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Taking a bite out of “Twilight”

Caitlin Ferraro | Monday, November 24, 2008

The fiction series “Twilight” has quickly become a literary and pop culture phenomenon. The first book of the franchise was only published in 2005, but Friday the film adaptation opened after much hype and fan frenzy.

The basic premise of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” is a love story between a normal but clumsy 17-year-old girl named Bella Swan and an impossibly beautiful vampire, Edward Cullen. But the series and the film contain more than just romance, with some action, adventure and horror.

Bella (Kristen Stewart, “Into the Wild”) relocates to gloomy and sunless Forks, Washington to live with her father Charlie (portrayed hilariously by Billy Burke). There she encounters her enigmatic biology partner Edward (Robert Pattinson, Cedric Diggory in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) whom she finds confusing yet intriguing. Edward warns Bella that it would be better for her to stay away from him because a part of him thirsts for her blood. But after she finally discovers his secret, the two seem to be inextricably linked.

The looming question was whether or not Meyer’s compelling tale could translate successfully onscreen in director Catherine Hardwicke’s (“Thirteen”) film. “Twilight” fans are a passionate group, and when relative unknown Robert Pattinson was cast as Edward, fans were furious. A flurry of angry outbursts littered message boards and sites across the Internet. But in time Pattinson was accepted, and many fans quickly became obsessed with the up-and-coming actor. Even his messy hair has been the focus of adoration.

In the end, Pattinson and Stewart are the best parts of the movie. Young actors Stewart and Pattinson deserve praise for managing to play the supernatural story with genuine romantic ardor. The circulating rumor that the two share incredible chemistry is true.

The rest of the story rests on convincing readers and viewers alike that the pair would do anything for each other. Both of their portrayals are terrific, and even when the movie gets a bit silly, they never do. Stewart brings a fresh blend of ferocity and feeling to the role. And while Pattinson has already attracted a swooning teen fan base, viewers buy the fantasy because he goes beyond good looks to create a character you believe in. However, it is possible that a viewer who did not read the book would struggle to understand the true intensity of their relationship.

Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (“Step Up”) attempts to stay faithful to Meyer, but book adaptations can often feel more like the Cliff Notes version. Any “Twilight” fan could pinpoint a myriad of their favorite scenes missing. Even in a two-hour movie, some characters feel as if they are only making cameos, especially Cam Gigandet’s James as a ferocious vampire who becomes obsessed with tracking and killing Bella.

The film succeeds when it focuses on Pattinson and Stewart. By portraying a love that is convulsive and ennobling they make viewers understand why the books sold millions of copies. Bella could be any heroine in love with a good boy who society misunderstands. “Twilight” revives the classic Hollywood principle that there is nothing more cinematic than a close-up of two beautiful people about to kiss.

The rest of the Cullen family also plays an important supporting role in the series, but they do not really get the opportunity to see much screen time. Carlisle and Esme are the adoptive parents of Edward and his adoptive siblings, Emmett, Rosalie, Jasper and Alice. This particular clan of vampires has chosen a “vegetarian” lifestyle in which they only hunt animals, not humans, as a source of sustenance. Viewers should look forward to their contributions in the sequels.

The budget for the film production of “Twilight” was a meager $37 million. Many wondered if that was enough to launch the film franchise, especially if the studio wanted to attract audiences who have never read Meyer’s works. “Twilight” is probably the most beloved book series to jump to the silver screen since “Harry Potter,” whose film debut costs totaled $125 million, a whopping number in comparison. While the smaller budget makes the film feel more intimate, it also leads to a few cheesy special effects. Edward’s shimmering appearance in the sunlight feels more like the screen simply got fuzzy, and the bit part of Edward flying Bella through the trees seems somewhat tacky.

Nonetheless, the film was a hit in its first weekend, making $70.6 million and topping the box office. This triggered the announcement that the first sequel, “New Moon,” will be made into film, most likely with a considerably larger budget. Luckily, all of the main actors signed on for at least two additional films.

“Twilight” fans should not be disappointed, since Pattinson and Stewart help Meyer’s gripping romance translate brilliantly onscreen.