About three things the Twilight producers were absolutely positive. First, Twilight was a vampire tale. Second, there was a part of it that thirsted for teenage blood. And third, adolescent girls were unconditionally and irrevocably in love with it. Indeed, American booksellers have hailed the author of the saga, which runs through four novels, as the new J. K. Rowling — Stephenie Meyer’s first instalment selling more than five million copies in the US alone, and thereby helping to fill the void left by the departed Boy Who Lived. The fact that the film version arrives Stateside in what has become the pre-Christmas ‘Potter slot’ will only boost the comparisons.
In contrast to the wizardry franchise, however, the director here manages to improve on the film’s papery progenitor. While a succession of helmers have struggled to condense Rowling’s ever-expanding tomes into a digestible screen serving, Catherine Hardwicke hits top gear from the outset, rattling through the early exposition and never once allowing the painful teen brooding that floods Meyer’s book to overflow into insipidness. Meyer is a devout Mormon, her tale a metaphor for carnal abstinence, allowing young girls to splash around in a pool of obsessive love without having to swim in the turbulent waters of scary teenage sex.
The author, who had final cut, thought Hardwicke’s first cut a little too steamy, hence the interaction between Bella and Edward becomes even more intimate, Hardwicke employing close-ups and avoiding the exposed flesh captured by the wider lenses. The director, of course, understands the teen audience — consider Thirteen or Lords Of Dogtown — and she conjures one of the most beautiful films of the year. Former Potterer Robert Pattinson (Cedric in Goblet Of Fire and Order Of The Phoenix) is staggeringly handsome, as are the rest of his vampire brethren. The backdrop, meanwhile, the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest, is truly breathtaking, Hardwicke sending her stars hurtling up towering trees and sinking into deep moss.
The lead performance too is strong, Panic Room and Into The Wild star Kristen Stewart consistently excellent. She is the vehicle through which audiences are carried on their journey, and her keen intelligence prompts a mature performance. Bella is both vulnerable and strong, a three-time damsel in distress, requiring Edward’s white-faced knight to save her, and yet courageous enough to surrender to danger and send an immortal bloodsucker into a frenzy of desire. Said bloodsucker Pattinson struggles at times — it’s a demanding first lead role, requiring him to project a perennial restrained desire. He settles down eventually, but not before he’s treated us to a series of hard-faced pouts.
Despite the presence of vampires, Twilight is a romance, not a horror, and anyone hoping to sink their teeth into a juicy gore-fest will be disappointed. There is action, of course, ignited by the arrival of a trio of wandering neck-biters (who, needless to say, are impossibly good-looking) that feed on the locals and lust after Bella’s blood, leading to a showdown in a be-mirrored ballet studio. Hardwicke sensibly introduces these rogues early. And yet, while she does have action credentials (working on Three Kings before shooting Dogtown), the sequences are occasionally predictable, the wire-work sometimes obvious.
She also struggles with the depiction of vampires in direct sunlight. Meyer’s saga was prompted by a dream, in which she saw Bella and Edward lying in the forest, sunlight twinkling on the vampire’s exposed flesh. In truth, Hardwicke would have liked to exorcise the scene, but it’s too important to the author. She turned to ILM, although despite their best efforts, Edward’s spangled skin looks a little odd.