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My So-Called Death

"Twilight" brings vampires out of the crypt and into the cafeteria.

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What do you say about a vampire whose preferred mode of transportation is a shiny new Volvo? Vampire movies, like the bloodsuckers who inspire them, never die. But as any of the undead will tell you, living forever, though romantic sounding, eventually becomes a curse. Vampires peaked cinematically at their birth in the '20s with F.W. Murnau and the silent “Nosferatu,” but even though the very concept gradually became synonymous with camp, these creatures of the night have maintained a certain air of respectability. As long and varied a history as vampires have in the movies, it seems a little sad that their latest and likely greatest box office triumph would be inspired by a book series for teen girls.


This is just another way of saying not to see “Twilight,” based on books by Stephenie Meyer, for the frights, seduction and torch-wielding villagers you've come to expect in such fare. Though it may sound like a 2008 version of “The Lost Boys,” “Twilight” is mostly about a girl who falls in love with a boy. The vampire stuff just makes this cutie extra interesting.


For anyone who relished the musty, foppish, hallucinatory thrills of “Bram Stoker's Dracula” or “Interview with a Vampire,” “Twilight” will give a start. The vampires in this film, freshly scrubbed and bedecked in mall fashions, could just as easily have been cast for next season's “Gossip Girl.” The only thing that separates them from other high school kids is ruby red lips, pale faces and skin that glints in the sunlight like a trout's. We meet them through Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a new girl in a Northwest town who has moved to be with her father (Billy Burke), the chief of police. She quickly makes normal friends, but also notices a strange clique of ultra pale kids, the Cullens, led by Edward (Robert Pattison).


Bella soon discovers Edward is a “cold one,” in the words of the local Native Americans. “Twilight” dedicates surprisingly little of its energy showing what this means, but among the more interesting things seem to be constantly walking in slow motion. The most startling power these vampires possess is not anything to do with the supernatural, but to find hairspray that holds up in one of the rainiest places in the country. There is but one bane of their existence, which is to go to high school in perpetuity.


Bella falls for Edward anyway, and then into the clutches of a rival, not-so-charming vampire (Cam Gigandet) whom Edward must defeat. The movie is highly predictable and derivative even for a teen flick, but pointing that out doesn't prove much. The important thing is not breathless narrative but breathless looks of longing — at the ground, at the sky and at each other — that the two lovers give at every opportunity. “Twilight” isn't as much about a certain time of day as it is about a certain time in a girl's life, when the ideal boy is physically and spiritually perfect and has supreme control over whatever desires lurk underneath.


This makes for a few scenes the rest of us will find confusing, but which might make perfect sense to teenage girls and boys who've been 17 for more than 100 years. Edward attacks Bella in bed one night while the two are hanging out, but stops himself before he goes too far. In her mind he has behaved himself; in his he's still hungry. This could be some metaphor about the fear and excitement in a young girl's sexual curiosity, but it could also be a clunky scene that accidentally shows how little sense the relationship between these two makes. What exactly does a 125-year-old man want with Bella? In the fog of “Twilight” it's difficult to tell.


Sense is also not a factor in the $70 million the movie rang up on the weekend it opened, astounding considering the movie's production values, which seem more in line with a television show such as “Smallville.” The entire thing, directed by Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen”) has the look of a Tampax commercial, and when the vampires move around with their super speed, one is more apt to think of the fast girl in “Heroes” than Vlad the Impaler.
 “Twilight” does have a distinction. It may be the first time in movies when being a vampire doesn't seem cool. That might not be what it was going for, but it's still an impressive feat. (PG-13) 120 min.   S

 

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