Friday, November 21, 2008

Her prom date was a vampire

It's time to stop and wonder why vampires -- never entirely out of vogue -- are again resurgent. At the movies, we've had the chilly Swedish import, "Let the Right One In." 0n television, HBO's "True Blood" is about to conclude its first season. The film and the TV series, though entirely different in tone, share one similarity: They place vampires in the midst of ordinary life. The same goes for "Twilight," the big-screen adaptation of a wildly popular novel by Stephanie Meyer. In a time when terrorists have lived among us, why not vampires? It's almost as if we're bringing danger close to us, perhaps in hopes of detoxifying its power.

Not surprisingly, we're also seeing some ambivalence about our fanged neighbors: Some are evil; others are trying to adapt to a human world that's largely inhospitable to their blood-sucking ways. The vampire family in "Twilight," for example, preys only on animals and seeks a degree of acceptance in a small town in Washington. Aside from their pallid complexions and standoffish ways, they're not so different from other folks. No one is supposed to know that they're vampires.

The appeal of "Twilight," which has been reasonably well directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("The Nativity Story," "Lords of Dogtown," and "Thirteen") hinges on a teen romance built around internal conflict. Seventeen-year-old vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) fears for what he might do to the human with whom he's fallen deeply in love, a headstrong high-school classmate named Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). Bella -- a potential victim of vampires -- persists in her association with them; Edward, a potentially dangerous predator, tries to resist his worst impulses.

Bella recently moved to the Washington town of Forks because her mother is traveling with a new husband. Bella has taken up residence with her dad (Billy Burke), the local sheriff. The mixture of teen genre issues, vampire lore and overcast Washington gloom proves eerily effective, and the special effects -- vampires moving at amazing speeds or leaping to the top of tall trees -- are acceptable without being overly impressive.

Hardwicke carries the story toward an action-oriented ending that pits the Cullen family of vampires against a trio of traveling vampires who are unwilling to curb their appetites. A vampire baseball game (don't ask) feels a bit Harry Potterish, and there's a definite juvenile quality to material that seems aimed primarily at teenage girls. That may limit the audience, but "Twilight" qualifies as a moody, featherweight entry into a new world where humans sometimes are more to vampires than the source of the next meal.

Look for a big opening weekend. A publicist at a preview screening told me that at 1:30 p.m., some 75 people already had begun lining up for a 7 p.m. show. Such is the power of a book that makes teen hearts race.

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