Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Moon (2009)

After the success of Twilight, Summit Entertainment certainly realized they had a goldmine on their hands, so you'd think the second installment would be an improvement on the modest first. Unfortunately, that was not the case from either a story, acting or production standpoint.

To begin with, the new director Chris Weitz was not an improvement over Catherine Hardwicke. It seemed like he had less of a budget to work with, when just the opposite was true. In this second installment, there are no scenic visuals, no arresting camera angles. No artful staging. There's more action, but it feels phony and falls flat. It includes the wolves that were in the book and some Volturi fights that were not. Since the filmmakers feel the need to rev up the volume, not by heightening the romance upon which this saga is built, but by creating physical conflicts that weren't in the original source material, I shudder to think of what they will do for the series finale.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are back in this sequel, although Pattinson is absent for 75% of the movie and Taylor Lautner steps in as Jacob, the other non-human in Bella's life. Having Pattinson gone saved the audience from much of his relentless squinting. His broad forehead is constantly wrinkled in, what I can only assume is supposed to be agony. He has a visage that resembles Frankenstein more than Dracula and he mumbles so much that if I hadn't read the books, I'd have little idea of anything Edward said. The laconic Kristen Stewart's measured monotone mirrors his and they're a murmur match made in heaven.

Stewart is not untalented. She has a deft quality that brings small moments to life, as when Bella, eager to avoid a romantic movie, convinces her friends to go see Face Punch instead. Stewart plays subtle humor well, but when the script calls for deep emotion -- such as a fear of bloodthirsty vampires or the undying love that is the cornerstone of Bella and Edward's relationship -- she's missing in action.

As for Lautner, it's hard to tell whether he's a bad actor or just struggling with bad dialogue. For better or worse, he emotes more than the other two. In the nineties, the X-Files was mocked because critics claimed Mulder and Scully droned constantly, never using inflection in their tones. The Simpsons even spoofed their robotic demeanors in an episode called The Springfield Files and, always one for self-mockery, the X-Files lampooned its own deadpan characters in an entry titled Jose Chung's from Outer Space. The fact is, Mulder and Scully's calm masked repressed love and pain made all the more powerful because it was so controlled. With Bella and Edward, it's not control lurking behind their blank exteriors, but apathy. Everything they are is visible on the surface and that surface is empty.

Comparing the movie to the book, Bella implores Jacob not to make her choose between him and Edward, because if he does she'll choose Edward. She lets Jacob know that it's always going to be Edward. I for one wish that Book Bella had been that direct. In the book she repeatedly described her preference for Edward in much more complicated terms, then ended up contradicting it by describing her attraction for Jacob in almost identical words a few pages later. In the movie, one senses more certainty in her words, for now at least. Who knows what she'll say in the third movie. Certainly, the movie allows Jacob and Bella to connect in a kiss that was deflected by Bella's continued hallucinations of Edward. Meyer's Jacob and Bella did not actually kiss until the end of Eclipse. The movie is taking this side of the triangle further, faster, in a way that can only disappoint Team Edward! As Taylor Lautner has quite a fan base, the movies will, no doubt, make all of Jacob's interactions with Bella racier than the actual Twilight pages would justify.

Furthermore, while the written series ended on a non-violent note, it's doubtful the movie makers will be content for that to happen. They've already revved up the Volterra "action" scenes, in New Moon, creating an extended fight Edward never had with the Volturi guards. There's sure to be more of that manufactured excitement in the films to come, sacrificing the exploration of character relationships for special effects.

Continuing to compare story to script, there's also a small twist earlier in the film when Jacob answers the phone in Bella's home. In the movie, Jacob knows he's talking to Edward, when he sneers and hangs up abruptly. In the book, Jacob thought he was speaking to Edward's father. Given the fact that Jacob knew that Bella would want to speak to Edward above all else, let alone the consequences of that abbreviated phone call (which made Edward mistakenly assume that Bella was dead), Jacob's action in hanging up alone should have been enough to cause Bella to end their friendship for good, without remorse. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen.

The Twilight saga made for an easy read, fulfilling sophmoric fantasies. I invariably expected less from the movie, but not this much less.

My review of the New Moon book can be found

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