Another November, another “Twilight” movie stumbling its way into the frenzied hordes of fervent, feverish teenage girls (…and twenty-somethings…and soccer moms…retirees…). All is well with the world.
What to say about this film?
I avoided the opening weekend, partly for fear of losing my faith in humanity and partly because I’m just not sure what else I can add my well-documented thoughts on this series. “Ha ha, Edward’s still creepy and blank-faced!” just doesn’t have the same ring it did a year ago, I guess.
But nonetheless I felt it was my duty to go ahead and sit through the two hours of intense staring and brooding and awkward stuttering. Maybe I did it because some part of me wanted to see if somehow this film franchise could be redeemed by a new director (…meh), or maybe the soundtrack, or maybe I’ve mellowed over the course of the year and my heart’s grown more gentle. Or something.
Or maybe I was just hoping to enjoy 2009’s great comedy of the year. Actually yeah, that’s exactly what I was hoping. Would the screen go blank for five seconds while Powerpoint slides clicked through “October,” “November,” “December” like in the book? Would there be any more of the fast-forward/slow-motion sharp cuts that I remember so fondly from the first film? Would writer Melissa Rosenberg scavenge painful lines of dialogue from the book so they could pass through the reluctant actors’ lips like last year’s “lion fell in love with the lamb” bit?
So I guess you could say I was looking forward to another installment to the virtual minefield of comedic gold that was the first film.
But I was, to some extent, disappointed. “New Moon” is a much darker book than its predecessor, and like its adaptation, this film was faithful to its source material. And like in the first film, this was frequently to its detriment.
Adapting a well-known and well-loved book or story to the screen is always a two-sided coin; the question that faces the writers, producers, and director is what to take and what to leave. When it comes to a story like New Moon, the built-in audience has already read the story (probably multiple times) and has likely imagined every line of dialogue, every longing glance, every whispered sweet nothing many times over. Any change to that would be sacrilegious in the opinion of a fan-base as rabid as this one.
So for the most part in “New Moon,” they continued to follow the course set by “Twilight” — which is to say, they remained as true to the book as possible.
Of course, the problem in this case is that nothing happens in the book. In fact, there’s an entire section devoted to how Bella does nothing, says nothing, hears nothing, is nothing without Edward. So you might imagine that going the direction of “look how distraught Bella is! She’s just sitting there!” doesn’t exactly make for compelling storytelling.
Unsurprisingly, it completely kills the pace of the movie. And though it picks up, the effort required to climb back from the intentional lethargy meant to represent Bella’s total and complete destruction of self makes it hard to stay awake long enough to appreciate Jacob’s storyline and Taylor Lautner’s performance.
Ah! We’ve reached a good thing. Taylor Lautner is adorable, acts decently well, and his character (like in the books) is the best written by a mile. Not only does he have a personality, but manages to be sympathetic, engaging, and his actions and words actually make sense. But yeah, back to the personality! He has one! By the time he gets some screen time in the movie I’d almost forgotten what that is.
Oh yes, here’s the other big problem of the film. In the books, Bella is left purposefully blank — she’s a vessel given minimal characteristics so that she is easily identifiable for the readers. And Edward is supposed to be every girl’s ideal snugglebear dreamboat, and as such isn’t given much of a personality himself (Envision the following: “What? Edward thinks fart jokes are funny? Gross! He’s so gross!” Personalities: They’re dangerous.).
The only problem with this is that characters without personalities do not traditionally come across as particularly charismatic on the silver screen. As such, the lines like “You are my life” and “I couldn’t live in a world without you in it” feel as hollow as they do in the Star Wars prequels, where two puppets speaking in monotone deliver such lines as “I love you like someone who loves you a lot.”
And in the absence of having any remotely likable or intriguing characteristics to work with, actress Kristin Stewart has only her weird Vulcan eyebrows and unfortunate shortage of eye drops with which to bring Bella to life. Sadly, this means that she spends her time mostly blank-faced and blinks a lot and we are informed that this is called “being sad” and “damaged.”
It is hard to understand why either Edward or Jacob would find Bella’s mopey, miserable mien so alluring. Despite her voice-over telling the audience that she loves Edward or that she feels better around Jacob, there is no discernible difference between her sullen blank stare when she’s kissing her boyfriend, her sullen blank stare when she’s looking out the window for five months, or her sullen blank stare when she is reunited with Edward at the end of the film.
Still, her inability to form words without eight false-starts and the classic Kristin Stewart move of “I’m anxious and upset, look how I’m running my hands through my hair to show this” is infinitely preferable to Robert Pattinson’s pinched and pained performance that was cringe-worthy in just about every scene.
I get that Edward longs for Bella’s blood and that for some reason he loves her a whole super lot and so on and so forth, but really the only thing I got from Pattinson while watching him with Bella was that he kept jizzing in his pants. They kiss for five seconds, he groans and dramatically pulls back. He inhales her hair, suddenly his face twists in something like pain and he turns away. She gets a papercut and I find myself relieved that it’s a bust shot.
All of it was so awkward that the two of them looked like Barbie and Ken dolls with bad makeup, staring at each other and delivering lines so woodenly that they might as well have been reciting the phone book. “I love you, 532 Cedar Lane, so much, area code 302..”
Any attempt at deeper emotion is laughably overwrought and overacted. It’s as though Edward has two expressions; the first, vaguely constipated and the second, “I’m upset but I just got Botox so yeah.”
Still, like in the first film, there are good moments. Any of Bella’s scenes with her dad were more emotional and well-acted than her scenes with Edward; Billy Burke’s subtle worry, pain, and fear for his daughter are more touching than any of the soap opera declarative statements that pervade Edward and Bella’s conversations.
And of course, the werewolves. The CGI was well-done and the wolves looked exactly as described in the book and the “phasing” between hunky shirtless Native American boy (take your pick of which, there were about six of them) to flowing-fur wolf was uniquely done and a pretty cool effect. Less cool was the “Superman”-like exit for each of the werewolves — if they’re about to head back to the reservation, they simply jogged off-screen in their “The Incredible Hulk” castoff shorts where I would assume that they turn into their wolfy alter-egos in a telephone booth somewhere.
And speaking of the shirtlessness, there was shirtlessness. And a lot of it. The whole thing with the Werewolf Club wrestling around half-clothed with their toned, jailbaity pecs and steroidy biceps was so homoerotic that I had a hard time even enjoying the view, and also I felt pervy since all Bella can talk about for the first half of the movie is how Jacob was sixteen.
And then in the last fifteen minutes of the movie, the first seedlings of plot emerge. In a fit of “I can see Edward’s ghostly apparition when I do stupid, dangerous things,” Bella throws herself off a fifty-foot cliff. In a sequence that takes about two minutes, she almost dies, Alice appears, O.M.G. Edward thinks Bella’s dead, and then suddenly they’re in Italy and Bella is racing against time to stop Edward from provoking the Vampire Fab Four into killing him since you know, he can’t live without her.
How does he provoke them? Well, he takes off his shirt and decides to reveal his sparkling bod to a crowd of disinterested humans and thereby commit the ultimate no-no of revealing the existence of boys with airbrushed abs who wear too much body glitter. (Spectator Sparkling: It’s a thing.).
Bella stops him and then they’re in front of the Simon, Paula, and Randy of the vampire world; Aro, portrayed by Michael Sheen, is the likable and actually dangerous-seeming one (Simon), Caius is Randy, mostly useless and forgettable, and then of course Marcus is Paula, who just mumbles incomprehensibly. Dakota Fanning plays Jane, a less-creepy Twilight version of Anne Rice’s child vampire Claudia who has the power of the Cruciatus Curse, or something.
The gist of the “climax” is this: Bella knows too much about the vampires and needs to get dead for this reason. But Alice tells the mind-reading Aro not to worry, that Bella will be a vampire, and then Aro’s like, “Oh, okay, no prob then. We’re totes cool.”
What a relief. For five seconds there I was afraid there was going to be actual conflict. What a tragedy that would have been.
So what’s the final word on “New Moon?” Not as funny as the original (a classic I say, a classic!), but about 123x more dull. If you have insomnia, watch this film. All you’ll have to do is imagine sheep jumping over the New Moon and you’ll be out in five seconds flat.
And, also, shirtless boys.