I am a straight, 27-year old man, and I have read all four "Twilight" books. I read them because a friend gave them to me and said they were good. They were easy enough reads, even if Bella is one of the most horrible protagonists ever put to paper and the series twists and skewers what it means to be an empowered female. I liked the first book well enough. The second one was OK. The third one, which actually has a plot, is pretty good. The fourth book equals several hours of my life that I can never, ever get back.
I say all this to lead up to the announcement that, a week after its $140-million debut, I went and saw Twilight: New Moon with two of my female friends. Let's just say they enjoyed it more than I did.
"New Moon," the book, was a pleasant enough read. Jacob is much more interesting than Edward, and for obvious reasons much more down-to-earth (he's only a werewolf, where Edward is a bloodthirsty vampire who sparkles in sunlight). The developing relationship between Bella and Jacob is relatively fun, even if Bella is the biggest cock-tease in the world. But, I had worries about the book being turned into a movie. For starters, very little happens in the book. Secondly, one of the main characters (Edward) isn't around most of the time. And three, very little happens in the book.
Director Chris Weitz (American Pie, The Golden Compass) does a good enough job. The movie looks good, and, unlike The Golden Compass, the film feels like it was edited by a pro. The use of music, melodramatic or modern, is surprisingly effective. But Weitz has very little impact on the quality of the movie, because the book just doesn't lend itself to an adaptation.
When put to film, you realize how terrible the source material is. Sure, it's one thing for a teenage girl to read about what's going on in Bella's head, but her quasi-romantic thoughts toward Jacob, combined with a few semi-tense action scenes, are not enough to make a movie. The result: a long, boring and at times cheesy drama. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, released earlier this year, had very little action in it either, but that movie, which also had quite a bit of teen love, never felt dull, or silly, or stupid. If you disagree - wait five years until you're older and re-watch both movies. Yeah, I thought so.
New Moon suffers from the emphasis placed on the sappy melodrama Bella has to deal with. Every time Robert Pattinson is on the screen, Weitz slows the film down to capture every sparkle and smirk, but the result is just a bunch of cheesy slow-motion shots that had several people in the audience cracking up. When Bella smacks her head, Taylor Lautner strips off his shirt to reveal his sculpted 17-year old bod, an absolutely absurd moment that would never happen in real life (the audience also laughed at this, and not in a good way). While some people fault Kristen Stewart's performances in the Twilight movies, she's actually pretty good; it's just that the dialogue handed to her is so one-layered she has to bite her lip a lot of the time to drag out the scene. The same cannot be said about the two male leads, neither of which I consider to be great contributions to the acting world. Pattinson doesn't get much to do, which is maybe for the better, while Lautner seems uncomfortable with a romantic part. He improves when he gets to be angry or serious, but the performances from the two guys make the movie feel like an ABC Family TV movie.
Even if you get past all that, and you can to some degree, the movie rarely changes tone or mood, which is odd for something that is supposed to be seen through Bella's emotional point of view. I complimented Weitz a few paragraphs back for doing a "good enough job," and stylistically that statement holds true. But when you look at the big moments in the movie, New Moon is flat; as in The Golden Compass, Weitz misses when he's supposed to go for the homerun.
The movie relies too heavily on the assumption that the entire audience knows what's going to happen; this is probably a true assumption, but it doesn't allow Weitz to elevate the material. In one of the few action-oriented scenes, where Bella encounters Laurent, the sequence should have been extremely suspenseful and scary. Yes, you know Bella is going to survive, but good directors are able to trick the audience into feeling what the protagonist is feeling. Weitz should have made us piss our pants in that scene, but he doesn't.
In the scene where Bella first sees Jacob transform into a werewolf, there should have been a sense of awe or amazement, and yet nothing in the way she acts or talks implies this.
And the climax never builds to any sense of dread. All the right things are said, but showing Edward's shock that Bella is gone and Alice's sudden realization that he is going to try to kill himself come and go without any emotional blip whatsoever. The race to save Edward at the end lacks suspense, and while the encounter with the Volturi is pretty good, there's not a whole lot riding on the sequence. Weitz is restrained by the story that millions of girls have read repeatedly, but a director should be able to drill into these crucial scenes and deliver something new on an emotional level.
Also, the lame attempts to keep Edward in the movie by having Bella see him floating here and there are pretty pathetic.
As much as I nitpick, Twilight: New Moon is a faithful adaptation of the book; many of its shortcomings are out of the filmmakers' hands. And yet, there needed to be more here to qualify the movie as "good." Twilight: New Moon just isn't that good, and all the little teenage girls that have now added me to their death lists will realize that when they grow up.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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