A film review by Craig J. Koban November 30, 2009

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON jj

2009, PG-13, 130 mins.

Bella Swan: Kristen Stewart / Edward Cullen: Robert Pattinson / Charlie Swan: Billy Burke / Jessica: Anna Kendrick / Gran / Bella: Christina Jastrzembska / Mike: Michael Welch / Eric: Justin Chon / Angela: Christian Serratos / Jacob Black: Taylor Lautner / Alice Cullen: Ashley Greene / 
Jasper Whitlock: Jackson Rathbone /  Mr. Berty: Russell Roberts / James: Cam Gigandet / Michael: Sheen Aro

Directed by Chris Weitz / Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer

 

I am quite sure that the legions of fans of Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHT SAGA novels will, no doubt, be intuitively familiar with the whole story of NEW MOON.  However, to the more agnostic readers of her literary canon - and to those that have not see the film adaptation - this review contains spoilers.

Am I the only person in the theatre while watching TWILIGHT and its sequel that thought that the central relationship between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) was wholeheartedly creepy?  It’s funny, but for a film series that has won over the hearts of millions of females for its searing romance, the TWILIGHT SAGA is anything but romantic.   

Just consider:  In the first film we were introduced to Bella falling head over hills in teenie-bopper love with the handsome and oh-so-dreamy Edward, which is highly disturbing considering that he is a member of the undead.  Edward is, if I follow the continuity of the film, well over 100 years old, which is perhaps 18 in vampire years, and after being turned into a Nosferatu during the Spanish Flu Epidemic at the turn of the last century he has decided to repeat the 12th grade...84 times.  Why?  You would think that a vampire that was cursed to live forever in the body of a teenager that is made socially impotent be simply being around human flesh would not, in any way, wish to be in close proximity to countless female prey.  Not only that, but why spend an eternity rehashing biology classes?  Why not just seclude yourself at some sort of barren tropical paradise and live a nocturnal life of peace?  Seriously, would you waste an eternity at high school?  Not likely. 

Alas, in the film and literary world of Stephanie Meyer – whose books for TWILIGHT, NEW MOON, and the next two in her quadrilogy – were not made to appease the pragmatic; they were narrowly written without much logic to cheaply appease her feverously loyal tweener sect.  Her vampires have to be the least interesting and most dramatically neutered ever committed to celluloid.  They are rarely compelling personas, mostly because I questioned their motives.  Lamentably, Edward and his bloodsucking family are essentially used to propel these films’ sleazy Harlequin romance ideology, which is extraordinarily high on lame love story clichés, undeniably sappy day time soap opera theatrics, and some of the most laughable dialogue exchanges I’ve heard in many a moon (pun intended). 

Now, this brings me back to Bella: what on earth propels her to become romantically involved with a monster?  It can’t possibly be love, can it?  A loving relationship, last I checked, is not fraught with the possibility of the other biting into your neck and sucking out your blood, leaving you forever damned.  Plus, TWILIGHT and now NEW MOON do very little to explain why she is drawn to a man so undeniable unstable and disturbing.  The only conclusion I have is that these films are about teen lust, not love as many would like to believe, seeing as that is the only logical reason for Bella to remain steadfastly loyal to this inhuman boy.  But, yes, when your lust is directed at Robert Pattinson, filmed is many slow motion sequences to ignite swooning teens both in the movie and those watching the movie, who cares if he’s a walking corpse?  He’s just so dreamy. 

There’s simply no passion or romance to be had in either TWILIGHT or NEW MOON; just unpardonable hours of characters yearning for and stewing about one another.  Since the film utterly fails to allow my buy in to its romance, I now, more than ever, find the characters that populate these films to be even more intangible and remote.  I simply do not care about all of their issues, how they were going to get through them, and whether or not all would work out in the end.  Few films keep adult viewers at such a sheer dramatic distance as NEW MOON; since the central love – make that lust – story is written from the prerogative of a 13-year-old girl, too much of the film comes off more as a sordid wish fulfillment fantasy of an adolescent than a plausibly drawn portrait of what would occur when a sex-starved teen girl falls for the smolderingly cute vampire boy.  In many ways, NEW MOON is incontrovertibly critic proof:  As sexless, cheesy, manipulative, plodding, and disenchanting as its proceedings were to me for over two hours, NEW MOON is staunchly fan-ready from beginning to end.  If you’re a girl in the 12-18 demographic, there is nothing to condemn here.  As for the rest of us non-TWI-HARDS, the film is a soul crushing endurance test. 

The second installment takes place pretty much directly after the first, where we see Bella still glued to the hip of her teen-heartthrob-bloodthirsty boyfriend while attending high school in the tiny community of Forks, Washington (which clearly is a town of ignorant hicks, seeing as they are never able to surmise the real identities of Edward and his family).  Both profess undying love to one another, but still have not gone all the way, which in terms of their relationship does not mean doing the no-pants-dance, but rather Bella getting bitten and sucked dry by her broody and eerie beau.   

Interestingly, the film plays with gender reversal: in NEW MOON it’s the girl that wants to loose her virginity, so to speak, to the boy, whereas the boy is reticent to the prospect.  He simply does not want to curse her to a doomed life (seems sensible enough).  Bella, however, wisely points out that she when she is an arthritis-plagued grandma that Edward will still look like he could populate the cover of TEEN BEAT, so turning her is almost a necessity (also sensible).  Yet, their relationship is, like, forever plagued by this conundrum (which seems to make the film’s opening section lurch by with an elephantine pace) and it's really put to the test during an ill-fated birthday party where Bella accidentally gets a paper cut on her finger while opening presents given to her by Edward’s vampire family.  Despite the fact that they have sworn to be Vegan-vamps (they drink blood, but not of the human variety), one of Edwards brothers leaps after Bella’s wound like a crack addict seeing an easy score.  Thankfully, Edward saves her, but not without hurting her. 

Seeing as he cannot stand to see Bella torn apart (figuratively and almost literally) Edward decides to make a choice of either supreme self-control or complete stupidity.  Even though there are other villainous vampires around Forks that want Bella dead, Edward oddly decides that the best course of action to ensure his girlfriend’s safety is to leave her forever.  Okay.  He abandons her in the woods by heading to Italy to visit the highest of the higher ups of the Vampires, the Volturi, to decide what to do with the rest of his life.  Meanwhile, Bella becomes a tormented, anguished, and deeply unhinged girl.  She frequently wakes up from night terrors, screaming and writhing in pain for over three months, but her father (played thanklessly by Billy Burke) never once suggests psychiatric treatment.  Aside from losing much sleep and alienating herself from her friends, Bella also becomes an adrenaline junkie, taking part in all sorts of dangerous stunts, because when she risks her life she is given fleeting glimpse of a ghostly Edward talking to her.   

Thankfully, a voice of reason re-enters Bella’s life in Jacob Black (a remarkably buff and beefy Taylor Lautner, more pleasing and likeable than Pattinson, but nonetheless getting by more on his six pack facade than on his thespian skills).  He is a member of the Quileute Indian Tribe and a former childhood friend of Bella who would definitely like to move past the platonic zone with her.  Initially, Jacob seems like the absolute best medicine for the tortured Bella: he’s affable, decent minded, genuinely cares for Bella’s needs and, most importantly, is not a vampire that wants her blood.  Yet, just when things start to heat up for the pair, Jacob is revealed – through a series of incidents too complicated to explain – as a werewolf and sworn enemy of the Edward clan and vampires in general.  Realizing that she is ill-prepared to deal with this unfathomably wrongheaded love trainable between two creatures, Bella decides to chose Edward, but discovers that he is about to kill himself in Italy when he accidentally and incorrectly finds out that she is dead.  In a ROMEO AND JULIET-inspired craze, Bella jet sets out to Italy to save her love before he puts himself six feet under. 

NEW MOON was directed by Chris Weitz, who previously made THE GOLDEN COMPASS and took over for TWILIGHT helmer Catherine Hardwicke after scheduling conflicts held her back.  On a positive, NEW MOON is a slicker and more polished vision than its predecessor, which contained scenes of visual effects that were egregiously low rent and lacking in visceral impact.  Having honed in on CGI animals in COMPASS, Weitz is given free reign to let the werewolf/vampire battles breathe with more excitement and energy (granted, the CGI werewolves are not entirely convincing, but still a far cry from the effects work in TWILIGHT).  He also gives the film series its most poetic and impressively designed sequence: he rotates the camera 360 degrees around Bella as she sits by her bedroom window while the seasons change from spring all the way to winter with each camera pan.  

Yet, Weitz is completely invisible as a filmmaking presence here, seeing as he is completely overshadowed by the film’s laundry list of faults.  As stated, the central romance is a stale, unmoving, and mechanical as ever, which is not assisted by the fact that Stewart and Pattinson have very little natural chemistry.  Pattinson’s range is woefully limited: he acts with his walk, his piercing eyes, his annoyingly calm, soft spoken, and wooden line readings, and his hair.  Stewart, who I did like in the first film, is now a sullen, moody, and mannered bore in NEW MOON (she’s a talented actresses saddled with poor material), so much so that you kind of have to wonder what Jacob and Edward see in her.  The film's teeth-gratingly shrill and banal dialogue also does not assist it.  Just read these lines: Bella:  "It’s my birthday, can I ask for one thing?  Kiss Me.”  Edward: "Every second that I am with you is about restraint…and you’re too fragile.”  Bella (to Jacob) “You are kind of beautiful.”  Oy vey.  Combined with those solemn dialogue passages spoken with a sternness approaching parody, the film also adds on an unintentionally uproarious fantasy sequence which shows Edward and Bella frolicking through the woods after she has become a vampire  It’s odd how blissfully unaware NEW MOON is that when it plays things too seriously it comes across as a riot. 

The film itself also suffers from pacing issues: At 130 minutes, it often feels like 1330.  Many subplots (especially one involving a female vampire looking to murder Bella to get her way to Edward) seems like an afterthought.  The whole werewolf/vampire legacy of the film is scandalously underdeveloped (I also found it funny how no one in Forks ever once bats an eye at why Jacob and his bromate wolf pack are always running around the woods shirtless).  Granted, having Taylor Lautner shirtless is precisely what teen fans want (although it was kind of unnerving witnessing some 35-40-year-old women in the audience swoon over the just-turned17-year-old actor).  Jacob as a character is the only moderately interesting hook to NEW MOON and he is easily a more congenial presence (and influence on Bella) in the film.  Even though he’s a werewolf, he’s still loyal to Bella and humans, and his kind have sworn to protect humanity from vampires.  Plus, he’s more age appropriate for Bella too.  Regrettably, Bella is too self absorbed and obsessive minded as a character to see that the wisest choice in a mate is Jacob and not Edward.  Instead, she dumps the good suitor and instead continues to lust after the bad one.  Poor Jacob.  Nice guys…and monsters…do indeed finish dead last. 

Actually…who the hell cares!  The 34-year old adult male in me gives this film one star: it’s borderline comatose as a heated and affectionate romantic melodrama and it lacks (pun intended again) a salivating bite.  Plus, has there ever been less eroticized vampires in the movies?  Now, the 14-year-old girl reviewer in me would, without haste, ignore the film’s massive faults and give it four stars.  I will find a middle ground and give it two.  I am more forgiving because I found the action and visual effects more fetching this time around, plus for the better part of the film Pattinson’s rogue-lipped vampire is nowhere to be seen (a definite plus).  Beyond that, the film also hurtles towards an entertainingly preposterous climax in Italy with the Volturi Tribal council, which has Michael Sheen affectionately turning up the film’s much needed camp value to 11 as one of its leaders.  He’s having ridiculous fun with his tongue-in-cheek part; the rest of the cast is not.  Wait a tick: he also played a werewolf in the UNDERWORLD films.  How ironic!  Nonetheless, even classy performers like him cannot save these instantly forgettable films from themselves...much less from their own salivating fan bases. 

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