It probably only serves to prove that I’m not that young anymore, that I only first heard of the Twilight juggernaut through the Arts section of The New York Times. Since I consider myself more than a little interested in pop culture, I was thus a little surprised (possibly even slightly ashamed) that I had not registered the vampire craze until the Times told me that among youngsters this supposedly is the biggest happening since the Harry Potter phenomenon. The article also told me that Twilight’s leads, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart were now on the verge of becoming global household names, and that pretty soon the world of teen hysteria would revolve around them.
Since I don’t possess much power as an opinion maker myself, I’ve always been left with following trends and not creating them. Not wanting to be left entirely out of the current pop culture conversation, and (I have to admit) mildly intrigued by the somewhat broody good-looks of Pattinson, I then followed the masses into the dark. What I saw there was stupid and poorly acted, yet at the same time visually gorgeous and surprisingly entertaining.
I decided to write this piece before I had even seen the movie, because it wasn’t necessarily supposed to revolve around Twilight. Rather, I thought I was simply going ask what all the Robert Pattinson fuss was about, arguing that he is not that hot, and then sing an ode to Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, who in a recent interview with The Daily Beast proved that intellectual heft can be just as sexy. We’ll still be getting to all that in a moment, but after I actually saw Twilight the direction of this piece changed slightly, simply because I have to admit that Pattinson actually is quite attractive. His character Edward, a vampire, serves him well, as his mysterious and slightly introverted personality don’t constantly force Pattinson to expose his obvious weaknesses as an actor, and therefore much comes down to whether or not we believe that Edward is someone Bella (Stewart) could fall for. For the long stretches in which his principal task is to stroll around telling vampire jokes or just looking great that’s no problem. The problem only starts when he (and Stewart) are supposed to carry the story themselves. It’s perhaps only fitting that a vampire seems a little bloodless, but Pattinson’s wooden performance under emotional pressure combined with an at times painstakingly pompous script (‘You’re like my own personal brand of heroin‘, ‘ And so the lion fell love with the lamb’ etc), threatens to sink the movie.
Establishing it’s universe is always a challenge for movies like this, as it tends to draw the pace down. Hence, the first forty-five minutes of Twilight is dedicated to laying out hints about what makes the Cullen family so different, and also laying the groundwork for a severely under-developed story about an age old conflict involving Native Americans. Luckily, the movie picks up steam from then on, leaving the love story for a more action-packed and exciting round of blood-chasing, complete with an implicit discussion of the power of love and what it really means to be a vampire. Here, director Katherine Hardwicke finally understands that the material is at its best when its not over-explained; beautifully visualized, the cat and mouse game between the Cullen family and the rivaling vampire clan shows that Twilight is best understood and best served as a basic teen action spectacle, and not a melodramatic coming-of-age story about people with sharp teeth.
This also allows me as a viewer to devour some of the other simple pleasures of Twilight, like Jackson Rathbone, Justin Chon and Taylor Lautner without having to pay to much attention to how badly drawn their characters are. I was drawn to them anyway.
But if one young actor famous for playing roles about people with extraordinary powers ever were to actually conquer the world, I’d hope it’s Daniel Radcliffe, not Robert Pattinson. The British Harry Potter star, whose praise I’ve sung previously in this space, obviously knows more than simply how to look good. In a January interview with former New Yorker and Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown’s increasingly indispensable Daily Beast website, the young Brit showed that what’s between his ears can be just as interesting as what’s underneath his clothes. His discussion of who’s the sexier of him and Pattinson was what gave me the main idea for this piece, and I’m also glad to see that he has a relaxed yet comfortable relationship with his gay fan base. What really made me love him however, was the political views he expressed. It probably would have been enough for him to show that he had at least thought a little about contemporary British politics, but his scathing characterizations of Boris Johnson (long story short, he’s the schoolyard bully turned Conservative Mayor of London) and New Labour (suffice to say, it’s not really Labour), had me smiling from ear to ear. Let’s recap: He’s an experienced, gay-friedly wizard, socalizing with Robert Pattinson while critizing New Labour for being insufficently leftist!
Potter for Prime Minister, anyone?