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'New Moon' leaves Hollywood wanting more

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Chris Weitz opens the door to his beach house looking like a wilted rose.

He’s unshaven, pale, and wearing clothes he appears to have found wadded in a ball on his bedroom floor. It’s exactly the way you’d expect to find the director the morning after his movie The Twilight Saga: New Moon opened around the world to numbers no one thought possible. But Weitz isn’t recovering from a long night of revelry. He’s just exhausted. In the last 10 days, he’s been in more time zones than the sun, on the last stretch of promotional duties for his movie. ”I’m at the point of physical collapse,” says Weitz, 40. ”Hopefully I will now lapse into obscurity. That’s my plan.”

We can think of more than 140 million reasons that’s not going to happen — all of them dollars. On opening weekend, Summit Entertainment’s New Moon made the kind of money usually reserved for comic-book heroes and boy wizards, breaking records for both midnight screenings and opening-day box office. And with Sandra Bullock scoring a career-best opening with $34.1 million for The Blind Side, New Moon was part of one of the most female-driven weekends in history — one that should wake up any Hollywood executives who still underestimate the spending power of the purse. Nonetheless, Weitz won’t make any grand claims for himself. ”The degree of credit I can take is limited,” he says. ”I’m just the glorified conductor.”

Okay, he’s got a point. Those hundreds of tween girls (and grown women, for that matter) who lined up days in advance of New Moon‘s Los Angeles premiere weren’t sleeping on concrete to see Weitz. They were desperate for Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner — who, despite the scrutiny they’re under, still seem to appreciate their supporters. ”I would rather spend tonight hanging with the fans than answering any more questions,” said Stewart at the premiere. Pattinson added, ”I don’t know how the Beatles felt, but I imagine it was close to this. Very few human beings will ever get to experience the love we feel at Twilight events.” That visceral, obsessive amour for everything in Stephenie Meyer’s literary universe has turned a $50 million teenage melodrama into an event that knows no geographic boundaries. The global take for the weekend? $275 million. Says producer Wyck Godfrey, ”It’s a worldwide cultural phenomenon that no one could have predicted.”

Even after Twilight grossed $192 million last year, it wasn’t clear that New Moon would be a sure thing. The second book in the Twilight series centers on 18-year-old Bella Swan (Stewart), who’s thrown into deep despair when her toothsome vampire boyfriend abandons her. Would fans embrace a film where their beloved hero Edward Cullen (Pattinson) is absent for the majority of the movie? Could a baby-faced Lautner really hold Bella’s — and, by extension, the audience’s — attention as Jacob Black, the boy-turned-seven-foot-tall hulking werewolf?

The answer’s an unequivocal yes, judging from strong exit polls. Lautner, who campaigned publicly for his role and whose casting was a source of much nail-biting for the studio, has emerged as a formidable heartthrob. As the teenage So You Think You Can Dance winner Jeanine Mason tweeted on Sunday night, ”Contemplating seeing New Moon again so my sister Alexis gets a glimpse of her boyfriend! She’d jump off a cliff if Taylor would save her.” Many critics, unfortunately, haven’t shown the same enthusiasm. ”I’ve realized I won’t necessarily get good reviews for this movie,” laughs Weitz. ”Having swallowed that, this was made for the fans, and if you don’t get it, then you don’t get it.”

Hollywood certainly gets it. Pop culture has been bursting with bloodsuckers of late, and audiences are responding. Witness the success of The CW’s The Vampire Diaries, HBO’s True Blood, and a slew of vampire novels that hit the best-seller lists in the wake of Twilight. Now Hollywood has to figure out how to keep this audience satisfied. ”It’s great that the greenlighters in town have realized that little girls go to the movies,” says MGM/UA’s president of marketing, Michael Vollman. ”But this genre has worked forever. To Sir, With Love was an angsty girl movie.”

So what will tweens turn to next? Disney and producer Godfrey think it might be…fairies. They’ve scooped up Aprilynne Pike’s best-selling young-adult novel Wings. New Regency is adapting an upcoming novel from Ann Brashares (author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) about college soul mates who have actually been loving and losing each other for centuries. And Lionsgate is betting on an adaptation of author Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, about a dystopian world where teenagers fight to the death. ”Some will work and some won’t,” Summit’s co-chairman and CEO Rob Friedman says of the girl-driven projects. ”There will be a lot of impersonators. But it won’t be The Twilight Saga and it won’t have the fan base. Twilight is unique. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Neither has director Weitz, who’s still recovering. He just signed on to make Summit’s The Gardener, a drama about a Mexican yard worker, but is off the hook for the third Twilight movie, Eclipse, which David Slade (30 Days of Night) is already editing for release next summer. Summit still hasn’t decided if the fourth and final novel in the series, Breaking Dawn, should be one film or two. If they call, will Weitz answer? ”I’d do it for Stephenie, Rob, Taylor, and Kristen. I feel a great deal of gratitude for those people,” says Weitz. ”But I don’t think I could do another press tour like we did. I just think I would die.” Of course, that never stopped Edward Cullen. (Additional reporting by Carrie Bell)

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