Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Retrospective Review: Twlight: New Moon

Bella Swann (Kristen Stweart) may be one of the unluckiest characters in all of literary history. She certainly is close to the most pathetic if not naive as well. How unfortunate it is, after all, to have to fill the gaping hole left in your heart from a departed vampire lover with a new werewolf lover.

Certainly there has to be a mortal boy or two at her small town Washington high school, no? That would certainly solve most if not all of her emotional afflictions, which in New Moon, the follow-up to Catherine Hardwick’s Twilight adaptation, are pushed out of the realm of innocent and dumb teenage after school special flirtation and into that of unbearable melodrama. Bella’s love belongs to the vampire Edward Cullen who is played by Robert Pattison who looks like the son of Bela Lugosi, is eternally posed in some dark tableau of deep suffering and whose hair seems to have its own center of gravity.

Fearing that such a mortal is not safe amidst his family of bloodsuckers, he ditches Bella and disappears in hopes of protecting her. Of course the split hits hard; so hard in fact that Bella’s suffering surpasses that of general high school moping and instead keeps her up at night screaming out in such pain that you’d think she was in the throws of a heroin intervention program. I guess that’s why it is unwise to give all of your love to the only boy in class who would rather bite your neck than caress it.

However, what Bella discovers is that, whenever placed in any sort of mortal danger, visions of Edward appear, who warns her against her actions. Bella thus becomes an adrenaline junky and in one scene narrowly escapes disaster when she crashes a dirt bike at top speed after being distracted by Edward.

In an effort to cope with her pain, Bella begins becoming close with her neighbour Jacob (the invariably shirtless Taylor Lautner), who is both Native American and, she soon discovers after he too abandons her without explanation, is slowly turning into a werewolf as he ages. As if puberty isn’t hard enough.

The werewolves of course are part of his tribe and have a pact with the vampires, their enemies, which agree that they will leave each other alone, so long as the vampires stay on their own land and don’t run around biting humans. This proves to be a problem as Bella’s feelings are caught between both Edward and Jacob and so forth. There is also a rather fruitless subplot about Edward travelling to Rome to kill himself in front of a vampire committee of some sort named the Vultrians after he believes Bella has died during one of her adrenaline rushes.

The Vulturians are lead by Aro who is played by the British actor Michael Sheen (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) who got to play a werewolf in the uninspired Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and goes just over the top enough here, his body twisting and contorting in on itself, proving himself a man in serious need of a leading role in an Anne Rice adaptation.

The film this time was directed by Chris Weitz, who directed two invaluable comedies (American Pie and About a Boy) with his brother Paul before heading out on his own with the truly underrated Golden Compass. Weitz, a more honest storyteller to Hadrwick’s more stylistic tendencies, trades in the ugly blue murk that covered the first Twilight film and replaces it with a brighter, more natural autumn look.

And that’s about the only difference. Weitz, a good filmmaker, is awash in a sea of juvenile, ridiculous and, more often than not, just plain dumb material. What’s most shocking is how very little actually happens in the film, which feels like a constant build up to some big event that never quite gets around to happening.

The first film did that too. Bella loses Edward; gains and loses Jacob; is attacked by bad vampires; is saved by good wolves; is reunited with Edward; is taken in front of the Vulturian and so on and so forth. But there is no overriding dramatic arch that makes the story feel like a self-sufficient whole.

The entire crux of the film is then placed on this silly, uninspired, two-thirds immortal high school love triangle. You’d like to think that, at the close of 2009, the least one could expect from a special-effects fueled blockbuster is some meaningful action that its characters are engaged in and that propels the story into some sort of complete narrative.

At the end of the day all of the scenes with the vampires and the werewolves and the Vulturians are simply a collection of surplus episodes that all lead up to the slender but dire question of whether or not Bella and Edward will end up together again.

Of course it would be hard to blame Weitz or any of the cast and crew involved in the Twilight adaptations for any of this. All problems seem to originate directly between the pages of Stephanie Meyer’s books from which they are based. The books, although aimed at a preteen market, are written at about a nearly incompetent third grade level and would seem to have no concept of the politics of drama, plot or story structure. It doesn’t help that the screenplays are written by Mellisa Rosenberg at the same level of incompetence.

Take this exchange, directed at Bella from a fiancé of one of the werewolves: “So you’re the vampire girl?” “Yeah. So you’re the wolf girl?” “Yeah. Well, at least I’m engaged to one.” What? She’s engaged to a wolf girl? Did no one on set really not see a problem with these line, least of all the ones reciting them?

At the end of the day, Twilight needs to be put into complete artistic turnaround. It needs a director and writer who are willing to break it down, move it as far away from the original texts as possible and rebuild it back from the ground up.

Fat chance of that happening though.

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