The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) Movie Review

The midnight showing was sold out and electricity rocketed through the air from the excitement. It was as if a viewer was attending a midnight mass for a Goth Christmas, and when everyone got home, Edward and Jacob would have visited and left presents under the posters bearing their likeness. BOOYAH!! Everyone at Hot Topics is gettin’ laid tonight!

The amazingly rampant popularity of the “Twilight Saga” more or less makes the plot summary of this review obsolete. But for those who have lived in blissful ignorance, here is the obligatory recap.

Fearing he’s become a danger to Bella, Edward dumps her and decides he can’t live without her. So he travels to Italy to see the Volturi, the powerful vampire ruling class. He’s got a bizarre suicide plan where he’s hoping the Volturi will put an end to him once and far all. Bella meanwhile, occupies her spare time by becoming a daredevil adrenaline junkie. During this trying period in her life, she renews her friendship with Jacob Black. Jacob reveals to her that he and his friends are shapeshifting supernatural beings who have the ability to morph into wolves. While Bella begins to develop feelings for Jacob, her heart urges her to go after Edward. To save him from the Volturi, Bella and Alice Cullen travel to Italy on a seemingly impossible mission to face off against the old and frighteningly powerful vampires.

“Twilight” fans brook blasphemy as well as Muslim clerics, so it’s probably perilous to report that “New Moon” isn’t exactly a backseat-after-the-prom-experience. Points for effort are given to scribe Melissa Rosenberg and director Chris Weitz. They manage a rare feat in creating a film that surpasses the original; not so much “Star Wars” to “Empire Strikes Back”, more like “Batman” to “Batman Returns”. Chris Weitz crafts a film that’s visually far better than the last one, although there are some pacing issues that causes the film to drag. Rosenberg does her best to streamline Stephanie Meyer’s tangled novel, and anyone who has read the author’s magnum opus knows that is a task that would drive a writer of weaker will into voluntary commitment at the nearest mental institution.

Rosenberg also nicely maneuvers around the fact that Edward is absent from the majority of the story by having him appear periodically as a dreamy apparition. Smart move, you don’t want your vampire poster boy looking like he skipped town like an inmate fleeing Alcatraz on a homemade raft. The wolfpack transformation effects by Tippett Studios look pretty good, and altogether the visual effects for “New Moon” are a marked improvement over the first movie. Music by Alexandre Desplat is effective in keeping with the gloomy, sometimes melancholy tone, but it also adds resonance when needed.

“New Moon” sports an excellent supporting cast. Michael Sheen is terrific and over the top as the psychic vampire Aro, and Graham Greene is excellent as Harry Clearwater. As Dr. Cullen, Peter Facinelli does a quick, but emotive turn that makes everyone forget he was ever in “Supernova”. As Jane, the agony inducing vampire aristocrat, Dakota Fanning can be downright scary in her brief time onscreen. What’s problematic is that these characters appear too briefly, like a brief burst of sunshine that flashes through darkened skies. They contribute a lot to “New Moon” and you wish the filmmakers would have found a way to integrate them more, even if it means altering the original storyline of the novel.

It’s true that “New Moon” has a talented supporting cast and able creative team, but that’s just not enough to save it. And here the heresy begins: the holy trinity of Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner drag the film down to its stygian emo depths. Pattinson is likable enough, and it’s easy to see how his undead James Dean would be attractive to female fans. The problem is, he just doesn’t get how to play a hundred plus year old vampire, even on his second try. He never projects the tragic gravity of his life, someone who could outlive the mortal he loves. His mouth may say the words, but you never see the emotion in his eyes. He has trouble grasping what it’s like to be an old man in a young man’s body; he acts like a young man trying to act like an old man who’s a young man. If the that confuses anyone, don’t worry. Robert Pattinson hasn’t worked it out yet either. Pattinson does have a ton of potential to be far more than a just a teen idol, but until then he’ll just be an attractive but fair nosferatu.

Kristen Stewart spends much of the film looking like she has some sort of demon parade going on inside her skull. Looking depressed, she’s a drag to be around; it’s hard to see her as a girl an immortal would kill and die for. Stewart’s been quite good in previous roles, so she obviously has the talent to do much better. For whatever reason, she doesn’t use it here. As Jacob Black, Lautner certainly put a lot of work into looking the part. Now with short hair and a ridiculously buff body, he looks the image of a teen idol. With a good deal of screen time in the sequel, this is his chance to shine. But the makeover is just skin deep; his performance is flat, he has moments of emotional spark but otherwise is pretty dull, and it’s hard to see him as Edward’s competition for Bella. Lautner has also done better, with director Robert Rodriguez. Maybe the director of “Eclipse” can keep Rodriguez on speed dial to give the acting trio motivational talks.

When it comes down to it, “New Moon” is a supernatural romantic triangle between three people it’s really hard to care about. Having great technical and theatrical support is good, but without three strong lead performances, the film falls flat. It’s easy to call “New Moon” an improvement over “Twilight”, since the preceding film was pretty horrific. Maybe in six months, when “Eclipse” is released with a new director, the series will finally realize its potential. Fans of Edward, Jacob, and Bella will no doubt be ecstatic with this entry. Anyone else, best wait for it on DVD. There are better ways to spend two hours in the dark.

Chris Weitz (director) / Melissa Rosenberg (screenplay), Stephenie Meyer (novel)
CAST: Kristen Stewart … Bella Swan
Robert Pattinson … Edward Cullen
Billy Burke … Charlie Swan
Taylor Lautner … Jacob Black
Ashley Greene … Alice Cullen
Cam Gigandet … James
Michael Sheen … Aro
Jamie Campbell Bower … Caius

Buy The Twilight Saga: New Moon on DVD