Sunday, September 26, 2010

Something To Gush About: New Moon Has Decent Romance And Conflict.

The Good: Good character work, Decent special effects, General plot, General acting
The Bad: Plot changes up rather abruptly, A few acting wrinkles.
The Basics: Tugging on the heartstrings before becoming a pretty intense action movie, New Moon progresses the Twilight Saga well.

When New Moon came out, it was a pretty good week for my wife and I. Star Trek hit Blu-Ray (and became the first one in our permanent collection) and the release of New Moon theatrically, which was her favorite book in the Twilight Saga, we were both very happy. Given how the first movie I took her to was Twilight (check out my review by clicking here), I was quite excited to be able to share our first viewing of New Moon together by going out to a midnight showing. Since then, we’ve seen the movie a couple of times and even picked up some of the merchandise, like the Bella and Edward Hallmark ornament.

While my wife is a big fan of the Twilight Saga, I have not read any of the books. As a result, this is a very pure review of the film alone. That said, my partner and I were psyched about seeing the next installment in the Twilight Saga and from the sheer number of hand squeezes and excited glances I received from my wife, I am fairly sure readers of the books will enjoy the film. But for those who might not have liked the teen melodrama of Twilight, New Moon offers a bit more and despite the fact that it treads in some pretty familiar ways, New Moon is surprisingly engaging, even to those who might not be predisposed toward the Twilight Saga.

After a nightmare wherein Bella Swan realizes just how profound her aging will be when compared to the immortal nature of her vampire lover, Edward, she begins her Senior year of high school at Forks. On her eighteenth birthday, she tries to keep the event quiet, but is invited to the Cullen’s (local good vampires in Forks, WA) house for a small party. While opening a gift, she gets a papercut and the least stable of the brood, Jacob, makes to harm her. Between this and the fact that locals have begun to notice Dr. Carlisle Cullen not quite looking the right age, Edward and the Cullens leave Forks and abandon Bella. As the months go by, Bella is plagued with loneliness and night terrors, missing both Edward and his “sister,” Alice, whom she had become friends with. After a few stupid decisions which put her in danger, Bella turns to her friend Jacob for companionship.

Over the course of reconstructing two motorcycles together, Bella and Jacob become closer and Bella begins to realize Jacob makes her feel better about Edward’s absence. But Jacob is feeling stress about something within his tribe and he, too, soon flees from Bella. When that happens, Bella becomes proactive and discovers exactly what Jacob’s secret is; he has become a werewolf, like many of the Quileute tribe. The Quileute aid Bella and police chief Swan in dispatching Laurent and hunting Victoria. But during the hunt for Victoria, Bella takes a rash action which causes Alice to have a vision, which changes everything.

At that point, the movie changes from a compellingly moody character study into more of an action-adventure film and even with the format change. Director Chris Weitz does a decent job of maintaining the feel of Twilight while evolving the look in New Moon. If the color palate was blue-washed for much of Twilight, New Moon is simply dark in many of the key moments. It is only in the climax of the film that the colors seem so rich and real that the viewer feels like they are immersed within the story.

Beyond that, New Moon is a very different film from Twilight. Whereas Twilight was preoccupied with building up a passion between Bella and Edward, New Moon quickly becomes a film that is fleshing out the mythos of the Twilight universe. Unfortunately, it is remarkably similar to the mythos of virtually every other fantasy-horror series in recent years. Most closely mimicking the backstory of Underworld, New Moon establishes a now familiar long history of animosity between vampires and werewolves which was only alluded to in Twilight. The thing is, because viewers have seen so much of this in recent years, it is a harder sell and Stephanie Meyer and scriptwriter Melissa Rosenberg have little to offer. Vampires hate werewolves, werewolves hate vampires, humans get caught in the middle. We get it. New Moon, unfortunately, offers no new twists on that old dichotomy.

What the film and the writing deserve credit for is creating a mythos that has some plausible sense of history to it. By fleshing out the Quileute tribe and the Volturi, New Moon does have a sense of being larger than Bella, Edward and Jacob, which is something the first Twilight Saga film did not have. As well, the development of the story is remarkably well done. So, for example, each vampire has a skill and in the first film this was mentioned more in passing and not every character had their talent revealed. Early on, it is revealed that Jasper “pushes” emotions onto others and so when he becomes crazed at the sight of Bella’s blood, the scatter that results has a reality to it that would have been lacking, if not for the seed planted earlier. Similarly, Jacob’s sense of unrest with what is going on with the Quileutes is developed slowly without any quick answers. The movie has a sense of being big and deep, which is a nice change from Twilight.

At the same time, New Moon is surprisingly intimate in its focus on Bella. While Jacob gets a lot more screentime and the werewolf Quileute are made more explicit than in the first film, Bella is the obvious subject of most of the film. Isolated from her one true love, she does what virtually any young woman would do; she checks out the other options available to her. But before that, Weitz and the writers flesh the time and loneliness out with one of the least campy time-lapse sequences in recent years. Bella’s night terrors are difficult to watch – we do not see her nightmares, but rather their effect – and her hallucinations of Edward often are unsettling. In short, while the budding romance between Bella and Jacob is delivered with realistic pace, far more interesting is the simple and direct character study of the young woman and her emotional struggle to let go of the man who has promised never to see her again.

But this leads to the biggest acting nit in New Moon. New Moon has some pretty solid acting, especially for such a young cast. Robert Pattinson does a decent job of being realistically moody and trying to restrain himself as Edward. Taylor Lautner actually shows some serious acting chops as Jacob by having the greatest emotional range in the film. Lautner deserves a lot of credit because Jacob is not just some conflicted guy trying not to love, he has moments where he is happy and Jacob is emotionally aware enough to suspect that he is just a placebo for the absent Edward. Lautner plays the moments of bliss, anger and surprising emotional articulation equally well.

But Kristen Stewart is given an acting challenge she does not quite rise to well enough and it is what holds the film back from reaching higher. Bella Swan is tormented by night terrors that leave her body writhing in agony and screaming . . . but never, strangely, sweating. She is hallucinating Edward at dangerous moments, but when the moment passes, she seems generally all right. Here’s a woman who is not sleeping and doing dangerously stupid things, yet Stewart carries her as surprisingly awake and alert at virtually every moment of the film. It doesn’t quite jive. Those with a real attention for detail will find this most problematic at the climax of the film when Bella is surprisingly energetic.

On DVD, New Moon comes with commentary tracks, featurettes on the making of the movie and previews for this film and the next installment. Having since seen Eclipse and read The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner, the films are worth seeing and the bonus features are pretty pleasing for the fans.

That said, New Moon does exactly what it sets out to do and it does it surprisingly well. There is good chemistry between the principle actors and the special effects are wonderful. As well, the soundtrack is unobtrusive and the story has enough going for it to draw viewers back for the next installment. Anyone who likes fantasy romance or even action-adventure films with character will likely enjoy New Moon.

For other fantasy or science fiction films, please check out my reviews of:
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Land Of The Lost
Dark City


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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