Saturday, November 21, 2009

Twilight: New Moon

Twilight [PG-13]
Grade: B
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke
Director: Chris Weitz
Free Admission Granted

How you feel about Twilight: New Moon seems to be dividing along the lines of how you feel about the first film, last year’s Twilight, and its director, Catherine Hardwicke.

In the first film of this female-oriented vampire franchise, Hardwicke evoked an impassioned teen-age swooniness among its damply metaphorical forest setting. The problem – that’s all Hardwicke brought to the severely budget-crunched debut. And even that was double-edged. Each viewer had a choice of heartily succumbing or rolling their eyes.

Directed by Chris Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy), Twilight: New Moon definitely cuts down the eye-rolling. But that also means that New Moon is shorter on the high-school Gothic romanticism that has sparked such devotion from the franchise fans. The word you keep hearing with New Moon is “polished.” That means the look, pace, effects, and all things technical are vastly improved. But even someone who liked the film – and ultimately I did – can see that it has lost a chunk of its heart.

New Moon revives the tale of Bella Swan (a moody Kristen Stewart), the girl with the fairy tale name and the most complicated love life ever to be persistently interrupted by an all-seeing telephone. She continues to date her way through the James Whale/Val Lewton MGM horror film catalog, circa 1940. New Moon finds her torn, (but not really torn) between a sweet werewolf trainee who looks like Fabio and a vampire who looks like James Dean and dresses like Leonard Cohen. This isn’t just a rivalry for affections, but one with blood, teeth, and ancient animosities.

Edward Cullen, the vampire who can definitely see himself in the mirror, quickly makes like a bat and flies off. That drives a wooden stake through parts of the film. Unfortunately it is star Robert Pattinson who provides the wood – the cool sense of removal that made him such an elusive attraction last time here makes him seem cold and distant.

Bella dries her tears on the newly buff shoulders of the affably irrelevant teen wolf Jacob. A romance that might have looked plausible when the ink was still drying on the paper is now clearly only a prelude to the next chapter. While Taylor Lautner is game in trying to keep up the ruse, we know where Bella’s heart really lies. Poor Jacob never really had a chance.

While Weitz is being criticized for various indecencies, the film looks and moves much better. There’s a few nifty visual sequences (an impressive vampire werewolf chase set to Radiohead; a circling time elapse shot revealing the passing of the seasons is damn near brilliant.) He also brings a touch of the Grimm. New Moon is less a romance and more a fairy tale. Included is a macabre sense of humor about how we are all ultimately a potential dinner.

For all its issues, I enjoyed New Moon, and thought it, on first blush, a far better film than the first. Yet like its central vampire, I know it is designed to appeal straight to me. Therefore, I’m naturally suspicious of my assessment. It doesn’t matter. You’re going, anyway. You can write and tell me.

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