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Twilight filmmakers have a stake in sticking closely to the book

There’s an old saw that says never judge a book by its movie. For the makers of Twilight, the upcoming film based on the first book in the gajillion-selling series of teen vampire novels by Stephenie Meyer, the hope is that cinemagoers will connect the screen adaptation with its literary progenitor.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Twilight‘s director Catherine Hardwicke — yes, that Catherine Hardwicke — said that while the original script she was handed differed markedly from Meyer’s book, she convinced the film’s producers that they should closely adhere to the source material: “I read the novel myself and I thought, let’s get back to this story, it’s just so much better.

According to Terrence Rafferty, the author of the Times article, there’s a specific reason why the movie’s creative team might not want to diverge from Meyer’s story:

A particular hazard with books like Ms. Meyer’s ” or like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels ” is that younger readers, unlike their more jaded elders, tend to like their stories just so, with as little variation as possible. And as any adult who has ever read bedtime stories to children understands, when youngsters really go for a story, they’ll insist on hearing it again and again, which is why movies aimed at children, tweens and teenagers can have such a huge payoff for producers and distributors. Two words: repeat business.

One of the side-effects of this attempt to attract a PG-13 crowd is toning down the eroticism, which is usually an inextricable element of vampire lore. Unlike the prototypical teenage male, Edward (the vampire) remains resolutely in control of his (super)natural impulses when it comes to Bella, his virginal teen love interest in both the novel and the film. In addition to being a preposterous representation of teenagers’ actual experience, at least one vampire-novel author claims that this betrays an essential aspect of the mythology of the undead.

The truth, said the writer Sarah Langan, whose novel The Missing won this year’s Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association, is that sex can be terrifying at that age, even when you’re in college. But Ms. Langan, who considers Twilight more romance than horror, isn’t entirely persuaded by the fear-of-sex model here.

Abstinence is a perfectly valid point of view, she said. ˜Twilight,’ though, struck me as kind of a strange, wrong version of what teenagers are like, especially Edward, who doesn’t even seem to want sex all that much. It made me long for Judy Blume.

Whether the two will be allowed to consummate their relationship in a later, more age-appropriate installment of the movie franchise remains to be seen; in the meantime, filmgoers will have to content themselves with Hardwicke’s version of puppy love, with teeth.