/Movie Review – Twilight Saga, The: New Moon

Movie Review – Twilight Saga, The: New Moon

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– Summary –

Director : Chris Weitz
Cast : Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning, Peter Facinelli, Kellan Lutz, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Billy Burke, Rachel Lefevre, Edi Gathegi, Anna Kendrick, Michael Welch.
Year Of Release:  2009
Length : 130 Minutes
Synopsis: When vampire Edward decides to end his relationship with human Bella, she goes off and becomes friends with werewolf Jacob. But when Edward believes Bella is killed while jumping off a cliff, he goes to an ancient vampire stronghold to kill himself as well. Bella must race against time to stop him.
Review : Better acting than Twilight, and a superior directorial effort from Chris Weitz, as well as female-pleasing amounts of buffed and bronzed bodies draped across the screen, made New Moon an improvement in many ways over it’s predecessor. While subtle changes between Meyer’s novel and the film are noticeable, they’re never distracting for fans. Some character development is missing, which leaves New Moon a little confusing for non-Twihards, but overall, a great time to be had in the cinema.

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From the thoughts of Lisa Twelftree, transcribed by Rodney Twelftree.

The second film based upon the popular Twilight Saga series of novels by Stephenie Meyer, New Moon sees the return of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her undead, vampiric boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson), along with lycanthropic third wheel Jacob (Taylor Lautner). After admitting their love in the original film, New Moon now breaks them apart, or at last, stunts their development for a while. When Bella is attacked by Edwards’ vampire “brother” Jasper, whose uncontrolled feelings to taste human blood overwhelm him, Edward makes the decision to remove himself from the human girls life forever, thinking her to be in danger simply by being around them. Bella, swamped by anguish at the departure of her one true love, rekindles her childhood friendship with Jacob, a local native American Indian living on a reservation. However, as Bella soon discovers, Jacob is succumbing to his own monstrous nature and turning into a Werewolf, arch nemesis of all Vampires and of course, a dark attraction develops. As the two become friends, Bella becomes obsessed with seeing Edward again, and discovers that by putting herself in dangerous situations, she is able to envision (or, hallucinate) the visage of Edward to comfort her. But after jumping from a cliff, and setting in motion a chain of misconstrued events, Edward is led to believe that Bella has died, and himself wishes to end it all as well. After all, he promised Bella that he’d never live if she died. So Edward goes to a powerful Vampire family living in an ancient medieval city in Italy, in order to be killed. The Volturi, the self-appointed guardians of Vampire lore and protectors of the rules their species governs with, will kill Edward if he goes ahead with his plan to reveal himself to humans in the sunlight during a public spectacle. Bella, along with Edwards “sister” Alice, race to Italy to try and stop him. While all this is going on, Bella is still being hunted by the female Vampire we saw in Twilight, Victoria, whose partner James was killed by Edward at the conclusion of that film. As revenge, Victoria is seeking out Edwards mate to kill, putting Bella right in the path of an unstoppable blood sucking machine.

No, I'm a Virgo. You're a Gemeni. It'll never work....
No, I’m a Virgo. You’re a Gemeni. It’ll never work….

With Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke pulling out of New Moon duties, in steps American Pie co-director Chris Weitz, whose resume to date hasn’t exactly been the sort you’d expect for a film like this. About a Boy, that lovely Hugh Grant flick, and the lacklustre Golden Compass both featured his touch, indicating a rather lukewarm response to New Moon‘s potential by studio Summit Entertainment. Weitz seems to have found his niche with New Moon, a teen-angst film with some decent special effects, both genre styles he’s tackled before. Speaking of: the film tackles themes of anxiety and separation, friendship and unrequited love, which stirred together add up to a potentially marvellous character-driven film with a hint of supernatural. But does it live up to the hype?

The film is a significant improvement in many ways on Twilight, which was more about the lovey-dovey romance between Bella and Edward than anything really substantial. Since Twilight followed Stephenie Meyer’s novel quite closely, giving the film nowhere to really develop beyond what Meyer had concocted on the page, New Moon is a step up in terms of both action (sorely needed after Twilight‘s lack of such!) and romantic entanglements. The love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob has become the pop-culture phenomenon unto itself, something this film plays up on a lot. Jacob, as well as his werewolf buddies, seem to parade around the film with their shirts off almost the entire time, which if you’re female isn’t a big problem, but could potentially alienate any male viewers who aren’t familiar with the story. Still, the books are marketed as teen romance in most  areas, so I guess the film-makers are simply catering to their audience! New Moon does follow Meyer’s novel version quite closely, with only a few minor modifications in terms of plot minutia (Harry Clearwaters sudden heart-attack in the book, brought on without incident and almost an incidental moment in the series, is moved to a more logical point in the film, in which the attack is brought on by a close encounter with Victoria) allow the story to be more organic, less rigid.

Did you know I can more each nipple independently of the other?
Did you know I can move each nipple independently of the other?

The acting in New Moon is also better here than in Twilight, with Robert Pattinson in particular seeming to be more at ease with his stony, melancholy Edward character than we’ve previously seen. He wears the Edward persona well, which means the characterisation in New Moon is less wooden and more natural than in the previous film. Kristen Stewart, who I always felt was a somewhat overrated actress (although she did do a great job in Panic Room!) also improves upon the Bella character as well, making her performance more naturalistic and less, well, rigid. Taylor Lautner’s performance is adequate, and I think he’s in the film more for his looks and ability to make young girls drool, than any real dramatic ability. His constant shirtless performance will keep women viewers engaged for ages, but his dramatic range is limited to scowls and angst. As a small side note, I appreciated the way that here, they made Bella less pale than Edward, unlike in Twilight, where she was almost undeader than he was, and she wasn’t a vampire! This time, they got that right!

The cast of the Volturi, including BAFTA winner Michael Sheen and child-wunderkind Dakota Fanning, show just where the improvement in the franchise’s acting has been focussed. With a more quality calibre casting here, the film bubbles along quite well, and the story significantly improves. The film-makers have thrown in an extra fight sequence that wasn’t in the original novel, which I guess stops the film becoming all talk, something of a relief to the majority watching. Martin Sheen in particular comes across as a likeable enough vampire, Aro, a charming yet dangerous individual that plays a pivotal role in the series. Fanning, as Jane, gets an extended cameo which pretty much encapsulates the character she plays, showing her talent at bringing even the smallest role to life in a way a lot of more seasoned actors struggle to do. There was one major problem with New Moon‘s screenplay, which was the lack of decent back story to the Volturi, something Meyer’s original novel managed to include and, consequently, bring the characters to life. In the film, the history of the Volturi, as well as the Cullen family’s connection to them, is glossed over rather perfunctorily, which is disappointing considering their influence over the characters overall. What with the films lengthy running time (clocking in at 2 hrs and 10 minutes) you’d think they might have given a few of the more lengthy dialogue moments a trim and allowed the historical back story to become more prominent. From history we can ascertain a degree of character knowledge that allows us to generate a more rounded opinion of them.

Don't look at me. YOU didn't want to stop at that last gas station!
Don’t look at me. YOU didn’t want to stop at that last gas station!

The CGI in the film is pretty standard fare for a film of this budget, with the werewolves coming under the most scrutiny. While Hollywood imagineers have yet to perfectly capture the movement and look of hair, which leaves the werewolves a little fake-looking, but not to the point of being distracting, generally the effects are pleasing to watch. The chase sequences are also quite good, with the Werewolf pack chasing Victoria, as well as the Laurent/Werewolf battle which was hinted at in Twilight, with Laurent the last of the trio which stumble upon the Cullens playing baseball to appear in the film. Alexandre Desplat’s score is broadened by a pop-song soundtrack, working well into the film to heighten Bella’s character and feelings; after all, this is her story, and the music is meant to reflect her innermost feelings at the time. Meyer, when writing the books listened a lot to bands like Muse, Radiohead and Band Of Skulls, to name a few. These bands have made their way into the soundtrack of the film, and more accurately bring to life the mood and feelings of the characters. While not a classic, the score is certainly appropriate.

Dude, the new range at Ikea is fanTAStic!!!!
Dude, the new range at Ikea is fanTAStic!!!!

One scene that really doesn’t suit the overall tone of the film, is during the climactic Volturi confrontation, where Alice sees a vision of Edward and Bella running towards each other, slow-motion and sugary sweet, the swooning musical score sweeping in from all around, Sound-Of-Music style: I’m not sure if it was meant as parody or as genuine drama, but it didn’t work, and almost ruined the scene for me. It’s a scene not in the book, and appears put into the film to quickly explain the potential future of Bella and Edward… it doesn’t work.

The film is long, but never feels that way: the film is exciting and dramatic when required, neither overcooked or underdeveloped, except in the aforementioned moments. There’s a genuinely cool cliff-hanger to end on, which is stolen from the third book, Eclipse. I’d describe New Moon as like a car ride going at 60, pretty cruisy without being boring. People who haven’t read the books, or seen the original film, will find plenty to enjoy about New Moon, although some moments do require a little back story. But it’s not essential. It’s hard to watch this film having read the book, and try and explain how good or bad it is based on that comparison, but the film requires almost no foreknowledge to enjoy. If you have read the book, you’ll enjoy it more, but it’s virtually a given that most people watching New Moon have trolled through the series anyway, and know what’s going on.

Slow and lingering, just how he liked his meat cooked.
Slow and lingering, just how he liked his meat cooked.

No doubt for the legion of Twilight Saga fanatic out there, enjoying this film is a forgone conclusion. So this review is primarily aimed at those who are teetering with the leap into the abyss of this franchise. If you’ve avoided the series in order to avoid ridicule or sarcasm, then there’s no longer an excuse. New Moon is a fine translation of Stephenie Meyer’s novel, and a great example of how an almost faithful rendition of a story can work on screen. Exciting and dynamic, New Moon rocks.

6-Star

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