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The Twilight Saga: New Moon’ makes fans howl but leaves average viewer perplexed

Jess Shaffer | Monday, November 23, 2009

Thursday at midnight, “Twilight” fans of all ages flocked to theaters to be the first to see their favorite vampires and werewolves, and the mortal high school girl they fight for, back on the big screen. 

“New Moon,” the second chapter of the “Twilight Saga,” takes on the love triangle of Bella (Kristen Stewart), a high school senior stuck in the middle of dangerous, emotionally deep, and perpetually shirtless, immortal monsters with hot bodies.

Left by her alleged soul mate, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), resident small town vampire, Bella fights off depression and tries to pick up the pieces of her life. Conveniently, her friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is more than happy to help, hoping to get a shot at Bella’s romantic affections. Less conveniently, Jacob turns out to be a werewolf, who’s a sworn enemy of Bella’s absent ex and all vampires for that matter. Let the drama of high school love found and lost ensue; but perhaps less predictably, the supernatural takes the classic teenage love story to strange extremes and fantastical ends.

For most viewers who went to go see “New Moon” on opening weekend, the plot of the film was all too familiar. Undoubtedly, those who were first in line to see “New Moon” were most likely part of the many millions of Stephanie Meyer’s book fan base. Whether they lined up in “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” tees or they carried copies of “New Moon” to the theatre with them for comparison reasons, audiences clearly were not going to be taken by surprised by any of “New Moon’s” plot points. Instead, most were looking to see the story of the werewolf or vampire of their dreams brought to life on the big screen. 

The fans could look for several improvements on the film saga, which is now under the direction of Chris Weitz. Leaving behind the obnoxious shifting camera work of Catherine Hardwicke’s “Twilight,” “New Moon” drops the hazy, blue tint that characterized the touch of the series’ previous director. But clear and vivid frames are not Weitz’s only improvement. It seems that other aspects of the series have also lost their cheesy, overly dramatic undertones. Opting for minimalism, Weitz’s special effects of superhuman vampire strength and speed and werewolf shape shifting are less detailed by lacking computer effects and instead are gladly left up to the imagination. Additionally, drastic improvements were made to wardrobe, over the top makeup, and Pattinson’s inability to fake an American accent in the first film.

While Stewart’s Bella spends most of the film in a depressed walking emotional coma, this seems to suit Stewart’s minimal acting capabilities. Fortunately, since “Twilight,” Stewart has cut down on excessive lip biting and instead sticks to an appropriately blank, dejected expression, oddly akin to her resting face. Despite Bella’s emotional trauma, the film is thankfully littered with humorous one-liners that are undeniably lame but somehow manage to keep the film from becoming a painstaking emotional drain.

The film is also kept afloat by three other factors—a hip indie soundtrack, a relatively likeable cast of minor characters and shirtless male hotties. It seems that Weitz predicted that anytime the plot slows or gets particularly pathetic, the foolproof complement is for an attractive male lead to lose his shirt. Based off the sighs and screams emitted from theatres this weekend, Weitz guessed right.  And when the abs of Pattinson or Lautner were absent, glimpses into the personalities of minor characters like Alice or Jessica, who were mostly neglected in the first film, provided a happy distraction.

Though much of “New Moon” seems to deal in dreamscape, and Bella’s nightmares and hallucinations, the film’s take on the subconscious is nothing remarkable. Floating apparitions of Edward that Bella sees in her ex-boyfriend’s absence intermittently appear throughout the film, but are less than impressive if not readily available to criticism. Still, on the whole, while the supernatural and the subconscious may be nothing special in the filming of the “Twilight Saga,” the film does an average handling of a fantastic subject material that is admittedly difficult to bring to the screen.

On the whole, “New Moon” provides a satisfactory fix for Twilight fans, who drool over Edward and Jacob and can’t wait to see Bella’s story brought to the accessibility of the big screen. Objectively, outside of its remarkably enthusiastic fan base, the “Twilight Saga” has little new to offer dramatically, theatrically or mythologically. For the average viewer, who had never heard of Bella Swan, Jacob Black and Edward Cullen, “New Moon” would seem an absurd, B-list Lifetime movie take on a romance novel. But seeing as Bella Swan, Jacob Black and Edward Cullen are unarguably sitting at the metaphorical “cool kids table” of literature along with the likes of Harry Potter, it’s unlikely that anyone with a pulse can go without hearing the names of these characters at one point or another. Under that condition of unfathomable popularity, “New Moon” provides a welcome, highly anticipated film complement to a much obsessed-over book.