Let's get this out of the way first: Twilight isn't as bad as you think it is. I know, I know; you all want me to tell you that it's the worst thing ever made, two hours of extreme embarrassment that I will never be able to get back, and by the way, Robert Pattinson sucks, and not in the vampire sense. Thing is, that's not exactly true (well, apart from the Robert Pattinson thing). I went in expecting the worst, and came out convinced that I'd seen The Dark Knight for tween girls.Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that Twilight will break box office records and be remembered as some kind of groundbreaking movie that sets a new bar for vampire movies - although it might do the former. But, like The Dark Knight, Twilight is a mainstream blockbuster that wants to look like an indie film, is embarrassed by its genre roots, and leaves you feeling somewhat schizophrenic about it as you leave the theater.
The real star of the movie - again, like Dark Knight- is the direction. After a dizzying mess of an opening, the more grounded parts of the movie - which is to say, the bits without the vampires, the good bits - show director Catherine Hardwicke bringing a nice understated look to the film that recalls her earlier work onThirteen, with something approaching natural light and handheld cameras giving everything a virisimilitude that neatly gives Bella's entry to the overly supernatural town of Forks some gravity and reality... Something that's backed up by the performance of Kristen Stewart as Bella, who manages to make her character come alive and seem sympathetic despite writing that leaves her both frustratingly passive and annoyingly stupid. The other "normal" characters gain from similarly successful performances (Kudos especially to Billy Burke, whose take on Bella's father is wonderfully understated yet oddly noble in an emotionally stunted way), which would normally be a good thing... if the movie didn't fail so incredibly when it came to that whole "vampire" thing. By now, you've probably seen enough trailers to have guessed that Robert Pattinson isn't the greatest actor in the world. And that's true, but once you see the film, you'll understand just how incredibly bad he is - Like a black hole of talent, optimism and... well, everything aside from good looks, his every appearance on screen as the movie's hero Edward manages to suck in everything that you might have enjoyed about the movie. It's not just that his performance is flat, emotionless and entirely unconvincing (Although it is); his pale make-up, the special effects when he uses his abilities and pretty much everything else about him just kills whatever momentum and credibility the movie had each and every time he appears. It's fitting, in a way, because if there's one thing that the movie manages to convince you by the end of it, it's that this movie really isn't about vampires. What was the clue that gave that away? It wasn't that the vampires in the movie are more X-Men than vampires (One of them is a telepath! Another can see the future! Oh, and they can so hang out in the sunlight; they just shine like diamonds when they do. Ain't it poetic? They even have a baseball game where they use their powers, just like the X-Men of my youth), or that - Edward's occasional, melodramatic protestation aside - vampirism is portrayed more as a weird different faith than being undead bloodsucking monsters. No, what drove the point that this movie is most definitely not about vampires home was the fact that the audience I saw the movie with (which was, a handful of reviewers aside, made up entirely of teenage girls who loved the book so much that they'd dressed as prom versions of their favorite characters, and who screamed when the movie's title appeared on screen) laughed at the vampire-centric parts of the movie. Edward shows off his abilities? They laughed. Edward shows that he glows in sunlight? They laughed. Any place in the movie where vampires were suggested as something different or unusual or supernatural was met with derisive, nervous laughter - and, given the shoddy sub-Smallville "Oh look, he's running fast" special effects, derisive laughter may be the appropriate response. No, what this movie is all about is the strange, twisted fantasy love story that promises young girls that, yes! You too could seduce and tame a mysterious, dangerous man who loves you - and must struggle with his overwhelming animal lust for you - despite your humdrum normal life, and all without doing anything other than just being you. It's a curious mix of female empowerment - You can achieve your goals! - with just the opposite - Don't take control of the situation or want anything more than a grand romance.There's an earlier scene in the movie where Bella tells one of her friends that she is a strong, independent woman. Why is she telling her that? To make sure that she asks out a boy. Being in a relationship is its own reward in this movie, and also the bestest thing in the world ever; all of Bella's high school friends exist to either crush on Bella or crush on those crushing on Bella - They literally have no other reason to be there. Again, the reaction of the preview audience, the movie's fanbase underlines this: while Edward's awkward pronouncements of the horrors of being a vampire got laughed at, the equally-awkward pronouncements of love were greeted with screams and sighs and other noises made by mid-20th century women when Elvis swiveled his hips. That Twilight the movie makes such little effort to convince with the quasi-vamp mythology shows that it understands its target audience - but also that, ultimately, it doesn't care enough about those who haven't read the books to offer up anything more than a Harlequin Romance bodice-ripper dressed up for a superhero audience. It does what it wants to very well, and very interestingly - but that's not enough to make it a good movie for everyone.