Pop Culture

A beginner’s guide to ‘Twilight’

It’s a big deal, this “Twilight” stuff. Maybe you haven’t been paying attention. There was just a history-making presidential election, after all. And Rob Lowe’s house is on fire. And Beyonce just changed her name to Sasha Fierce. There’s a ton of stuff to keep up with. You can be forgiven for not knowing about “Twilight.” But let me fix that for you.

It’s this bookThe author’s name is Stephenie Meyer. She lives in Arizona. She went to Brigham Young University. Now she’s J.K. Rowling except less rich by about one billion dollars. For now.

“Twilight” is the first in a series of young adult novels about a teenage girl named Bella and her vampire boyfriend Edward. Bella is somewhat emo. OK, more than somewhat. She begins the first book as a too-smart, too-pale, too-clumsy girl from Arizona transplanted to extra-cloudy, extra-rainy, extra-gloomy Forks, Wash.

She meets a perfect guy named Edward. He’s blizzard-white and beautiful and perfect and gorgeous and aloof. They fall in love. Then some more stuff happens. (I’d love to spoil that stuff but the “Twilight” fans would have me killed if I spilled too much. No, seriously, killed to death. They’d send whoever shot Tupac my way and no one would ever find out who did it.)

This book and its sequels are kind of popularSomewhere in the neighborhood of almost 20 million copies have been sold and consumed and re-read and obsessed over and turned into fan Web sites (more on those in a second) and treated like life-instruction manuals. Which is awesome. Anything that gets kids reading.

Again, this is not “Harry Potter”-level saturation but “Twilighters,” as they are often known, are devoted people. Again, this is a good thing. Because, really, have you ever met a boring teenager? One that doesn’t do anything or read anything or seem to care or get excited about anything? I have. And those kids are a drag. Give me an obsessive any day of the week. At least they’ll have something to talk to you about.

Now it’s a movie you won’t be able to avoidIt stars Kristen Stewart (you remember her as Jodie Foster’s 11 year-old daughter in “Panic Room,” the one who used to look like Jodie Jr.) and Robert Pattinson, a guy you barely remember from, oddly enough, one of the “Harry Potter” movies.

From this point on Pattinson’s life is going to be Leonardo DiCaprio/Zac Efron weird. He already has an Internet-ty nickname: RPattz. And every lust-bursting Twilighter and a sizeable contingent of their mothers have decided that every tousled hair on his head is NOM-NOM-NOM-DELICIOUS.

That expression “OMG?” It’s been replaced by “OME,” as in “Oh, my Edward.” So good luck, man. Hope the house you buy with this money has a very tall gate and 24/7 security staff.

It’s not like ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’Main reason is because it’s not funny. Remember how witty and self-effacing “Buffy” was all the time? These books — and, if accounts of the serious young actors behaving super-seriously on the set are to be believed, the movie, too — are not that.

This story is about love and death and the urgency and drama of a first love that is way too amazing and special for anyone else to EVER — EVER! — understand. It’s also about death and and immortality and blinding perfection and sparkling dazzlement. Yes, sparkling. This guy literally sparkles. And dazzles.

At one point in the story, Edward even asks Bella if he dazzles her. As if he really needed her to answer that one. Guys are vain, though, ladies. That’s one of the story’s life lessons. You have to keep praising them.

It’s also not super hornyYou’d be forgiven for thinking that it was if you look at the movie’s poster where they’ve given Pattinson orange-glowy eyes. He looks like he’s about to do a really bad thing to her at some awful frat party. But remember the part about author Stephenie Meyer attending BYU? It matters, sort of.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Image: Dracula

    Fangs for the memories

    From the silent classic "Nosferatu" to the romantic chiller "Twilight," screen vampires seem to just keep coming back.

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    The Vampire Diaries

    Vampires are hard to kill, as everyone knows, and the current bumper crop of entertainment featuring the baleful bloodsuckers shows they're as popular today as when the silent shocker "Nosferatu" first gave filmgoers the willies back in 1922. The 2009 TV series "The Vampire Diaries" is based on the book series of the same name by L.J. Smith. In it two vampire brothers Stefan and Damon - one good, one evil - are at war for Elena Gilbert, a teenager who looks exactly like a woman both brothers loved more than a century ago. Who will win Elena's heart? And how safe are the residents of Mystic Falls?

    CW / CW
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    Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

    "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" (2009) is based on the popular fantasty-adventure book series by Darren Shan. The film tells the story of teenager Darren Shan played by Chris Massoglia, whose life changes after he stumbles upon a traveling freak show and gets turned into a bloodthirsty creature by a vampire named Larten Crepsley portrayed by John C. Reilly.

    Universal Pictures via AP / Universal Pictures via AP
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    Twilight

    "Twilight" (2008) is based on the young adult vampire-romance book series by Stephenie Meyer. The film tells the story of a teen, played by Kristen Stewart, whose heart is captured by a vampire, portrayed by Robert Pattinson. The two struggle to manage their forbidden love affair when a new vampire makes it his quest to hunt her down for her blood.

    Summit Entertainment / Summit Entertainment
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    True Blood

    "True Blood" is an HBO drama series based on the "Sookie Stackhouse" book series by Charlaine Harris. In it, vampires and humans co-exist in Bon Temps, a small Louisiana town. Anna Paquin plays Sookie, a telepathic waitress who falls in love with a vampire played by Stephen Moyer, shown here.

    HBO / HBO
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    Van Helsing

    Starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale, "Van Helsing" is based on the character Abraham Van Helsing from Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula." The 2004 film mashes together characters and plotlines from the film "The Wolf Man" and the novel "Frankenstein." In it, Van Helsing is a monster hunter who is sent to Transylvania to destroy Dracula.

    Universal Studios / Universal Studios
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    Underworld

    In the 2003 film "Underworld," a beautiful vampire warrior, played by Kate Beckinsale, is caught in a war between the vampire and werewolf races. She hates werewolves, but falls in love with a human who is bitten by a werewolf and becomes one of them.

    Sony / Sony
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    Blade

    Inspired by a Marvel Comics character, "Blade" (1998) is the story of a half-vampire, half-human superhero, played by Wesley Snipes, who battles Frost, a vampire who aims to enslave humanity. Two sequels, "Blade II" and "Blade: Trinity," were produced after the film's success.

    New Line Cinema via Everett Collection / New Line Cinema via Everett Collection
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    Buffy the Vampire Slayer

    The 1997-2003 TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was a cult hit spun off from a much less successful 1992 film of the same name. The show starred Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, a "slayer" who battles vampires and demons.

    20th Century Fox via Everett Collection / 20th Century Fox via Everett Collection
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    Interview with the Vampire

    With an all-star cast including Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and a young Kirsten Dunst, "Interview with the Vampire" was a box-office hit in 1994. Based on the 1976 novel by Anne Rice, it involves a vampire who tells his life's tale of love and loneliness.

    Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.
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    Bram Stoker's Dracula

    From Francis Ford Coppola, director of the "Godfather" films, "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992) follows the count from Transylvania to London to find a young woman who is the double of the love he lost centuries earlier. The film starred Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    The Lost Boys

    In the teen vampire horror/comedy flick "The Lost Boys" (1987), a group of teenage vampires attempts to recruit a new member, who doesn't know he's getting up to his neck in trouble. Among the stars are Jason Patric, Corey Haim and Kiefer Sutherland -- all in over-the-top 80s hairdos.

    Warner Bros. via Everett Collection / Warner Bros. via Everett Collection
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    The Hunger

    David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve portrayed undead lovers who fit quite well into New York City's goth scene in this highly stylized 1983 horror film. But they find that even vampires have romantic issues when Bowie's character begins aging while Deneuve's does not.

    MGM via Everett Collection / MGM via Everett Collection
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    Salem's Lot

    Stephen King's best-selling 1975 novel about a small Maine town that gradually becomes infested with vampires became a hit TV miniseries in 1979. It was adapted for television a second time in 2004.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Love at First Bite

    George Hamilton was a fading leading man known mainly for having dated LBJ's daughter Lynda Bird Johnson when he revivified his career with this 1979 comedy. In it, Dracula is exiled from Romania by the Communists, and winds up disco dancing in New York City.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Dracula (1979)

    Befitting the swinging '70s, Frank Langella gave the undead count a highly sensual interpretation, drawing critical acclaim but only modest box office. Laurence Olivier costarred as Dracula's archenemy, vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing.

    Universal Pictures / Universal Pictures
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    Blacula

    The heyday of "blaxploitation" films aimed at African-American audiences brought this 1972 horror film starring William Marshall as an African prince who was turned into a vampire by Dracula himself, then released from his coffin to wreak havoc in modern Los Angeles. Marshall reprised the role in the 1973 sequel "Scream Blacula Scream."

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Dark Shadows

    The gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows" became an overnight sensation six months into its five-year ABC run when a new character was introduced: vampire Barnabas Collins, played by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid. The show became a cult hit, and Frid continued to appear at fan conventions decades after the series ended in 1971.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Horror of Dracula

    In 1958, Britain's Hammer Film Productions revived the Dracula franchise with a graphic new version of Stoker's novel starring the imposing London-born actor Christopher Lee. The film was a hit, generating a series of sequels featuring Lee.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Dracula (1931)

    Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi played Dracula on Broadway before reprising the role in Tod Browning's iconic 1931 film, in which he uttered the immortal line, "I never drink ... wine."

    Getty Images / Getty Images
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    Nosferatu

    Screen vampires have thrilled and chilled as far back as "Nosferatu" F.W. Murnaus 1922 silent classic. The German film was the first adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula," but because it was unauthorized, the characters names were changed.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection

These vampires, Edward’s perfect family, are quite Osmond-y in their way. I wouldn’t go so far, as some critics have, as to call the novels Mormon tracts, but most authors tend to draw inspiration from their own lives, and the very un-vampiric way some of these characters behave is unusual to say the least.

Edward’s family may not sing and dance on their own variety show but they do play vampire baseball. That’s not me trying to be funny. They actually play vampire baseball. I know, isn’t that kind of rad? How often to you get to see vampires do that sort of thing?

Meanwhile, getting back to the horniness issue, Edward doesn’t want Bella to be transformed into a vampire either even though she wants to be transformed really badly. And that means sex. Is there one single person left on the planet that doesn’t get that yet? Because not counting The Count from “Sesame Street,” vampires have pretty much one item on their agenda: robbing you of your precious virginity. But this Edward is such a perfect vampire and loves Bella so much that he refuses to do “it.”

My favorite “Twilight”-related blog, the hilarious loves-it-and-hates-it-and-is-totally-obsessed-with-it “Cleoland,” at http://cleolinda.livejournal.com/ (note to readers: adult discussion and language sometimes exists on this particular blog, so don’t say you weren’t warned), puts it this way: “Yeah, it’s like, Bella wants to be a vampire but she doesn’t want to be a vampire before she’s had sex as a human, and Edward doesn’t want her to be a vampire but he wants to get married, but Bella doesn’t want to get married unless she can be a vampire, but Edward won’t have sex with her until they get married, and then you put the fox and the grain in the boat and you leave the goose back on the riverbank.”

It’s not just for teenage girls and their gay best friendsThe movie studio wants that lucrative hetero adolescent/young adult male audience to pony up the bucks, so it would appear that, based on the trailer, the action has been revved-up to appropriately super-hero-adjacent levels. Why not? They already play baseball. Why not zoom around like Iron Man too?

And speaking as someone who just watched “Quantum of Solace” and now wants to have his own personal speedboat chase with machine guns, I welcome that slight tweak. As for you parents, some of you have already caught on. The Web site http://www.twilightmoms.com/ is all the proof you need that media aimed at young people cross-pollinates and has the ability to turn adults into the Nelson fans they were back in 1990.

But don’t be embarrassed, “Twilight” moms, I can tell you pretty much everything about Manny from “Degrassi: The Next Generation” myself. It happens. Next stop: sequel mania. Brace yourself.

Dave White is the film critic for Movies.com and the author of “Exile in Guyville.” Find him at www.imdavewhite.com.

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