Twilight Blu-ray review

Let the brooding, the staring and the brooding staring begin...

Based on the first of Stephenie Meyer's popular series of novels, Twilight was the surprise success story at the box office late last year. Produced for less than $40million, the film took more than four times that at US cinemas alone. Having never heard of the franchise before, I was even more surprised to discover that this wasn't just a US phenomenon, but that the books shared a similarly rabid fanbase here in the UK. So, when the Blu-ray review copy of Twilight arrived in the HCC office, I was intrigued enough to volunteer to review it. Frankly, I wish I hadn't bothered...

Kristen Stewart plays teenager Bella Swan, a stereotypical sullen outsider, who moves to the perpetually overcast small town of Forks, Washington, to live with her father. While seemingly doing her best to remain standoffish to everybody at her new school she becomes infatuated with a classmate called Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). It turns out he - and his adopted bothers and sisters - are all weirdo outsiders like Bella, and during class the pair of them brood and stare at each other for long periods of time.

Fangs for the memories
Eventually, after an interminable amount of brooding and staring, Bella learns why Edward is so weird - he's a vampire. But don't worry, he's a nice one, living in a house with other nice vampires that have sworn-off drinking human blood. They do have very nice hair though, plus special powers likes super-strength and super-speed. Oh yeah, they don't burst into flame in daylight either. Instead they sparkle. Like a cheap Christmas decoration.

Anyway, Edward introduces Bella to his 'family', but we barely get to learn anything about these thinly sketched characters beyond extremely simple character traits (one is a quirky psychic, one doesn't like Bella, another has only just given up human blood, etc.) so let's not bothering dwelling on them, and before you know it they are officially an item. Not that this enables them to get up to any hanky-panky, because the film has a clear subtext of abstinence running through it, only here it's expressed as the fact that Edward can't trust himself to get up to anything sexy without the possibility of biting Bella.

After more brooding and longing looks, Bella joins the Cullens for a game of vampire baseball. This is a lot like normal baseball, only because of their super-strength it has to be played during thunder storms and is full of bad special effects. At this point three other vampires turn up, one of whom really wants to have a bite of Bella. So, with only about half and hour of screen time left to go, a narrative finally starts. But of course, it's far too late by this time, and it turns out to be such a letdown that it's no more dramatically satisfying than any of the brooding and staring that went before.

Dawson's vampires
Here's the thing, Twilight isn't a film. It's like a really, really, really long episode of One Tree Hill with added vampires. And every moment of drama drained out of it. In a previous review of the Interview with the Vampire Blu-ray I admitted my disdain for the Anne Rice-inspired vampire as romantic hero. However, I'm not completely immune to the idea, so long as it is done well. For instance, I'm really looking forward to catching the new HBO series True Blood after hearing how good it is, and having read (and enjoyed) several of the Charlaine Harris novels that inspired it. But Twilight isn't good. It's a film completely lacking in dramatic momentum and genuine emotional involvement. I have no idea if this is representative of the books or not, but on screen it comes across as being every bit as fake in its depiction of teenage life as, say, Dawson's Creek or 90210. Just compare it to any episode of the superb Buffy the Vampire Slayer to see how this kind of thing can be done well.

The biggest shock though is the presence of Catherine Hardwicke behind the camera. In her debut feature Thirteen she showed a real understanding of the teenage mind and an ability to bring it out on screen in a refreshingly realistic manner. Twilight has none of that. It's pretty to look at, but beneath the surface it's completely shallow and empty.

Bad film, good transfer
The one upside of Hardwicke's involvement is the fact that she has a great eye, and at the very least Twilight often looks pretty special. The film opts for a predictable, but still effective desaturated palette that skews towards blues and greens. Thanks to the impressive AVC 2.35:1 encode, this survives the jump to Blu-ray perfectly. Despite the all of the playing around with colour-timing, black levels remain satisfyingly deep throughout and the crispness of the image ensures that fine detailing is very pleasing. And just when the dour palette begins to wear on you, a brief glimpse of the sun-drenched Arizona landscape in Chapter 13 reminds you how natural the imagery can look when it's not been so heavily tweaked in post-production.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the brooding and staring in the film (which must make up the bulk of the two-hour running time) is backed up by an Emo-friendly collection of tracks by the like of Muse and Paramore to hammer home the emotions that the cast themselves seem incapable of generating. But, surprisngly, for a film that puts so much store by its soundtrack, Twilight's audio is surprisingly unmemorable. Sure, the 24/48 DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is technically proficient, and the feature is replete with all the requisite swirling themes and aural motifs, but it's never particularly involving. Sequences like the baseball game with its LFE-enhanced bat-swipes and musical accompaniment (in the form of Muse's wonderful Supermassive Black Hole) add a little spice to the mix, but there's always something lacking. Which, again, serves to reinforce the idea that watching you're watching is a TV drama, not a feature film.

Tasty treats
Whatever its other flaws, the one area where this Blu-ray is bound to satisfy fans is with its generous helping of bonus features. Exclusive to this hi-def release is a feature called The Adventure Begins: The Journey from the Page to Screen. While the title makes it sounds like a bog-standard featurette about adapting the novel for the screen, it's actually a Profile 1.1 feature providing access to around 55mins of behind-the-scenes video content while watching the film. Rather thoughtfully, all of the picture-in-picture material can be viewed separately via the Special Features menu, meaning those without Profile 1.1 players won't have to miss out.

Carried across from the two-disc DVD release are a rather light and chatty audio commentary, The Comic-Con Phenomenon (7mins), four UK TV spots, UK Premiere Footage (9mins), the UK trailer (2mins), A Conversation with Stephenie Mayer (24mins), Music: The Heartbeat Behind Twilight (6mins), Becoming Edward (8mins), Becoming Bella (6mins), Catherine Hardwicke's Vampire Kiss Montage (3mins), Catherine Hardwicke's Bella's Lullaby Remix Music Video (4mins) and Edward's Piano Concert (3mins). The only real disappointment in this department is that, with the exception of the PIP content, none of the extras are presented in hi-def.

But no matter how impressive the hi-def imagery and weight of extra features this dual-layer Blu-ray platter serves up, at the end of the day the film they support just isn't worth the effort. Twilight is possibly the most toothless vampire film I've ever had the misfortune to see, and the knowledge that a series of sequels are already in the works fills me with far more dread than any of the film's laughable villains.

Contender Entertainment Group, Region B Blu-ray, £25, On sale April 6