Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in 'Twilight'

Remarkably faithful to the spirit of its source material, the film version of Twilight crams most of the key episodes from Stephenie Meyer's novel into its breathless, 122-minute running time. Under the direction of Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen), Twilight gallops along handsomely, showcasing the cloudy, misty beauty of its gorgeous Pacific Northwest forest locations; you can practically smell the pine trees and feel the crunch of fallen leaves beneath your feet. Using voice-over narration sparingly, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg trots out all the major (and most of the minor) characters from the book, recounting the story in abbreviated fashion while demonstrating respect for Meyer's novel and its huge, faithful audience.

Twilight may not add up to much more than the sum of its parts, but those parts can be mighty entertaining, especially when handsome Edward (Robert Pattinson, oozing uncertain charm) is whooshing through the woods with plucky Bella (Kristen Stewart, self-assured and determined) on his back. Still, the romance at the heart of the book has been shorn of some of its heart in the translation to the big screen, sacrificed on the altar of a broader demographic. Readers of the book could feel somewhat shortchanged by the relentless emphasis on forward momentum rather than romantic fantasy; the flip side is that newcomers can enjoy the whirlwind pace and the brooding, ominous atmosphere, and everyone can revel in the spectacle of flying vampires playing a pinball version of sandlot baseball.

Weighing in at nearly 500 pages in paperback, Stephenie Meyer's debut novel would appear to defy easy translation to the big screen, especially since it's told entirely from the perspective of its 17-year-old heroine, Bella Swan. As legions of readers can testify, however, the setup is quite simple. Bella decides to move from her mother's home in sunny, suburban Phoenix, Arizona to her father's place in the tiny, rainy town of Forks, Washington. Bella was born and spent her younger summers there, yet hated everything about it; she makes the self-sacrificing move to give her recently remarried mother the chance to travel with her baseball-playing new husband. Bella hates the rain and the cold in Forks, but finds that she gets along fine with her father Charlie (Billy Burke), who is just as inexpressive and taciturn as she is.

Bella's always felt like an outsider, which is one of the reasons why she's initially fascinated by a strangely beautiful high school classmate named Edward Cullen. Edward and his fellow teenage Cullens, all adopted by a kindly doctor and his wife, stick closely together while appearing to be the ultimate outsiders to everyone else at the small school. A series of events draw Bella and Edward inexorably if reluctantly together, and over a period of months their attraction develops into a romance, made dangerous by Bella's dawning realization that Edward and his family are vampires.

Meyer spends a considerable portion of those pages describing in detail the relationship, which blooms quickly before facing a long series of obstacles meant to keep them apart. When they spend time together, it's often in awkward, belabored, teasing conversation; Edward doesn't want to spill the beans about his true nature, while Bella persistently tries to get him to open up. At the same time, Bella can't quite believe Edward is really interested in her. She's convinced she's ordinary and he's perfect, even though she has to fend off three other potential suitors and Edward is more a subject of rumor than an object of desire at school.

Those stolen moments and langorous, probing sessions are condensed into just a few sequences in the movie, which makes the romance feel more hormone-driven. There's even an added scene in which Edward visits Bella in her bedroom for a late-night session, which is more overtly sexual than anything I can remember from the very chaste and proper novel.

Of course, any adaption of a book for a feature-length movie requires changes. Here we have scenes combined (Edward's background, teased out over many pages, is summed up by him in a couple of lengthy expositions) and rearranged (Jacob and Billy Black are introduced far earlier), things that added character depth but didn't move the narrative forward are dropped (Bella's cooking for her father, Mike's puppy dog affection for Bella, Eric and Tyler as pursuers of Bella) and the invention of still others (the extended "activity" at the ballet studio, the last bit before the credits roll).

To my mind, though, most of the changes, jettisoned in favor of a leaner pace and a tighter focus on Bella and Edward, are acceptable compromises, making for a better viewing experience. Carter Burwell's percussive musical score really helps, bolstering the ominous atmosphere created by Hardwicke, director of photography Elliott Davis, art directors Christopher Brown and Ian Phillips, and editor Nancy Richardson.

There are several glaring, embarrassing miscalculations to be acknowledged, however. Who decided on the the powdery white make-up dumped upon the face of Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli)? It practically screams out "vampire!" The same could be said of the younger Cullens appearance in school. In the book, Bella first sees them sitting by themselves in the school cafeteria. Here, their entrance is staged like a fashion show, complete with slow-motion to allow for Jessica (Anna Kendrick) to describe each member of the group. Awkward, to put it kindly. And why is Jasper Hale (Jackson Rathbone) all bug-eyed with such a freakish expression on his face? He looks like Edward Scissorhands' cousin.

Vampire purists may shudder, and the male population in general may grimace, but, despite the missteps, Twilight succeeds as an action-oriented modern-day fairy tale with a strong romantic appeal.



Twilight' Photos

    EXCLUSIVE: Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen

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    EXCLUSIVE: Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen

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    The cast of 'Twilight'

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    Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen

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    Cam Gigandet as James, Edi Gathegi as Laurent and Rachelle Lefevre as Victoria

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    Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen

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    Nikki Reed as Rosalie Hale

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    Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen and Cam Gigandet as James

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    Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen

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    Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen

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