Pop Culture

‘Twilight’ in the eye of the beholder

If you’re a fan of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series — symptoms include Googling the phrase “Team Jacob,” being in a bookstore at 12:01 a.m. on the day that “Breaking Dawn” came out, or pricing “The lion fell in love with the lamb” ankle tattoos — you won’t be disappointed by the movie version.

If the squealing fangirls at the advance screening I attended are any indication, you Twilighters will go nuts at the introduction of each character, at the lifting of dialogue directly from the book, and at the brooding, yearning glances shared by the story’s star-crossed lovers.

You can also stop reading this review now, because you’re going to see this movie anyway, and now I’m going to talk to the people who, like me, are coming to the material for the first time.

Is it just we non-fans now? Good.

“Twilight” is a vampire movie, but it’s not a horror movie; if it were, it might sport a title like “The Pouting” or “Attack of the Albino Hollister Models” or “Bloodsucker Prom Date.” It’s never an easy task to bring a hit book to the screen, but by filling the screen with stares, stammers and silences, director Catherine Hardwicke and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg tread into the territory of unintentional hilarity.

When pallid sexpot Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) warns good-girl Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) not to get involved with him, he may be trying to save her life from his carnal ways, but the patter comes off as the usual bad-boy catnip that nice teenage gals simply can’t resist. The fact that Pattinson accentuates almost every line by widening his eyes as much as possible and then not blinking for an uncomfortably long period of time is the stuff of future drinking games.

Also risible is the fact that Bella is as much a female fantasy character as Diane Lane’s household saint in “Nights in Rodanthe.” Bella is a smart, shy girl who also happens to be totally gorgeous. Her parents are divorced, but they’re both nice and they both love her dearly. Generous Bella decides to allow mom to travel with her new husband, a minor-league baseball player (who is also nice), and leaves Phoenix to go live with her dad in the small town of Forks, Wash.

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    Image: Dracula

    Fangs for the memories

    From the silent classic "Nosferatu" to the romantic chiller "Twilight," screen vampires seem to just keep coming back.

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    The Vampire Diaries -

    Vampires are hard to kill, as everyone knows, and the current bumper crop of entertainment featuring the baleful bloodsuckers shows they're as popular today as when the silent shocker "Nosferatu" first gave filmgoers the willies back in 1922. The 2009 TV series "The Vampire Diaries" is based on the book series of the same name by L.J. Smith. In it two vampire brothers Stefan and Damon - one good, one evil - are at war for Elena Gilbert, a teenager who looks exactly like a woman both brothers loved more than a century ago. Who will win Elena's heart? And how safe are the residents of Mystic Falls?

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    Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant -

    "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" (2009) is based on the popular fantasty-adventure book series by Darren Shan. The film tells the story of teenager Darren Shan played by Chris Massoglia, whose life changes after he stumbles upon a traveling freak show and gets turned into a bloodthirsty creature by a vampire named Larten Crepsley portrayed by John C. Reilly.

    Universal Pictures via AP / Universal Pictures via AP
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    Twilight -

    "Twilight" (2008) is based on the young adult vampire-romance book series by Stephenie Meyer. The film tells the story of a teen, played by Kristen Stewart, whose heart is captured by a vampire, portrayed by Robert Pattinson. The two struggle to manage their forbidden love affair when a new vampire makes it his quest to hunt her down for her blood.

    Summit Entertainment / Summit Entertainment
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    True Blood -

    "True Blood" is an HBO drama series based on the "Sookie Stackhouse" book series by Charlaine Harris. In it, vampires and humans co-exist in Bon Temps, a small Louisiana town. Anna Paquin plays Sookie, a telepathic waitress who falls in love with a vampire played by Stephen Moyer, shown here.

    HBO / HBO
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    Van Helsing -

    Starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale, "Van Helsing" is based on the character Abraham Van Helsing from Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula." The 2004 film mashes together characters and plotlines from the film "The Wolf Man" and the novel "Frankenstein." In it, Van Helsing is a monster hunter who is sent to Transylvania to destroy Dracula.

    Universal Studios / Universal Studios
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    Underworld -

    In the 2003 film "Underworld," a beautiful vampire warrior, played by Kate Beckinsale, is caught in a war between the vampire and werewolf races. She hates werewolves, but falls in love with a human who is bitten by a werewolf and becomes one of them.

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    Blade -

    Inspired by a Marvel Comics character, "Blade" (1998) is the story of a half-vampire, half-human superhero, played by Wesley Snipes, who battles Frost, a vampire who aims to enslave humanity. Two sequels, "Blade II" and "Blade: Trinity," were produced after the film's success.

    New Line Cinema via Everett Collection / New Line Cinema via Everett Collection
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    Buffy the Vampire Slayer -

    The 1997-2003 TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was a cult hit spun off from a much less successful 1992 film of the same name. The show starred Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, a "slayer" who battles vampires and demons.

    20th Century Fox via Everett Collection / 20th Century Fox via Everett Collection
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    Interview with the Vampire -

    With an all-star cast including Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and a young Kirsten Dunst, "Interview with the Vampire" was a box-office hit in 1994. Based on the 1976 novel by Anne Rice, it involves a vampire who tells his life's tale of love and loneliness.

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    Bram Stoker's Dracula -

    From Francis Ford Coppola, director of the "Godfather" films, "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992) follows the count from Transylvania to London to find a young woman who is the double of the love he lost centuries earlier. The film starred Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    The Lost Boys -

    In the teen vampire horror/comedy flick "The Lost Boys" (1987), a group of teenage vampires attempts to recruit a new member, who doesn't know he's getting up to his neck in trouble. Among the stars are Jason Patric, Corey Haim and Kiefer Sutherland -- all in over-the-top 80s hairdos.

    Warner Bros. via Everett Collection / Warner Bros. via Everett Collection
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    The Hunger -

    David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve portrayed undead lovers who fit quite well into New York City's goth scene in this highly stylized 1983 horror film. But they find that even vampires have romantic issues when Bowie's character begins aging while Deneuve's does not.

    MGM via Everett Collection / MGM via Everett Collection
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    Salem's Lot -

    Stephen King's best-selling 1975 novel about a small Maine town that gradually becomes infested with vampires became a hit TV miniseries in 1979. It was adapted for television a second time in 2004.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Love at First Bite -

    George Hamilton was a fading leading man known mainly for having dated LBJ's daughter Lynda Bird Johnson when he revivified his career with this 1979 comedy. In it, Dracula is exiled from Romania by the Communists, and winds up disco dancing in New York City.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Dracula (1979) -

    Befitting the swinging '70s, Frank Langella gave the undead count a highly sensual interpretation, drawing critical acclaim but only modest box office. Laurence Olivier costarred as Dracula's archenemy, vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing.

    Universal Pictures / Universal Pictures
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    Blacula -

    The heyday of "blaxploitation" films aimed at African-American audiences brought this 1972 horror film starring William Marshall as an African prince who was turned into a vampire by Dracula himself, then released from his coffin to wreak havoc in modern Los Angeles. Marshall reprised the role in the 1973 sequel "Scream Blacula Scream."

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Dark Shadows -

    The gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows" became an overnight sensation six months into its five-year ABC run when a new character was introduced: vampire Barnabas Collins, played by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid. The show became a cult hit, and Frid continued to appear at fan conventions decades after the series ended in 1971.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Horror of Dracula -

    In 1958, Britain's Hammer Film Productions revived the Dracula franchise with a graphic new version of Stoker's novel starring the imposing London-born actor Christopher Lee. The film was a hit, generating a series of sequels featuring Lee.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Dracula (1931) -

    Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi played Dracula on Broadway before reprising the role in Tod Browning's iconic 1931 film, in which he uttered the immortal line, "I never drink ... wine."

    Getty Images / Getty Images
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    Nosferatu -

    Screen vampires have thrilled and chilled as far back as "Nosferatu" F.W. Murnaus 1922 silent classic. The German film was the first adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula," but because it was unauthorized, the characters names were changed.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection

As would happen with any smart, shy girl who transfers to a new school in the middle of the academic year, the popular kids at her new school immediately embrace Bella. And then, before she knows it, she’s got two boys in love with her: the ethereal Edward and the hunky Jacob (Taylor Lautner). And as if all that weren’t enough, both boys are violating the rules of their respective clans by falling in love with Bella. Because she’s that awesome.

Meyer’s fans will no doubt flutter at every scene (and there are many of them) where Edward and Bella stare at each other with intent — “Twilight” has more meaningful glances than an entire season of “As the World Turns” — but the lead actors fail to breathe life into these cardboard, romance-novel archetypes.

Thankfully, Hardwicke tossed some interesting character actors into the mix — notably Anna Kendrick from “Camp,” now all grown up with the décolletage to prove it — to imbue the second bananas with some spark for the few moments they can pull focus from Jane Eyre Lite and The 100-Year-Old Virgin.

In the final analysis, Hardwicke has shrewdly made a film that will appeal to the audience that could make or break it. But there’s little here to win over those of us without dog-eared copies of “Twilight” under our beds.

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