I was always taught that if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right. And in my mind, there isn’t a more apt application for such a life theory than in the adaptation of popular novels into films. When you think about these popular literary franchise — many of whom have rabid fan bases — it is hard to imagine making a movie (or in this case, two) out of them that are subpar. As we’ve seen with the Harry Potter franchise, the key is to take the story from the books and build upon it. Find good actors, dazzle the fan base with great special effects and make the film’s accessible enough so that folks outside the fan base will be drawn in, and ultimately drawn into the world of the books as well. It’s a reverse method of getting people to read more — make the movies interesting enough, and folks will go after the rest of the story.
Not so with the Twilight franchise, at least not up to this point. With the release of New Moon, the second in a line of four films to be released by Summit Entertainment, the Twilight franchise has succeeded in doing only one thing: appeasing its built-in fan base. Which is sad, because such a rabid fan base deserves something better — something that will reach out to the rest of the world and invite others to see what they see. Sadly, this is not that case — and while its easy to say that some people just won’t “get” this operatic tale of love seen through the eyes of a teen girl, I would rather blame lazy filmmaking.
New Moon picks up where the first Twilight film left off, with Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) locked in a heated, yet abstinent, love affair. But after a freak accident at Bella’s birthday party puts her life in danger, Edward leaves her in hopes of giving her a chance at a normal life — one that doesn’t involve brooding over a vampire. Left with emptiness in her heart, Bella weeps for Edward for several months, eventually emerging slightly from her depression to forge a new friendship with the constantly shirtless Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a now-meaty friend who is going through a few odd changes himself. As Bella digs deeper into Jacob’s life, she soon finds out that he isn’t all that he seems either.
From there, we find out about the true nature of Jacob and his tribe and — spoiler alert — their sweet ancestry of being werewolves. At this point, director Chris Weitz sets in and delivers two of the few shining achievements of New Moon. One is the development of Jacob as a character, aided by a solid performance from Taylor Lautner. After a movie and a third of watching Bella with Edward, it is almost sweet to see her engaging with someone who might have some depth to them, even if he does turn into a giant wolf from time to time. As well, Weitz delivers a wolf-on-wolf action sequence during Bella’s discovery of the wolf pack that is quite awesome, and reminiscent of his crowning achievement in The Golden Compass, the epic polar bear fight scene. It was the only point in the film when New Moon was exciting, and not bogged down with slo-mo action or brooding, hollow shells of romantic archetypes.
The rest of the movie is about as moving and engaging as watching a 24-hour golf marathon on television, in French. Sure, there is something there if you’re really interested in it and you speak the language, but to anyone sitting on the outside it is just another surface-level romantic melodrama that is poorly paced. On top of that, the Twilight films (can’t speak for the books) give us two main characters who are increasingly difficult to like, let alone adore (let alone root for). Bella is a whiny, weak-willed character whose sole preoccupation is finding a man through which she can define herself, and Edward is a creepy 109-year old vampire who is trolling the high school halls for young girls.
On top of that, Robert Pattinson’s performance is excruciatingly stale. I get it, he’s playing a vampire who is supposed to be without emotion. But he’s also playing the exception to the rule, the vampire who falls madly in love with this beautiful human girl and will do anything and everything to keep her safe. There should be something beneath the surface, something added to Edward to make him feel like the exception — and in Pattinson’s incredibly hollow performance, we see none of that. The same can be said for Kristen Stewart, who delivers once again a performance that makes Bella feel like a caricature of an overly dramatic, perpetually confused teen. If she is to become an icon for young girls everywhere, then I weep for an entire generation.
Beyond character problems and failure to craft an engaging, purposefully paced narrative, New Moon mostly suffers from an insider baseball complex, in which the only folks who can truly engage in the story are those who have intimate previous knowledge of these characters, whether it’s from the first Twilight film or Stephenie Meyer’s series of books. This fact cripples the film’s ability to reach out beyond its core audience, leaving many an audience member confused, bewildered and downright bored.
But as someone who has seen both films and read enough of the books to know what it going on, I can tell you that the most disheartening thing about this film is that while its fan base will be satisfied with it — especially the hanging ending that feels tacked on — they really aren’t getting their fandom’s worth with these movies. There is a story within Stephenie Meyer’s books that could make for a good movie, and a method by which these movies could be accessible and engaging. It just seems as if Summit and their respective creative teams can’t find it. That said, thanks to the nature of the story (the added action of the werewolves and the rush to find Edward in Italy), director Chris Weitz has lucked out — and in turn he has found himself the director of a movie that, while not good in the least, is at least more engaging than Catherine Hardwicke’s first film. Should this trend continue, the infinitely more capable director David Slade may actually give us something worth watching with the next installment, Eclipse.
The Upside: It plays to the fans, and does have a few action scenes (mostly with the wolves) that are pretty fun to watch.
The Downside: Poorly structured, poorly paced, poorly executed CGI in places and characters that are unlikeable, despite the fact that we should be rooting for them. An inaccessible mess.
On the Side: Each member of the wolf pack had to have papers proving their Native decent. Spencer is Lakota (Sioux), Pelletier is Cree-Metis, Meraz is Purepecha (Tarasco), Gordon is Hualapai, and Houseman, who was discovered at an open casting call, is Cree.