a countrified Billy Burke, elicits quiet emotion and nails a feel-good bit on pepper spray.
Meyer herself makes a cameo during a scene in which Bella and her dad are out to dinner.
But perhaps the biggest surprise to non-Twilighters will be the low-budget depiction of the vampires: the movie, like the book, is fang-free, meaning no toothsome cinematic reveal.
Heavier on the romance than the thrills and relatively mild in both categories, “Twilight” may have nonreaders wondering what the giddy fuss is about. The movie lifts some of its soapy dialogue straight from the book and does display slightly unintentionally humorous special effects.
But readers will easily have an answer: In full fandom force, they’ll adore “Twilight” and all its guilty pleasure charm simply because they want to.
And there’s nothing to criticize about that.