WHAT DO car wrecks and the latest pop culture vampire addition Twilight have in common? Survive either one and you’ll end up with one question floating in your head: “Could this have been avoided?”

It’s not like it had to be so bad. Since Stoker’s Dracula, vampires have held a solid place in place in the pop-culture pantheon of easily recyclable genres and whether it was an interview with Brad Pitt, the latest entrée from Anne Rice, or just Kate Beckinsale in leather—vampires earned their place as the misunderstood but oh so sexy evil beings envied by the day-walking masses. Stephenie Meyer’s unholy wedding of underage harlequin romance novels and epic vampire tales resulted in the inevitable; books flying off the shelves, Hollywood execs salivated, and my vampire-struck sister dragging me to the theater.

Let’s skip the vague artistic intro—it intones something about self-sacrifice while deer run through the choppily edited woods—and get right into the cookie-cutter plot. Teenage girl Bella (Kristen Stewart) is forced to go live with her father while her mother follows the new boyfriend’s minor league baseball dreams on the road. Father lives in grey and spooky small town in Washington, and gives his daughter a rusted truck to drive to school. Stereotypical racially diverse cool kids make fun of Bella’s “ride” and then abruptly decide that she’s all that. Cut to lunchtime and cue the entrance of the Cullen family where icy arctic colors are apparently the new fashion trend for the up and coming vampire model about town. Then, with the entrance of Bella’s romantic counterpart Edward (Robert Pattinson), the viewer is introduced to Twilight’s distinctive artistic motif: eye angst.

Eternal life apparently can’t teach you social interaction. Edward’s and Bella’s first exchange consists entirely of tortured stares and groans, causing the audience to question Edward’s meal selection and the possibility of an ill-placed kidney stone. The audience soon discovers that it isn’t Edward’s digestion that’s causing the pain but rather his internal struggle over his future digestive choices—specifically, whether or not to drink Bella’s precious and aromatic bodily fluids.

Edward’s choice provides a divergent understanding for the film’s greatest strength and most fundamental weakness. While Twilight offers a surprisingly refreshing praise of self-control and an emphasis upon family (the original author is Mormon), the film is also plagued by internal inconsistencies, a serious lack of any real character development and two-dimensional acting.

Perhaps unintentionally, Twilight actually provides a compelling look at the love shown in the families of the two tragic lovers. One may be a well-dressed vampiric amalgamation bound by dietary choices and the other broken by divorce, but all parents involved exhibit a genuine love for their children and willingness for self-sacrifice. And whether in the Cullen family’s decision to abstain from the staple of vampire cuisine or Edward’s realization that his physical relationship with Bella must be kept at a minimum, self-control is a necessary and vital value in the life of the individual.

But, like many movies with chaste themes, Twilight‘s story needs viewers to possess superhuman abilities to transcend their own intelligence. Start with the confusing understanding of what exactly a vampire is. Edward doesn’t pull a Wicked Witch of the West in the sun; he maintains enough aspects of classic vampirism that Bella can diagnose his condition with a quick Google search. Characters develop in Twilight with a lurching rapidity that shifts from introductions to eternal love pledges after a cascade of eye glances. Acting can fill the gap that words forgot, but Pattinson and Stewart seem better suited for an O.C.-like sitcom, their delivery that hearkening back to Hayden Christiansen/Natalie Portman’s far far away romance that, in its most intense moments, was mostly comical.

A little laughter wouldn’t have hurt the story though, as Twilight suffers from a sense of seriousness that precludes the obvious and potentially enjoyable jokes from living the life of a walking undead. To this laundry list of liabilities, add special effects ripped straight from the WB, highlighted by an incredible running sequence destined for the future reincarnations of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Ultimately, Twilight takes concept rich with storytelling history and tradition and reduces it to a thin morality tale, that after two hours, is like butter over too much bread. Or if you prefer a modern analogy, it’s a composition of six twenty-minute sitcom segments, strung together without the refreshing pauses of commercial breaks.

Nathan Martin is Patrol’s Washington, D.C. music editor and an intern for the Washington Post Express.

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Nathan Martin

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