Title: The Twilight Saga - New Moon
Year of Release: 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Date Viewed: May 12th, 2010
Last week, Oprah Winfrey dedicated an entire episode of her show to the Twilight phenomenon. And she was not shy about calling it a phenomenon....over and over again. The episode mostly revolved around her asking funny questions to each cast member hoping for an equally funny response. Sometimes she got one (Taylor Lautner hates wolf-howling in public) and sometimes (mainly in the case of Kristen Stewart) she got a simple real answer. Poor Kristen Stewart. I'll discuss her later.
There was also some amusing skits that involved the male cast members making surprise appearances in the homes of Twilight fangirls, causing them to scream with such joy that it probably woke up every neighbor within three blocks of their location.
Oprah is right though. The Twilight saga is indeed a phenomenon and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't at least know of its existence. The first Twilight film set a record for most DVD pre-orders at my Hollywood Video location; and all of them were reserved by females. The plot was simple. An average teenage girl falling in love with a vampire. A romance that is not supposed to ever happen. First there was Romeo and Juliet. Then there was West Side Story. And now we have it's third generation; the Twilight Saga. Perhaps its popularity can be attributed to one's natural tendency to fantasize about living dangerously. After all, what can be more dangerous than living with someone who craves the taste of your blood? Well....I suppose there are more dangerous things, like lighting a match at a gas station, but you're not supposed to think about those sort of things while watching a film like this.
I liked the first film. It had an aura behind it that made the experience feel like a novelty rather than a trip down "been there done that" road, which is what I was really expecting. The development of the relationship between the mortal Bella and the immortal Edward grew more interesting with each act and resulted in a memorable climax. It was far more entertaining than it had any right to be.
That's why I'm disappointed to say that New Moon did not have the same effect on me. I wanted to like it. I was hoping to have something to argue about with the naysayers who dismiss the Twilight phenomenon as nothing but a ditsy girl's fantasy. But this offering gave me the dreaded "been there done that" experience that I thought I was safe from.
The film starts off with a premonition of sorts from Bella (Kristen Stewart). She views her future with Edward (Robert Pattinson) disappearing as she grows older. The fear of losing him is unbearable to her, as his existence seems to be the only thing giving her life meaning. Ironically, the relationship is actually ended by Edward, who gets cold feet after witnessing a family member grasp for Bella's blood after she gives herself seemingly the largest papercut in recorded history. Edward realizes that having Bella in his family circle was too jeopardizing to her safety, which is a complete turnaround to the final act of the previous film where it was clearly established that accepting Bella was a risk he was willing to take. What a difference a papercut makes.
Not surprisingly, Bella is heartbroken and copes with the loss of her beloved Edward by feeding an addiction to thrills and excitement which seemed to have been born from that romance. It's a plot device that is designed to let us feel sympathy for that character, but instead we are left shocked at her blunt carelessness and disregard for her safety. It comes off more humorous than dramatic.
And Bella gets another love interest in the form of a seemingly normal guy named Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who is actually part of a tribe of werewolves. (Boy, she is really bad at choosing friends). The relationship is basically a carbon-copy of the Edward storyline and drags on for far too long. This time however, Edward makes surprise visits to Bella in spirit where he comes across as a scarier and more annoying version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, warning Bella not to act too recklessly because he still cares about her.
Of course since this is a franchise, we know that the Bella/Edward relationship is not over. And when the two unlikely yet perfect soul-mates reunite, it starts a love triangle with Jacob in the mix, proving that Bella has a lot of soul-searching to do....while she still has one.
There is also a new sub-plot involving the leaders of an organization that oversees vampire behavior in the human world which will not be fully developed until the third movie. But you can easily guess how they feel about the human/vampire romance. Hint: They will not be sending them Christmas cards.
The Twilight films are supposed to be somewhat campy in its style, but New Moon feels too unsure of itself at times. It's difficult to rally behind any party because all major characters display questionable behavior at times. Not to mention that too many lines seem forced than natural.
A true saving grace is Alexandre Desplat's musical score. He wrote a soft and beautiful theme for the main characters that represents the dark romance between its two main heroes. The music is used at all the right moments.
Despite all this criticism, I still have faith that the series can get back on its feet. Most of that faith stems from the performance of Kristen Stewart, who I believe is perfect for the role of Bella. Stewart has been the target of some much heated and much undeserved criticism on the Internet and I'd like to take a moment to defend her.
I have no knowledge of Stephanie Meyer's original novels so my views may not fall in line with the purists, but Stewart has impressed me with how easily she blends into her role. Her performance has been under heavy scrutiny due to the fact that her lines are often delivered awkwardly and her facial expressions are limited. In this case, it is NOT a bad thing. Like what M. Night Shyamalan did for The Happening (a misunderstood film in its own right), this is a case of awkward acting being mistaken for bad acting. Bella is supposed to be this confused naive girl. People like her do not act smoothly and in control of the situation. And I guarantee that if you suddenly find yourself surrounded by werewolves and vampires. you'd be at a loss for words too. Her reactions are very realistic and very un-Hollywoodlike (probably the only un-Hollywoodlike thing you will see in this franchise).
Stewart also brings a personal touch to the role. In her media interviews, she comes across as being very shy and very real. Even someone as down-to-Earth as Oprah couldn't get her to relax in front of the camera. She often mentions how much she values her family life, leading me to believe that red carpets and paparazzis isn't the lifestyle for her. Yet from my observations, she handles her fame with great care and maturity; something that other young actresses can learn from her. Stewart is very much in control and I hope she continues to listen to her fans instead of those losers that were quick to jump on her for coughing at last year's Academy Awards ceremony. (Seriously people, get a life.)
Defense over. On to conclude with the main topic.
To reiterate, New Moon is missing the novelty factor that made the first film special to a lot of people, including yours truly. I wonder if the rushed production has something to do with it. You can't blame the studio for wanting to milk this franchise for all it's worth. The box-office numbers speak for itself. But they can't afford to be too cocky with their success or it could cost them in the long run. This film may be a sign of things to come. Let's hope I'm wrong.