DVD Picks

CorrespondentApril 10, 2009 

Here's a theory: The degree to which you will enjoy the teen vampire romance " Twilight" is entirely dependent on how many years currently exist between you and the age of 17. I'll bet some enterprising math teacher out there could create an exact calculus for this.

Based on the popular series of books by author Stephenie Meyer, "Twilight" has developed into something of a cultural phenomenon and is the best-selling DVD of the year so far. Its story of forbidden teenage love and romantic vampirism is finely calibrated to appeal to the young adult market. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The film tells the story of Bella (Kristen Stewart), 17-year-old newcomer to the small Pacific Northwest town of Forks. She has come from Arizona to live with her dad, and much attention is drawn to the fact that Forks has very little sun relative to Phoenix. As you might imagine, this will become relevant later. Bella falls in love, hard, for the mysterious and aloof Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who keeps to his own high school clique -- a gang of pale, fashionable sorts who look more like confused European models who accidentally got off the plane at Sea-Tac.

Anyway, on the slim chance you're not already familiar with happens next, we'll leave off with the details. Bella makes several discoveries -- some pleasant, others less so -- and the film plays out as muted romantic thriller, with a focus on the teen couple's imperiled union. It's all quite beautiful to look at. Director Catherine Hardwicke makes the most out of those spooky Pacific Northwest forests, and Stewart and Pattinson are professionally dreamy-looking, in the manner of young Hollywood types everywhere.

I'm told the teenage girls simply swoon at all this, and I can see that. Tragedy! Romance! Drama! Vampires! What's not to like? "Twilight" is entirely appropriate for the 12-and-up crowd -- there's nothing here they haven't already seen -- and not a bad family rental choice. Parents can busy themselves decoding all the teen sex subtext and wondering how these logging town kids can afford those cars.

Horror fans expecting a vampire freakout will be seriously disappointed, however. The special effects are curiously subpar, and, aside from an interesting Native American angle, there's no fresh meat here in terms of updating vampire mythology. Studious scary movie types might pick " Vampire Secrets" instead, a strategically reissued documentary from the History Channel.

"Vampire Secrets" explores the history and folklore of the vampire across the globe, from ancient China through Eastern Europe all the way through to modern underground vampire culture. (That is to say, pretend vampires -- we hope.) Everything is cleanly delivered in History Channel style -- interviews with academics and fuzzy historical re-enactments.

I don't know, I'm a sucker for this kind of pop scholarship and got a lot more out of "Vampire Secrets" than I did "Twilight." Then again, I'm not a 17-year-old goth girl. Except in chat rooms, of course, and certain specialty nightclubs. Hey, I have my hobbies.

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