November 19, 2009

Twilight: New Moon

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Twilight: New Moon

ROMANCE/HORROR:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-11-20

Running Length:

2:10

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Profanity, Mature Themes)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Anna Kendrick, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning

Director:

Chris Weitz

Screenplay:

Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer

Cinematography:

Javier Aguirresarobe

Music:

Alexandre Desplat

U.S. Distributor:

Summit Entertainment

Subtitles:

none


Note: An argument can be made that this review contains spoilers for New Moon. For those who have read the book, there is no spoilage. For those who have watched the trailer, there is no spoilage. For those who don't fit into either of those categories, the question of whether or not there is spoilage is probably irrelevant. Nevertheless, you have been warned.

Twilight fans remind me of those who identified themselves with Star Trek in early and mid-1970s, Star Wars in the late-1970s and early-1980s, and Harry Potter in the first years of this decade: individuals who have embraced a fictional universe and are so enamored with it that they are willing to excuse its shortcomings. In a way, that's a positive thing, because the second entry in the Twilight cycle, New Moon, is - at least from the perspective of an outsider - not a particularly good movie. It's cheesy, poorly focused, and features some borderline-awful dialogue and performances. None of that will matter to Twilight fans and, just as Star Trek fans forgave V'ger and Star Wars fans bravely endured the Ewoks, this group will ignore the flaws to concentrate on what works. The thrill of seeing their favorite characters once again on screen will eclipse all else. But the world is not comprised solely of Twilight fans - they are a minority, albeit a vocal one. This review is not for them; it's for the rest of us.

By all accounts, New Moon is reasonably faithful to the book, although I can't say for certain, not having been able to get past page 50 of Twilight due to the awkward and juvenile nature of Stephanie Meyer's prose. Director Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) seems unwilling to cut things that would make for a tighter, faster-paced movie for fear or aggravating fans who want every moment from the book to be included. Thus we get a film bogged down by the same lackluster approach that limited the first two Harry Potter pictures - the failure to recognize that the best movie adaptations of books are ones that begin with the recognition that literature and cinema are different media and a rote interpretation of the former into the latter is rarely satisfying to anyone not slavishly devoted to the source material.

Twilight was all about the teen romance between Bella (Kristen Stewart), the 18-year old high school student, and Edward (Robert Pattinson), the 109-year old "vampire" who looks like he's about Bella's age. New Moon picks up where the first movie ended, with Bella and Edward playing the girlfriend/boyfriend game until she gets a paper cut in front of Edward's family and all hell breaks loose. Edward rather stupidly decides that the safest course for Bella - despite the fact that there are other vampires seeking to kill her - is for him to vanish from her life, so he does that. Bella spends the next 30 minutes of screen time moping around until she is rescued from her distress by Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who has been carrying a torch for her since they first met. But, just as he and Bella are getting closer, Jacob discovers he's a werewolf. And Bella gets some disturbing news about Edward that forces her to make a choice between trying to resolve her differences with the buff boy who sometimes goes vampire-hunting in a pack or the undead guy with an unwholesome fondness for Romeo & Juliet.

Yes, it's all very cheesy with dialogue that even a writer of purple prose might chuckle at, but it wouldn't cause nearly as much cringing if the filmmakers injected a little self-aware humor into the proceedings. New Moon comes dangerously close to self-parody on more than one occasion, but it seems blissfully unaware of this and soldiers on with a seriousness that's unintentionally funny. The highlight comes late in the proceedings when we are treated to a dream sequence of a future Bella and Edward frolicking in a field. Although this is supposed to be giddy and romantic, it is laugh-aloud hilarious.

The movie's focal point is Bella's romantic choice: does she go with the soulful, suffering Edward (who always seems to be walking toward the camera in slow motion) or pledge herself to Jacob, who is marginally more interesting and charismatic (and who spends 3/4 of the film sans shirt and looking like he's posing for a gay porno video box cover). Based purely on physique, Jacob has the edge, but I guess there's a segment of fans who prefer Edward's goth look. When it comes to personality and chemistry, however, there's no question that Jacob is the better choice. I won't go as far as to say Taylor Lautner is a good actor, but he's an improvement over Robert Pattinson, who attempts to impersonate Bela Lugosi from Plan 9 from Outer Space. Any chemistry that may have existed between Kristen Stewart and Pattinson during Twilight has evaporated. Here, she connects with Lautner, but her love scenes with Pattinson are sterile and a little creepy (especially when one considers that (a) he's essentially an animated corpse, and (b) there's a 90-year age gap - this is an old dude who just happens to be well preserved). Readers of New Moon will know who Bella chooses and thus won't be surprised or disappointed. The same may not be true of those who approach the material fresh. Weitz does what amounts to a bait-and-switch. First rule of movie romances: never make the "complications" match more engaging than the "real" one. I also wonder whether Weitz realized how truly unlikeable Bella has become. Does he intend for viewers to despise her?

The storyline is all over the place, with numerous unresolved subplots sprouting out of thin air and being left hanging (presumably to be resolved in future movies). The lead male is around for the first 15 minutes and the final 30, but missing for the lengthy middle section. And, after the film has reached a natural stopping point, it continues for an additional ten minutes with a number of "fake" endings that eventually get us to what is supposed to be a cliffhanger.

If Twilight set back feminism by 50 years and vampires by twice that, New Moon turns its attention to shredding the werewolf mythos. Please don't let Stephanie Meyer near Frankenstein's creature! At least Bella develops a backbone during the course of New Moon and shows some spunk toward the end. Her prolonged period of lovesickness after Edward leaves her can be attributed to the fact that Meyer writes for 13-year old girls with the sensibility of a 13-year old girl. (Hence, the Bella/Edward relationship is all about romance and love and not at all about sex. The film is almost Victorian in the way it treats the interaction between the genders.)

There are some small pleasures to be found in New Moon, not the least of which is the relationship between Bella and Jacob. It's effectively developed and nicely played, and the revelation that Jacob is a werewolf doesn't come across as absurd as it could. We invest a little in these two being together. Stewart's acting - and she deserves some kind of award for keeping a straight face while delivering some of the ripest lines she has probably ever voiced - is in peak form while she's with Lautner. New Moon's extended middle act, despite being hurt by some really bad, B-movie type special effects, is by far its strongest portion. But don't get me started on the sheer stupidity of having vampires "sparkle" when exposed to sunlight rather than explode into flame. There are some rules that should not be re-written, and that's one of them.

New Moon offers no surprises, regardless of the perspective from which it is being evaluated. Fans will appreciate the way in which the text has been brought to the screen. Detractors and those with no interest will be unimpressed. The film does what it needs to do. That's the bottom line. Anyone who doesn't experience a tingling or surge of giddiness at the thought of another Twilight movie would be better off seeing something else. Those who mistakenly enter a theater playing New Moon without a previously cultivated love for the characters will either burst something from chortling at inappropriate moments or believe they have discovered a level of Hell that Dante never bothered to write about.

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