Some of you may remember I quite liked the first Twilight (2008) movie and thought Catherine Hardwicke did an excellent job adapting what seemed to me like dreadful material. I use the phrase “seemed to me” because I hadn’t actually read Stephenie Meyer’s novels. In fact, I still haven’t. I was tempted, mind you, but then I skimmed a few pages and decided they should make a law against using the word “smouldering” in the same sentence as “eyes”. If Edward’s eyes were really smouldering, he’d be blind and in tremendous pain.
Anyway, this sequel is directed by Chris Weitz, whose previous work includes Down to Earth (2002) and The Golden Compass (2007). The director of 30 Days of Night (2007) is next in line, which leads me to believe the franchise is being developed as a sort of low-rent Harry Potter. This, I think, is a mistake. Twilight doesn’t owe its success to its fantasy elements but to the way Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) intense lust parallels every teenage girl’s budding sexuality. Hardwicke understood that. Weitz doesn’t, and the result is catastrophic.
As the two leads proudly spell out in an early classroom scene, The Twilight Saga: New Moon is loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, by which I mean the film borrows a single element from the play and spends an inordinate amount of time boasting about it, not realising Shakespeare is celebrated for his use of language, not his plots. It’s sort of like 10 Things I Hate about You (1999) in that it makes you wonder why screenwriters don’t have a better knowledge of the theatre arts.
At least, the plot pays homage to a more compelling aspect of the play than the usual “families at war” shtick. After Edward (Robert Pattinson) skips town to protect her from his vampire lust, Bella takes on the time-honoured traditions of moping around, embracing reckless behaviour, and torturing a male friend with mixed signals because, hey, it’s not like his feelings matter or anything. Then the Romeo and Juliet bit kicks in as Edward comes to believe his ex died in one of her suicidal stunts and decides he doesn’t want to live in a world where she’s not around to pine for him.
I just don’t get the attraction. Edward strikes me as a turnip, a pasty egotist who gets his rocks off through mind games, breaking up with Bella on a whim, then, to make sure she can’t move on, reappearing as a ghost every time she does something of which he doesn’t approve. The entire relationship centers on what he needs, what he wants, and what he feels his girlfriend should want. That’s creepy, not romantic. Jacob (Taylor Lautner) may lack any semblance of a personality beyond liking Bella a whole bunch, but at least he lets the girl have her own thoughts. Also, he runs around shirtless an awful lot. Chicks are into that.
Mind you, the heroine’s no catch either, having devolved from mature introvert to melodramatic basket case with little care for those around her, save, of course, for the guy she’s desperate to bed. Stewart does her best to bring some emotional truth to the role, portraying Bella as that tortured wreck for which all men must fall in order to shed their “white knight” complex. Consider the way she plays with Jacob’s abs while telling him to stay away from her. God, I’ve dated that girl.
It’s worth noting the film rewards Bella’s destructive behaviour, which is fine as conceited romantic fantasies go, but I do question the logic of opposing teen sex with such fervour while celebrating emotional co-dependence. Parents, if your daughters are among the franchise’s younger fans or, you know, kind of dumb, you might want to talk to them about the proper way to deal with heartbreak. Hiding under Mr Blanky and having a good cry surrounded by familiar sights and smells: appropriate. Running into the woods screaming until night falls and the town sheriff has to send a search party: psychotic.
Though these problems are intrinsic to the franchise, I suspect things might not have seemed so bad if Weitz had focused on the characters instead of special effects. Granted, werewolves are New Moon’s big addition to the series, but Meyer’s take wasn’t about sleek-looking battle beasts. In keeping with the genre, she used lycanthropy as a metaphor for man’s primal instincts, specifically the surge of testosterone that tends to overtake a boy’s judgement at puberty. The concept is sound, but it requires a more believable portrait of adolescence.
Wheeling out the lame pop songs and faux teen-speak (“The trailer’s all, like, punch his face in!”), the movie seems determined to belittle its target audience. There’s a scene in which the passage of time is communicated through fast-forward motion, seasons changing out the window, pages falling off a calendar, and subtitles indicating different months. Apparently, the producers believe the average Twilight fan suffers from three of the following afflictions: inability to recognise accelerated movement, belief that one can go through several seasons in a single day, confusion as to the purpose of a calendar, and illiteracy.
I’m told The Twilight Saga: New Moon remains true to the spirit of to the book. I have my doubts. Consider the film’s cliff-hanger ending, the way Alexandre Desplat’s score swells as if we were witnessing an epic battle as opposed to an intimate moment between two eager lovers. The saga’s central message about sex and love is spelled out in such a clumsy manner a young woman three rows behind me got up and screamed, “This is so stupid!” Now, say what you will about Stephenie Meyer’s prose; I don’t think that was the reaction she’d intended.