Friday, July 8, 2011
Mopefest 2009 - "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" Review
My background with the Twilight series does have some depth to it; I would like to address this before people start claiming that I never gave it a chance or that I went in prejudiced. A few summers back, I read Stephenie Meyer’s first Twilight book out of curiosity over what was making everyone go crazy. While I found the book to be an abject bore, I could see what the female mind found so attractive in the series. The books and films go after an audience that barely ever sees material directed to them, as studio films tend to favor the male teen who gives lots of disposable cash to see big, dumb, action movies every weekend. The female teen finally has something pointing right at her. It’s saying, “I am here, just for you.” Of course she is going to eat it right up! I have no problem with that; both sides of the teen spectrum should have programming intended for them.
So when Twilight came out last year I had no real inclination to go see the film other than for the actress Kristen Stewart, playing Bella. I absolutely adored Ms. Stewart in this year’s Adventureland. The DVD came to shelves, I had Netflix, and eventually I sat down one night and watched director Catherine Hardwicke’s version of the book I had read the previous summer. There is no real need to talk much about my feelings about Twilight except to say that I could barely finish the film. Not because I found it insulting, like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen with its racial stereotypes and fetishization of the American military; I fell asleep. And I wasn’t even tired. I was the wrong audience for the film and the lack of compelling narrative -- something I had issue with in the book as well -- had me really struggling to focus my attention.
Not too long after, a release date for The Twilight Saga: New Moon was announced. The studio, sensing a short-lived hit, decided to cash in on the Twilight property and quickly rushed out the next film in the series. I can’t blame them; they are making a ton of money – this is a brand new film studio that makes films like The Brothers Bloom, a movie I like and recommend. Let them make lots of money. And they got rid of Catherine Hardwicke (though publicly it was announced that she walked away from the property) and hired Chris Weitz to direct. To me, he was an interesting choice. He directed The Golden Compass and About a Boy, both not great films, but interesting. Enough to warrant me watching this new film – with trepidation, of course.
When I look at the notes I took while watching The Twilight Saga: New Moon I can’t help but see that every fifth or sixth word I wrote down was “mope.” If there is a more limp, disconnected film that has been released this year, or in years past, I hope that I don’t have to suffer it. This second film in the Twilight Saga, despite its advertising, is not a dreamy, thorny gothic romance but an unimaginative, stereotypical caricature of depressed teens expanded into 120 draining minutes.
I figured my review of New Moon might be tough to write, but not this tough.
My main problem with The Twilight Saga: New Moon, and what is really the standout reason for why the film is so lackluster, is our “heroine” Bella. I mentioned that I find Kristen Stewart to be an interesting actress, having given one of my favorite performances earlier this year as another confused girl in love, but like in Twilight before, she is given hardly anything to do in New Moon. Her role is less substantial than one-ply toilet paper, and yet she is featured in absolutely every scene. Never has a character done less with so much time. Frankly, I felt more active than Bella while I waited in line at the DMV to get my license reissued: at least I was actively getting a new license while I waited for 4 hours. The character of Bella is empty and listless, lacking any notable characteristic except her insatiable want. She has no opinions and therefore nothing interesting to say. As I said, her only recognizable characteristic is that she wants. The vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the object of her want, is equally empty. A far better writer than myself said, “They’d make a perfect pair, if you were looking for a couple to fill the deep background of a better film.”
So what do the Cullens do? They wash their hands of the matter and leave. Edward brushes off Bella in the way a confused teen might, making this one of the only brief moments of human emotion in the story. Bella starts “moping” around. For months. As any “romantic” would do, Bella attaches onto the beefed up Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who has reached werewolf puberty at a most appropriate time. With both teens confused about their raging emotions, Bella uses Jacob to take her mind off of the missing figure of Edward, playing Jacob along while he is way too smitten to care or acknowledge the truth of their flawed relationship.
This is a classic romantic setup, and one that could be handled quite well with the right direction. However, the new director Chris Weitz doesn’t get this at all. He understands that Bella and Edward represent grand romance to a throng of screaming teens, so what does he do? He places them together in the frame; but there is absolutely no spark between the two. Just because two people look good together on screen doesn’t mean that I feel the romance between then. Bella is meant to be wooed by werewolf Jacob, so Weitz shoots Jake and his wolfpack brothers with their shirts off and pecs glistening. This makes for a great trailer for those who would find this engaging, but Weitz doesn’t seem to be aware of just how laughable that pack actually is. Under the direction of Weitz you could convince me that this is a feature-length parody of the Twilight craze that is sweeping the nation, if I didn’t know any better.
From any technical perspective this is a far more competent film than the craft in Catherine Hardwicke’s first film, even evident in the first trailer for New Moon. But technical competency doesn’t always make for a more interesting film. Thanks to the much larger budget, the effects in New Moon are much, much better than Twilight. The werewolves look menacing and are believable, though not on the level of something like Avatar by James Cameron, of Titanic and Terminator fame. I would also have to imagine that money was saved on buying shirts for most of the cast in this film. Despite the step-up in technical prowess this time around, Hardwicke got it right when it came to the feel of Twilight. In the original film (dare I say it), some of the scenes between Bella and her father were stirring, and Bella’s feeling of isolation was easy to identify with. This gave her a reason to be drawn to Edward, and allowed the audience to feel this. New Moon forgoes this completely and gives the audience no reason to believe in Bella’s pure want.
Call me the harshest critic of all time, but there are plenty of messages in The Twilight Saga: New Moon that harkens back to Romeo and Juliet that I just cannot get behind. When love leaves them behind, Bella and Edward both resort to suicide as the answer. Bella jumps straight off a cliff and Edward tries to end his life at the hands of the Volturi, the vampire royalty. As someone who has worked closely with teens dealing with suicidal feelings, I cannot help but be disgusted by this suggestion as an answer to love’s problems. In fact, this plot point was one of the largest selling points in the trailers for the film, making this act out to be a grand romantic gesture. I guess this might be one of the reasons why I prefer West Side Story’s ending to that of Romeo and Juliet any day of the week.
Once the credits begin to roll, the lack of romantic chemistry and reason for desire is worsened by the lack of any sense of progression. After Edward leaves Bella at the party -- where in the grand scheme of things, nothing happens -- Bella wallows in her own misery for a good third of the film instead of just getting over it. Bella leads Jacob on, and nothing comes of that. Edward almost kills himself, and nothing comes of that. Edward gets in a fight with the Volturi, and just gets forgiven. Edward and Jacob make a kind of pact, and Jacob exits stage left, amounting to what? Nothing. In fact, the only net gain in the plot is the “surprise” ending -- Spoiler Alert! -- Edward asks for Bella’s hand in marriage and then the credits roll.
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson both fight against the content vacuum that essentially sucks the life out of the movie, much like a vampire would suck the life out of its prey. However, neither performance is enough to struggle free from this vampiric grip. Taylor Lautner’s Jacob is only slightly better, but he has the best material in the movie. He is also the only non-depressed character of the trio.
Despite what I believe, this film was a resounding box-office success and will inevitably lead to many more films in this obviously much craved series. I would very much like to see Twilight fans everywhere get a great film to back up their love for these stories; however, The Twilight Saga: New Moon is not that film.