Conventional wisdom in Hollywood says that you couldn’t market a film that appeals only to girls. Sure, Hollywood will on occasion produce a film unambiguously directed at girls. Agnieszka Holland’s superb The Secret Garden (1993) was one noteworthy instance. And, of course, there’s the whole Disney princess series, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) through The Little Mermaid (1989) and beyond. But Hollywood has never invested in high-concept, non-animated, girl-centered films on the scale of the Star Wars saga, Star Trek, Harry Potter, or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There’s never been a franchise for girls who have outgrown Disney’s pert narcissists.
Until now. The number one film in America right now is New Moon, the second film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s four-part Twilight series. The hero of the series is a teenaged vampire named Edward Cullen, who is as smooth-skinned and chaste as a Disney princess. Edward is a younger version of the kinds of slacker boyfriends played by Michael Cera, before they start talking in fitful mumbles and dress like they’re in the Strokes.
Edward has been the target of much derision by the uninitiated, which is to say boys. Meyer has to walk down the trail blazed by Ann Rice, who turned vampires into gothic performance artists, sexually aggressive and thoughtful monsters with a dandyish streak. Meyer’s Edward, by contrast, wears khakis and smoldering expressions as if he’s trying to remember his locker combination. Unfortunately for the Twi-Hards who have to defend him, it probably won’t help to point out that Bram Stoker’s original Dracula was also very odd.
The Twilight series has been attacked by the Lord of the Star Trek Wars fanboy mob, a much more powerful interest group, and not just because of their greater numbers. Twi-Hards congregate in Ugg-booted mobs, so you know to stay out of their corner of the multiplex, but the fanboys will cut off your network access if you cross them. Twi-Hards and the objects of their devotion also get no respect from the media or from literary critics. Twi-Hards are invariably described as “shrieking” in newspaper accounts, while critics lament Meyer’s sub-literary prose style and feckless plots. In both written and filmed versions the Twilight stories are structured like the breaks between high school classes: five minutes of intense microdramas followed by long periods of languor.
At least some of these criticisms figure to be rectified with the film adaptation of third installment, Eclipse, which will be directed by horror film vet David Slade. Horror films also have primitive plots, but Slade will at least speed things up a bit. Edward will no doubt become more Nosferatu and less Joe Jonas. Eclipse will be harder-edged than its predecessors and less a Pop Tart version of J-Horror. However, recast as a more conventional horror film, Twilight won’t simply become more boy-friendly; it will tamer in another sense: less likely to stir threatening female passions.