"Twilight" (2008), directed by Catherine Hardwicke for Summit Entertainment based on a Melissa Rosenberg script, is based on the best-selling Stephanie Meyer book series. It is difficult to exaggerate the popularity of this story: when each new novel came out, stores around the world set up special tables to sell eager fans copies. It was a marketing phenomenon along the lines of "Harry Potter," and that has carried over to this film, which was a smash success.
Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is a high school girl who lives with her father (Billie Burke) in the tiny town of Forks, Washington. She never fit in with her classmates at her old high school in Phoenix, but makes friends at her new school. She is attracted to one in particular: handsome Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).
Cullen doesn't seem to like Bella very much, which confuses Bella. However, one day Bella is walking in the parking lot and gets in the way of a van. Edward steps forward and somehow stops the vehicle with his hand, saving Bella. Afterwards, he remains aloof and tells he that he does not want to be friends.
This intrigues Bella, and she starts investigating Edward. She learns that he is a vampire, though he does not attack people, only animals. Eventually, the two start an affair, and Edward introduces Bella to his family, who are all vampires as well.
Three wandering vampires - James, Victor and Laurent - visit the Cullens and meet Bella. James (Cam Gigandet) decides he wants to feast on Bella and starts tracking her. She hides in Phoenix, but James sets a trap for her. Lured out into the open, Bella is attacked. James bites her wrist, and the Cullens arrive only just in time to prevent him from killing her. Edward sucks the blood, which contains vampire venom, from Bella's wrist, but Bella secretly wants to become a vampire herself. She still, though, has a lot to learn about her new love.
The film tries to stay true to the book, but a lot is left out. Stephanie Meyer was closely involved in production, and fought to preserve the integrity of the project. The book is almost 500 pages, so not all of it could be included, but Meyer reportedly was pleased with the outcome.
"Twilight" should please fans of the novels. It also should please fans of teen romances in general, vampires or no vampires. Vampires are in, and this series exploits that to the maximum, but the vampirism really is just the obstacle between these two attractive kids falling in love. It is easy to dismiss the film as merely a romance novel turned into film - which, basically, it is - but at least "Twilight" is true to what it tries to be, a tale of a young girl's journey into strange love. If box office figures are any guide, many, many women can relate to Bella and her attraction to the strange and intimidating Edward.
Some complain that the chemistry between Bella and Edward is somewhat lacking, but that is part of the tease. If Edward just jumped at Bella, there wouldn't be much drama! Another criticism is that Bella is portrayed as too serious by Stewart and is funnier in the book, but that is understandable given how dangerous her situation becomes. As the series progresses in the sequels, Stewart lightens up a bit, at least by the concluding chapter.
The real issue with this film is inherent in its source. This is "dangerous romance" muted and de-fanged so that it is family-friendly. Vampires are portrayed as kindly beings who will satisfy all of our natural urges without doing anything to invade our privacy - except for the bad ones, who have to be beaten off with a stick. It's a slick product perfect for girls afraid of sex, or who wish love was exciting and noble, or who want some kind of "pure" love that doesn't require sex until, you know, the time is right and all that. Edward is so wonderful that Bella can't resist, and all she has to do is take it, without any coercion or prodding from him in the slightest - which is what everyone wants to find in life, isn't it? A passive love interest who is just there, providing excitement and drama and feeding our mating urges and especially our own narcissism. Or at least a very, very large section of the population wants that. Evidently.
Yes, there are four sequels to this film (only two were originally planned, and I bet Summit Entertainment wishes they had expanded it even further), each more successful than the last. It finally concludes in 2012's The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. The popular book series that fascinated the world also started a firestorm in the film world, and that storm burst out with this film. If you want to understand the "Twilight" phenomenon, you can either read the books, or start watching here. This is a good place to start.