The U.S. is about to become one big Twilight zone.
That is, if it isn't already. With more than 8.5 million copies sold in this country - and 17 million worldwide - Stephenie Meyer's four-volume tale of vampire love among the high-school set is already a bona fide cultural force, especially among the young girls who hang on its every word. But tonight, with the midnight premiere in select theaters of Twilight, based on the first book of the series, the mania may really go big time.
"It's just a big mixture of all this drama and romance," said 12-year-old Leia Cunningham, a student at Hereford Middle School who was one of about 50 teen and preteen girls attending a movie prerelease party Saturday at Borders Books in Timonium. "I can't wait to see how the movie turns out."
She's not alone. As the week began, Twilight was in 20th place on MovieTickets.com's all-time pre-sale list, with nearly 400 U.S. screenings sold out. By midday Tuesday, that number had climbed to more than 600. The movie's stars, 22-year-old Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen and 18-year-old Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan, made the cover of Entertainment Weekly - and caused quite the stir among some fans of the book, who felt Pattinson's cadaverous visage didn't jibe with their sexy image of vampire lust-object Edward. Personal appearances by the pair have brought thousands of adoring fans to bookstores and malls nationwide.
Oh yes, the fans. They're a passionate bunch who have certainly not hesitated in making their feelings known. At Borders last week, they debated whether Bella's mother should appear in the film ("They should show, like, one scene with her"), whether it will rain as much in the movie as it does in the book ("I think it'll just be cloudier"), whether the vampires will fly or not ("They can't fly! They jump really high!").
And they have endlessly debated over the people making the film, whether Pattinson is handsome enough to play Edward, whether actress Nikki Reed (Thirteen) has the looks to play the astoundingly beautiful Rosalie Hale, whether director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, The Nativity Story) is the right person to entrust with the vitally important decisions involved in visualizing the Twilight phenomenon.
"She was perfect for this movie, because all the emotions in it are very basic and could be made incredibly trite and ineffective, but she understood them," Stewart said in an interview last week, just hours before facing hundreds of star-struck fans at a Northern Virginia shopping mall. "She has a sort of childlike wisdom about her. She said, let's cut through all the overanalysis and get back to solid ground. When you're opening up very fundamental ideas, you can be self-conscious, and you can feel they're wrong or trite. She knew you should express these ideas simply."
At the Borders party, the crowd - almost entirely teen and preteen girls, with just a few women and accepting fathers mixed in - seemed willing to give Hardwicke and her cast the benefit of the doubt. As they challenged each other on Twilight trivia and played a game of charades where they had to act out characters from the book (imagine a 12-year-old girl trying to act like a werewolf), excitement was running high. Most, thanks to hard work and the acquiescence of their indulgent parents, planned to catch the midnight screenings tonight.
"We can relate to the books as high-schoolers, or almost high-schoolers," said 11-year-old Ana Pieszah, a student at Ridgely Middle School. "It's really awesome; everything about it, really, it's awesome."
"She's addicted," her friend Lauren Thomas, also 11, said with a sigh.
And just so you don't think it's the kids who can't get enough ...
"I started reading the book early in the summer and took it on vacation," said Megan Cullen, an employee at Borders. "I never put it down. It's like a whole different world that you're in."
Plus, she added, getting more to the point, "You just totally fall in love with Edward."
Baltimore Sun movie critic Michael Sragow contributed to this article.
if you go
Midnight screenings of Twilight are scheduled tonight at area theaters, including: Muvico Egyptian 24, AMC Columbia 14, Regal Hunt Valley Mall Stadium 12, AMC Owings Mills 17 and AMC Loews White Marsh 16. Read a review in tomorrow's You & the Movies.