The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Director    Chris Weitz
Starring    Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke
Release    20 NOV (US) 20 NOV (UK)    Certificate 12A
2 stars


22nd November 2009

Let's forget for a moment that the Twilight Saga is a virus rapidly infiltrating every facet of our society and instead ask: can a global phenomenon currently smashing box-office records still warrant a negative review? The answer is yes. Yes, it can.

The problem lies in the fact that what makes the franchise so critically contemptible is the same factor that makes it popular. Riddled as it is with cliché and melodrama (oh, the melodrama), the story is appealing because these elements make it easily accessible.

The truth is, however, the Twilight Saga is a lie. It masquerades as a chronicle of love and cool monsters but it is really just about a teenage girl coping with teenage problems, and it is this secret that is responsible for both its considerable success and its critical failure.

Continuing from the first in the series, New Moon starts with Bella (Stewart) on her 18th birthday. As she worries about growing older next to her forever-young beau, Edward (Pattinson), the vampire himself is more concerned with the danger she naturally faces by being in his company. Being a self-sacrificing gent, Edward breaks up with Bella for her own good, forcing her to seek solace in the now muscled arms of Jacob (Lautner), who is going through some changes himself. The clue is in the title.

[gallery]The problem that this film immediately faces is its source material. Stephanie Meyer uses the second book in her series to almost solely concentrate on Bella's feelings of abandonment. It is an account by Bella herself who spends 85% of the novel with a crushed heart and an extinguished passion for life. And, boy, can she dwell on her problems.

So Film Obstacle Number 1: How can you make an exciting film from a book that has little to no action sequences and is written as a girl's emotional outpouring? Film Obstacle Number 2: how can you capitalise on Robert Pattinson's Most Yummy Heartthrob in the World Ever status when his character is largely absent from the story?

Well, it has to be said that screenwriter Rosenberg does a good job here, peppering the film with any small action sequences that will fit and expanding the early pre-dumping scenes and the climactic ending to bulk out Pattinson's screen presence.

Unfortunately, in doing this, the pacing of the film is largely off, with some of the more contemplative moments appearing rushed and some of the minor characters, introduced because they'll have a bigger part to play in the films yet to come, barely getting more than a mention.

That is, however, to be expected in a film that has only ever been about the three characters that make up the monster love triangle. As Edward, Robert Pattinson has more fun with the role here, moving on from the tortured romantic lead of the last instalment (which saw him act more like a constipated Frankenstein) and lightening up enough for us to glimpse a playful teasing side to the vamp that acts as a relief to the melancholic standard.

Taylor Lautner, on the lycanthropic side, has done everything humanly possible to keep his Jacob role in New Moon, after his dire turn in the first film. This involved becoming a ripped hunk pretty much overnight to accurately portray the increasingly muscled werewolf, as well as, I suspect, taking some serious acting lessons to boot. As a relative newcomer to the big screen, Lautner does a good job of shouldering much of the film, as well as portray a love interest worthy of Pattinson's opposition.

But whether you side with vamps or wolves, you'll notice that nobody turns up to the cinema wearing a 'Team Bella' t-shirt. The lovelorn teenager does Kristen Stewart no favours as she goes from moping to attention-seeking to self-pitying between scenes; none of which is engaging, and all while dragging her hair down in front of her eyes. It's annoying enough to make you want to shout at the screen "Look him in the EYE!" as she speaks.

The other most important aspect to a film of this nature is the computer-generated effects. While it is largely agreed that CGI should come secondary to story, there should be no excuse for such little effort going into New Moon's most important devices, such as creating 'realistic' wolves and portraying supernatural abilities, especially when the story itself is ridiculously straightforward (did I mention she dwells...a lot?).

The split-second werewolf changes are, frankly, a joke, but then this is fashionable horror for the MTV audience in a film that sets vampires against werewolves like they are Nike versus Adidas. And this has always been the crux of the problem for the Twilight Saga: the 'monsters' themselves are impotent, and so, therefore, is the action.

Thank god, then, for the Volturi. Well, more specifically, Michael Sheen. For, while the rest of the characters that make up the clan of the 'vampire royalty' (including an underused Dakota Fanning) are typically uninteresting, Sheen plays one of the leaders, Aro, with a creepy sense of wonder and glee. His panto performance is pitched perfectly and earns the film at least one star all on his own. As Aro has a bigger part to play in the remaining instalments of the saga, I dare say the films will be all the more enjoyable for it.

For now, though, New Moon is exactly what you'd expect: a movie that puts the fantasy in 'fantasy horror'. The fantasy being, of course, that of every teenage girl: fall in love with the perfect guy, face ridiculous odds, dwell. It is this unappealing formula that causes the film to misfire at almost every level, but which also means it will carry on setting the box office alight in its embodiment of every tween's wet dream.

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