A moody romantic drama with more than a touch of the supernatural brings to the big screen the first in a series of romance novels enjoyed by teenaged girls around the world. Alan Silverman has this look at Twilight.
Bella Swan and Edward Cullen feel an instant chemistry when they meet (appropriately enough) in their chemistry class at Forks High School in a rural corner of the American Pacific Northwest. Misty and rainy much of the year, the tiny town has the perfect climate for Edward and his 'family' who need to avoid sunlight. The Cullens are a clan of vampires who have learned to control their lust for blood in order to live in peace among mere mortals.
Bella is mortal, but the love she and Edward share transcends that fundamental difference even though every moment they spend together puts her life at risk.
Twilight is adapted from the 2005 novel by Stephenie Meyer that began as a series of four books which, translated into 20 languages, have sold more than 17 million copies worldwide and built a huge, mostly teenaged, fan base, which still amazes author Meyer.
"I don't know why people respond to these books," Meyer says. "I know why I do because I wrote it for me. It is exactly what I wanted to read so, of course, I'm really hooked on it. For other people …it's kind of bizarre, actually."
Meyer admits she is not especially fond of vampires, but with the success of the books and now the screen adaptation, she has a theory about the appeal.
"You look at the monsters we scare ourselves with and most of them are disgusting and gruesome and covered in nasty things and we just want to get away from them," she notes. "They are just there to scare us. Then we've got vampires who are often beautiful and eternally youthful and rich and cultured and they live in castles. There are so many things that are ideals in our culture that we want that they have. So there is this double-edged sword: they are going to kill us and they are terrifying and yet we may even want to be one."
Director Catherine Hardwicke, who has tapped into, perhaps, more realistic teenaged experiences in previous films including Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, believes Meyer's story reaches for something deep and romantic.
"I think when you read the book if you let yourself go with it you get into this tale of obsessive love that is almost intoxicating …almost like you are on a drug," Hardwicke says. "I thought that would be interesting to create that world of just falling so deeply in love with somebody and that connection; and then you have this razor's edge of tension. You cannot go too far. You can't get too passionate or you'll end up in a pool of blood, dead. So that is pretty cool. There are so many layers that work to draw you into her storytelling."
However, Kristen Stewart, who plays Bella, says it was hard to speak some of the dialogue that reeks of so much passion on the page.
"You read it in a book through a girl's personal perspective and it works because that is how she experienced it; but to see it in real life, physically walking and talking and moving around, it doesn't work," Stewart explains. "There were times when I thought 'is this so stupid? Am I making a total fool of myself?' But I had to go through that to get to where I needed to be."
"I like melodrama a lot and I don't think it's really done in the movies any more - these kind of operatic stories - and I really thought it was that," adds English actor Rob Pattinson, who co-stars as Edward. Pattinson says he knew his big challenge was to make a creature so often depicted as frightening into someone Bella - and the audience - can love.
"I was trying to humanize him as much as you can," he explains. "There is obviously the leap where you say, okay, if you get bitten by one of these guys then you live forever and you have all this kind of stuff; but I found once you know the fact of their existence it was quite easy to accept that and just say, okay, I have an unquenchable thirst for human blood and I never sleep and I'm going to live forever and I have super-strength and super-speed: how would I behave as a human from that point onwards? So I really didn't think about like playing a vampire. I just thought of the sum of its parts with the word 'vampire' on top. I didn't think about playing a vampire at all."
To the legion of fans who love the novel so much: Kristin Stewart hopes they will embrace this interpretation.
"I care about the book just as much as they do," Stewart says. "I felt such a responsibility to the story and for the character, separate from what anybody else felt about it, and that drove me to do what I did. You project yourself onto her. Every girl who reads it experiences it through her. While you are reading the book you 'are' Bella, so there is really nothing right or wrong that I could have done."
Twilight, with a screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, also introduces many of the characters that play important roles in the subsequent books. So the material is ready if the success of this first film launches a series of Twilight sequels.