Vampire tale seeks to take blockbuster bite

By David Germain

It’s not your typical teen soap.

LOS ANGELES — Girl-meets-boy stories are not the usual stuff of Hollywood blockbusters, even when it’s girl-meets-vampire.

Neither are stories created by women, with a predominantly female audience, shot on a bargain budget with a cast of relative unknowns and released by an independent distributor trying to establish a niche among Hollywood’s half-dozen studio behemoths.

Yet Summit Entertainment has good reason to believe “Twilight” will have more box-office bite than your typical teen soap about an awkward high school babe and her cool new mystery beau.

“Twilight” has a few stunts and clever visuals, but it’s far from the special-effects extravaganzas that dominate the movie business. It was shot for $37 million, a pittance compared with big studio movies that can cost four or five times more.

What “Twilight” does offer is epic star-crossed romance, melodrama, peril, an attractive young cast and an action-packed finale. But mostly, it has arguably the most passionate fan base of any literary adaptation since Harry Potter.

“It’s like a little bizarre, little perfect-storm phenomenon,” said “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke, who began working on the project less than two years ago and has since seen the books grow from earnest cult status to rabid international fan base. “I knew some people loved it, but I didn’t know it would get this kind of crazy buzz.”

“Twilight” tells the story of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), an introspective teen who moves from sunny Phoenix to cloudy Forks, Wash., to live with her divorced dad. At her new school, she is swept up in a supernatural romance with aloof Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), part of a family of eternally young vampires fighting their nature by refusing to feed off humans.

Danger looms: Bella and Edward must keep their passion in check so he won’t succumb to the desire to drink her blood. Meantime, he and his family are forced into action to protect Bella against a savage band of roving vampires.

The chief creative forces behind “Twilight” are women: director Hardwicke, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (“Step Up,” TV’s “Dexter”) and author Stephenie Meyer, whose four books in the “Twilight” series have sold 18 million copies.

Schoolgirls were the first in the “Twilight” fold, drawn in by the all-consuming obsessiveness of Bella and Edward’s forbidden love. “Twilight” reads like a confessional, a young girl’s diary loaded with compulsive detail and teen angst.

Inspired by a dream she had about a “normal girl and a beautiful vampire that was in love with her and wanted to kill her,” Meyer said she created the story for an audience of one.

“No one was going to read it except for me. That’s probably why it comes across as so intimate,” Meyer said.

Things happened fast once she decided to publish “Twilight.” Even before the book came out, Hollywood came calling.

An early version of the script turned the intimate story into a standard action movie, with Bella transformed from solitary teen to an outgoing track star who ends up “strapping on a gun and night vision goggles to go vampire hunting,” Meyer said.

Summit Entertainment, a production outfit that had just expanded to film distribution, took over the project after it was shelved by MTV Films. Hardwicke, who made the acclaimed teen drama “thirteen,” came aboard to direct, and the gun-toting Bella was scrapped in favor of a faithful adaptation of Meyer’s novel.

Since then, the project has taken a seemingly charmed course. Sales of the books surged. The audience broadened from girls to include older women. And another teenager, Harry Potter, graciously moved out of Bella’s way.

In late summer, Warner Bros. decided to bump “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” from Nov. 21 to next July. Summit then moved “Twilight” from its Dec. 12 release to Nov. 21, grabbing a prime date just before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest weekends of the year at movie theaters.

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