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The Twilight Phenomenon

September 12, 2009

More than one hundred fans squeal, flash their cameras and jump up and down as they stand in line. Many members of the primarily teenaged female crowd wear t-shirts proclaiming their devotion. A few are dressed in elaborate prom-style costumes.

“I’m shaking I’m so excited,” said 15-year-old Alice Mutter. Her home-decorated shirt reads “Team Edward” on the front and “Because I like my men cold, dead and sparkling” on the back.

Mutter and her friends are waiting to see the highly anticipated “Twilight” movie premiere Friday at Fenway Regal Theater. Mutter shows off the autographs and photos she took of Kellan Lutz and Edi Gathegi, two actors with minor roles in “Twilight” who are at the theater to introduce the movie.

When the theater doors open, a high-pitched scream erupts, and the girls and the rest of the crowd take off running to claim their seats.

The film, based off of Stephanie Meyer’s novel “Twilight,” is about a teenage girl, Bella, and her romance with a vampire, Edward. The hysteria surrounding Meyer’s now four-part book series has turned “Twilight” into a full-fledged pop culture phenomenon.

The “Twilight” hype stems beyond the books and movie release and includes a soundtrack, merchandise, fan websites and even an Amazon.com “Twilight store,” almost all of which is intended to appeal to the ever-profitable 12 to 16 age demographic.

Teen and “tween” audiences drive the market, said Rachael Swain, Boston University Film and Television Department Administrator.

“Any product that appeals to them will be successful,” said Swain. “They tell their parents what to buy and determine the success of many TV shows and movies.”

“Twilight” is especially successful in today’s market because it appeals to viewers for its fantastical elements.

“The majority of entertainment is reality based,” said Swain. “Fantasy, like in ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Twilight,’ provides an escape from the real world.”

Advertising, not content, fuels Hollywood today, according to Swain, so executives decide to make movies that they know will make money. “Twilight,” an already successful book series with an established and enthusiastic fan base, was an almost-guaranteed successful pick for Summit Entertainment, said Swain.

The studio has already purchased the rights to “New Moon” and “Eclipse,” the second and third books in the “Twilight” series, said a Nov. 16 New York Times article.

Box office analysts predict that the movie’s opening weekend could bring in up to $60 million in ticket sales, according to a Nov. 20 New York Times article.

Leigh Hallisey, a pop culture blogger and marketing/creative strategist, credits Meyer’s storyline as the reason behind Twilight’s overall success.

“I think you have a tried and true formula – young forbidden love – with timeless themes – love overcoming obstacles, life and death – but with the twist that removes some of the restraints of previous Vampire love stories,” said Hallisey.

In the story, Edward and his family live as regular humans, except they are immortal and strikingly beautiful. Despite their natural vampire tendencies, they do not drink human blood and instead rely on that of animals. Edward and Bella fall irrevocably in love despite their differences – still, Edward must try to resist his urges in order to save the one he loves.

“The storyline resonates with a group of young, romantic, passionate people who are connected 24/7 in multiple ways – blogs, websites, texting, twittering – that help propel the phenomenon forward and feed the frenzy,” said Hallisey.

In spite of the story’s fantastical elements – vampires, immortality and mind-reading to name a few – readers maintain that they can relate to “Twilight.”

“The emotional problems that the characters have are real,” said 23-year-old Jamie Brawer, a self-proclaimed “obsessed” fan of the series. “They could happen to you.”

Brawer believes that the series, though originally intended for teenagers, is relatable to adults too. Brawer’s 30-year-old sister, for example, began reading the “Twilight” books because she “needed a new fix now that ‘Harry Potter’ was over.”

The authors of “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” connect with readers in a way that other authors cannot, said Brawer.

“I read ‘Harry Potter’ for adventure and ‘Twilight’ for emotion,” Brawer said. “They’re both very fast reads, but they’re still good writing.”

Brawer flew to Los Angeles for MTV’s special “Twilight” spoilers show on Nov. 7. There she met several of the film’s stars, including Kristen Stewart (Bella), Robert Pattinson (Edward) and director Catherine Hardwicke (of “Lords of Dogtown” and “Thirteen”).

“I’m not sick obsessed, not psychotic [about “Twilight”],” said Brawer, a College of Communication graduate student. “I just feel like if you really want to get involved with something you can. You only have one time in your life to do something like that.”

The movie and book will not be identical, according to Brawer. Due to budget constraints, the filmmakers were unable to include every scene from the novel in the film.

“I’m a little skeptical,” said Brawer who planned to see the midnight release of “Twilight.” “I know that things won’t look real, but that doesn’t mean I won’t like it.”

Brawer credits Facebook and other social media for hyping the “Twilight” movie so. Still, she does not believe that Stephanie Meyer or the movie’s producers knew that the film would become so big a force in the media.

She admits that the “Twilight” phenomenon is not all positive.

“Everybody’s looking for their Edward, but there is a reason he’s in a book and not real life,” Brawer said, referring to Edward’s described perfect looks and personality. “He’s fictional and it stinks that the story gives girls false hope.”

The story’s protagonist, Bella, is 17 when she meets and falls in love with the handsome, polite and courageous Edward. Bella also meets and befriends Jacob, another good-looking and mysterious male character, within the four-part series.

Fifteen-year-old Kira Simon wore a “Team Jacob” t-shirt to the movie opening Friday.

“I like Edward for Bella and Jacob for me,” said Simon. “I know it’s fantasy, but still.”

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