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Twilight (2008)

Summit Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/21/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/18/2009

It was a cultural phenomenon. While vampire movies were generally aimed at horror-fiends, this was one for the masses. It featured teenage vampires and the cast was made up of attractive, young actors. There was action and romance. The movie had a hip, edgy look and the soundtrack featured contemporary rock performers. The movie did quite well at the box-office, managing to satisfy mainstream fans as well as goths. One could even purchase a shirt with the film's logo at Hot Topic. Of course, I'm speaking of The Lost Boys. Twilight, on the other hand, is another story entirely.

Twilight introduces us Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a high-school junior who is somewhat of a loner. She lives in Phoenix with her mother, who is newly re-married. As her mom will be traveling with her new husband, Bella moves to the tiny town of Forks, Washington to live with her father, Charlie (Billy Burke), who is the local sheriff. Bella is surprised by warm reception at the high school, and she's lauded with attention by Eric (Justin Chon), Mike (Michael Welch), and Jessica (Anna Kendrick). Bella notices a group of oddly pale students who all stick together, and she is told that they are the Cullen family, all of whom are the foster children of local surgeon, Dr. Cullen (Peter Facinelli). Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) has an especially strong, seemingly negative, reaction to Bella and she assumes that he doesn't like her. However, it seems that Edward is always around her, and he saves her life from stopping a runaway truck from hitting her. After spending time with Edward, Bella realizes that he's a vampire, as is his entire family. Edward assumes that Bella will be frightened or repulsed by this, but her romantic feelings for him overcome any fears, and she pledges to stick by his side...even when a clan of evil vampires hit town.

While I always monitor entertainment news, and I'm aware of most movie releases, I try to avoid hype and reviews so that my writing won't be tainted. However, there are times when this is unavoidable. In those cases, my views towards the movie becomes something like "Let's see if this is as good as I've heard", or "It can't be as bad as they say". But, with Twilight, it was a case of "Let's see what all of the fuss is about." And fuss there was. While I'd seen the Twilight books in the bookstore, I had no idea what they were or how popular they were. But, when the release date for the movie came, I saw just how widespread Twilight-mania is.

So, does the movie live up to the hype? I honestly don't know, as the movie wasn't what I'd expected. There is one thing which I can say right off the bat -- Twilight is not a horror film. It's a teenaged romantic drama where some of the characters just happen to be vampires. The movie focuses primarily on the relationship between Bella and Edward. It plays like the standard "forbidden-love/wrong side of the tracks" kind of movie...save for one of the young lovers being undead. The movie is somewhat slow paced as it takes its time introducing us to the characters and exploring how Bella and Edward finally come together. It's not until the final act that any true vamping happening, and it's all quite mild, with very little bloodshed. We basically just see two guys throwing each other around.

It seems that every modern vampire film wants to put its own spin on the vampire mythology and Twilight is no different. But, for me, the twists didn't work. I don't want to give anything away, but the reason why vampires stay out of the sun and what vampires do for fun in the story simply didn't work for me and I found some of the scene unintentionally humorous. Also, everyone in this movie is simply too nice. Bella is welcomed with open arms at her new high school (what planet is this on?), Edward's family is nice, even the bad vampires are nice. A vampire movie shouldn't be this touchy-feely, and Twilight is sorely in need of a wise-ass character. Also, the special effects of Edward running very fast don't work very well and show that we haven't come very far since 1978's Superman.

Of course, the entire film hinges on the performances of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, and they don't fare very well. I've never liked Stewart and she does nothing to impress me here. Bella is supposed to be aloof, but Stewart plays her as cold and unemotional. She takes everything in stride, including vampirism, to the point of absurdity. Pattinson isn't as bad, but when he's telling Bella that he loves her, it's not the least bit believable. These issues could be the fault of Director Catherine Hardwicke, as the shakiness of many scenes makes them feel like the first take.

I know that I'm being hard on Twilight, but after all of the hype, I was expecting more. I didn't want to believe that this was a vampire movie aimed at the Claire's Boutique set, but it is. The story itself has some interesting moments, but it's hampered by the acting and pacing. And, in the end, the whole thing feels like a set-up for a sequel, which it of course is, as there are three more books in the series. Perhaps New Moon will truly break new ground.

Twilight climbs a tree on DVD courtesy of Summit Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The colors look good, despite the "desaturated" look of the movie. However, the transfer isn't perfect. It's somewhat dark and has no depth whatsoever. When two objects pass in front of the camera at the same time, it looks as if they are lying on top of one another. I've truly never seen anything like it. There were also noticeable horizontal lines in several shots. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio certainly fares better than the video, as the track is quite potent. The stereo effects are good, and show nice separation. There is also notable subwoofer action in some scenes. However, the surround sound is too sporadic. For example, in the thunderstorm scene, the thunder should be all around us, but the only significant sound from the rear is when a certain objects whizzes by.

The Twilight 2-disc DVD set offers several extras. Disc 1 is kicked off with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Catherine Hardwicke, and actors Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. This is an OK talk, as Hardwicke works to point out locations and interesting background moments. Stewart continually comments on how awkward she finds everything. Pattinson doesn't speak very much. The DVD contains three MUSIC VIDEOS -- "Sumpermassive Black Hole" by Muse (taken from the "HAARP" DVD), "Decode" by Paramore, and "Leave Out All the Rest" by Linkin Park. "Supermassive Black Hole" contains an introduction from Hardwicke and author Stephanie Meyer, while "Decode" has just Hardwicke. The DVD contains five EXTENDED SCENES which run about 10 minutes and feature introductions by Hardwicke. Each of the scenes is only slightly longer and there's really no new information here. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. The DVD contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 6 minutes and each features an introduction by Hardwicke. Most of these should have been included in the "extended scenes" section, as they only offer a few extra moments. Those hoping for sub-plots or something truly new will be disappointed. "The Adventure Begins: The Journey from Page to Screen" (54 minutes) is a seven-part documentary which explores various aspects of the film. It starts with comments from Author Stephenie Meyer who discusses the origin of the novel. The piece then goes into the making of the movie. Starting with pre-production publicity photos, it then looks at location scouting, storyboards, and animatics. We next get a look at the vampire characters and the actors who play them. The remainder of the documentary looks at the shooting of key scenes, including locations, stunts, and costuming. Throughout, we get comments from Hardwicke, Meyer, other members of the crew and the cast, along with a great deal of on-set footage. "The Comic-Con Phenomenon" (8 minutes) shows the reaction of fans at an event at the San Diego convention, including scenes from a panel discussion. "Theatrical Campaign" features five different trailers and previews for the film.

Summit Entertainment has also brought Twilight to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear showing no defects from the source material, but some shots do show notable grain. (A few look like they came from a different movie.) The colors look fine and the image is never too dark or bright. The picture shows a nice amount of depth, especially in the landscape shots, and the level of detail is quite good. (For this review, I watched the Blu-ray first and then switched over to the DVD and the difference nearly knocked me down.) The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, and nicely detailed. The in-film music sounds nice. The bass effects are good and really drive home certain scenes. And while the surround sound effects are more prevalent here than on the DVD, they still aren't noteworthy -- this has more to do with the sound mix than with the quality of this track. Given the choice, go with the Blu-ray Disc for this release.

The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are the same as those on the 2-disc DVD.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long