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Romantic leads are allowed to be dull in movies when there's a lot going on-- Titanic, for example, when there's a sinking ship to escape, or any version of Romeo and Juliet, where pretty language covers for some generic feelings of passion. But Twilight does nothing but linger in its romance, spending whole scenes with its leads in a picturesque field, gazing at each other. And even though Edward is a vampire and Bella is a nut who loves him, they're no more than a pair of infatuated tweens.
I'm guessing this wasn't a problem in the book, where writer Stephenie Meyer could bring readers into Bella's head and truly feel her unbridled, supernatural passion for the brooding, well-coiffed Edward. But Kristen Stewart isn't up to the task, and substitutes nervous twitching and long gazes for something equating to true love. Robert Pattinson, newly the object of so much teenage desire, fares a little bit better, but that's mostly because his only job is to look stern, concerned, and occasionally happy. Though Edward and Bella say crazy, infatuated things to each other-- "Bella, you're my life now"-- instead of having sex, they feel more like prom dates than soul mates.
To her credit, director Catherine Hardwicke and her screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg have done a lot to make something cinematic out of an intentionally slow, meditative story. The first hour and a half are taken up by Bella's move to Forks, Washington, her awkward (and genuinely touching) relationship with her dad, and of course her attraction to Edward, who is at first unforgivably rude to her. She's even more intrigued when he saves her from a car accident, and yet it takes her a ridiculously long time to connect the dots and figure out that he's a vampire. Taught by his peace-loving family to drink only animal blood, Edward wants to keep his distance from Bella's oh-so-tempting blood-- but he's a teenage boy, after all, so he gives in.
So while too much of the story consists of Edward and Bella talking about their feelings, at least there's gorgeous scenery to go with it-- tall pines and snowy mountains, with the cheesy special effects of "fast vampire flying" only ruining things a little. The action, hugely hyped in the trailers, doesn't happen until the last 20 minutes, but it's at least dutifully teased throughout with occasional scenes of slaughter by the bad vampires (led by James, played by Cam Gigandet). And many of the smaller elements-- Bella's other friends at school, her relationship with faux-mystical Native American Jacob (Taylor Lautner)-- are endearing and authentic even when the central story is not.
As a romance, Twilight is just subpar-- a more celibate, moodier take on Dawson's Creek or 90210. As a vampire story, it's a disaster; all the fun stuff is taken out in favor of vampires who drink animal blood, go out during the daytime, and sparkle in direct sunlight. As a movie overall, it's mostly a wash. Fans of the book will undoubtedly be satisfied to see their favorite scenes played out, but the deeper elements-- the romance, the purpose of having a vampire there at all-- are lost on the rest of us.