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Originally published November 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 16, 2008 at 7:05 PM

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"Twilight" movie targets teen and 'tween girls

"Twilight," the movie based on Stephenie Meyer's best-selling vampire books, aims to catch the fancy of young, female moviegoers — the same demographic that helped "Titanic" break box-office records.

Seattle Times movie critic

Coming up

"Twilight"

Opens late Thursday at several theaters. For Moira Macdonald's review and showtimes, go to www.seattletimes.com/movies on Thursday or pick up a copy of MovieTimes on Friday.

Call it the "Titanic" effect. Almost 11 years ago, the big-boat movie set box-office records due to — conventional wisdom had it — the repeat-viewing habits of countless teenage girls. Now "Twilight," based on Stephenie Meyer's novel and opening in multiple theaters at midnight Thursday, hopes to appeal to precisely that audience: the same girls who've devoured the novel with the avidity of ... well, a thirsty vampire.

The novel, published in 2005, quickly became a phenomenon. Set in Forks, Wash. (now the site of numerous "Twilight" pilgrimages), it's the story of Bella Swan, a smart yet quick-to-blush teenager who falls for her mysterious, brooding classmate Edward, a fellow who speaks "in the gentle cadences of an earlier century" and is so handsome he's described as a "godlike creature."

But the course of teenage love never does run smooth, and poor Bella soon learns that Edward (with his "liquid topaz eyes") is no regular high-school Lothario, but an ancient vampire who's trained himself to abstain from human blood.

Though he's drawn to Bella, both as protector (she's somewhat disaster-prone) and love object, their relationship has delicate boundaries: If he gets too close, his willpower might evaporate — and the bitten Bella would then become a vampire herself. (Those who find an abstinence metaphor for teen sex here — well, Meyer probably wouldn't argue.)

Written with bodice-ripping style, "Twilight" maintains tension throughout its 500 pages — which can basically be boiled down to, "Will he bite?" It was quickly followed by three sequels ("New Moon," "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn"), with the four-book series selling, according to Publisher's Weekly, more than 13 million copies in the U.S. as of last month.

And those numbers should climb with the arrival of the movie, an event heralded by countless "Twilight" blogs and breathless-yet-noisy anticipation. An early clip from the film screened at Comic-Con in San Diego this past summer drew huge crowds (mostly teenage girls, say reports) and enough Beatlemania-style squealing to nearly drown out the movie.

Just last week, a crowd of about 3,000 (again, mostly teenage girls) showed up in San Francisco for an event featuring "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward — when only a few hundred were expected. A riot broke out when the event was canceled, with one girl reportedly breaking her nose in the crush.

So, why are the girls so worked up about "Twilight" — even girls who aren't yet in their teens? (My first exposure to the book came early this year, when my visiting 11-year-old niece plucked it off a bookstore shelf and told me all her friends were reading it.)

Because Meyer, despite her occasional penchant for purple prose, vividly creates a world of gothic, edge-of-danger romance, the kind in which bookish girls have long loved to lose themselves on rainy afternoons. Meyer has said that Edward's name came from Mr. Rochester in Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" and Mr. Ferrars in "Sense & Sensibility." "Jane Eyre," especially, can be seen as an inspiration for "Twilight": the innocent young woman, newly arrived in a strange place and falling in love with a vaguely sinister man.

For the movie, it would appear that the "Titanic" audience is already in place: According to a Movietickets.com poll of about 2,000 moviegoers, 3 out of 4 females said they planned to attend "Twilight" on its opening weekend, as well as 77 percent of those polled who were under 25. (Only 47 percent of males said they planned to attend opening weekend.) No one's expecting "Twilight" to pull "Titanic"-sized numbers, though: The 1997 film remains the all-time box-office champ, and recent films aimed specifically at teenage girls (such as the "Traveling Pants" movies) have drawn only modest audiences.

But if the film, directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen") and adapted by Melissa Rosenberg, catches enough of Meyer's brooding romance and breathless suspense (particularly in the book's final third, when Bella must frantically race from a new and terrifying enemy), there just might be long lines at the multiplexes for a while. Because preteen and teenage girls — and, at times, their grown-up counterparts — like to revisit favorite stories, over and over again.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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