'Twilight:' A Cult Phenomenon

(from NBC Philadelphia)

By NATHAN LERNER

These bibliophiles are armed with antecedent knowledge of the storyline, courtesy of Stephenie Meyer's best-selling 2005 novel. It was the first of a tetralogy, which has been translated into 37 languages and collectively sold 25 million copies worldwide.

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Excited fan girls queued up for sold out Thursday midnight showings, generating a $7 million gross. Made on a modest budget of $37 million, Twilight swept into the number one box office spot for the weekend, playing on 6,000 screens and pulling in $70 million.

17-year old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is acclimated to her sun-drenched life in Phoenix. However, when her mother remarries a minor league baseball player, Bella moves in with her dad (Billie [sic] Burke), the police chief of provincial Forks, Washington. There, over her initial protestations, the reclusive Bella is welcomed into a clique, consisting of the editor of the school newspaper, his distaff reporter and another pair of upbeat classmates.

Bella and her newfound friends are lollygagging in the cafeteria, when the Cullen clan shows up in dramatic fashion. These five foster children of the town physician, Dr. Cullen (Peter Facinelli), all have topaz colored eyes and Kabuki-white complexions. They’re not biologically related (is this just some strange coincidence?).

Analogous to Bella’s group, they consist of two couples and an unattached fifth member, Edward (Robert Pattinson). The respective configurations seemingly portend a romance between Bella and Edward. After all, Bella is already our point of identification and the tall, handsome Edward is a dreamboat.

By happenstance, Bella is assigned to sit next to Edward in biology class. Alas, Bella triggers a reaction in Edward that is emetogenic (he appears to be struggling to choke back his vomit).

We subsequently learn that the Cullens are vampires. Edward’s physiological reaction to Bella was precipitated by his impulse to devour her. Something about Bella’s scent makes her irresistible to him, both as a repast and an object of adoration. Can Edward overcome his gustatory predilections and enable a romance to blossom between these star-crossed lovers?

Working from a screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, director Catherine Hardwicke seems like the ideal candidate to helm this vehicle. Hardwicke’s entire body of work, “Thirteen,” “Lords of Dogtown,” and “The Nativity Story,” all limn adolescence angst.

Here, she deftly takes the elements of Gothic vampire romance and superimposes them into the template of a post-modern coming of age film.

In the lead roles, Kristen Stewart (“Panic Room”, “Into the Wild”) and Robert Pattinson (Cedric Diggory in the “Harry Potter” series) are well cast. Both underplay their roles with laudable restraint.

Stewart nicely captures her character’s confusion over how to navigate her first relationship and the additional complications, arising from the fact that her prospective paramour is a vampire. Pattinson offers an appealing take on the leading man paradigm. He’s hunky, sensitive and perpetually struggling to sublimate his predatory instincts.

The cinematography by Elliot Davis turns the verdant fauna and the rainy weather of the Pacific Northwest into a full-fledged character. The visual text is well complemented by the atmospheric music by Cater Burwell along with an amalgam of classical and contemporary tunes. The editing by Nancy Richardson deals well with the narrative segues and enhances the pacing of the film.

Twilight has been carefully marketed to reach its tween girl audience. However, those outside the target demographic, who give this film a chance, will be pleasantly surprised by an enjoyable study of the intersection between alienation and romance.

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