Summit Entertainment // 2009 // 130 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // March 19th, 2010
"You're not the first monsters I've met." -- Bella, to werewolves
If you think things like health care, climate change, and how to manage the global economy are the divisive political topics of our day, you clearly haven't taken the time to educate yourself about the highest stakes issue facing our generation: should Bella be with Edward or Jacob?
Last fall, Twihards everywhere flocked to movie theaters for The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the series' second installment in which reserved human teen Bella Swan finds herself caught in a supernatural love triangle. Most arrived with their allegiance for either the brooding vampire (I'm on Team Edward!) or the cuddly werewolf (I'm on Team Jacob!) already set by Stephanie Meyer's books, but perhaps the sight of Taylor Lautner's rippling new muscles shifted a few votes in Jacob's direction. Personally, I was rooting for a third-party candidate...but we Team Alice supporters are about as likely to see our gal smooching with Bella as the Ralph Nader campaigners are to see their guy in the Oval Office.
Spoiler Alert! Since this film has precious little plot until the last act, it's probably best if I talk about the whole thing.
We begin where Twilight leaves off: with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart, Adventureland) settling in to an unusual romance with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). She desperately wants him to turn her into a vampire, and he desperately wants to drink her (unusually delicious) blood, but he struggles to resist his urges. As they find out on Bella's birthday, some members of his vampire family have less self-control. Bella cuts her finger and the drop of blood sends Edward's "brother" Jasper into a feeding frenzy, attacking the startled birthday girl. After fending off this attack, Edward decides Bella is in too much danger with him, dumps her ("for her own good," of course), and leaves town without a trace.
After several moping-montages, Bella finds a couple of other reasons to live, including an intense friendship with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a kid on the Quileute reservation who helps her fix up some motorbikes. But she only wants to ride motorbikes because, for some reason, putting herself in dangerous situations causes a weird-looking vision of Edward to float before her eyes and politely scold her.
Her new routine is disrupted, though, when a vampire from her past comes looking for revenge, Jacob reveals himself as a werewolf and vows to protect Bella with his pack of wolf buddies, and Edward decides to commit suicide because he thinks Bella has done so. To save him, Bella has to ditch the wolves, jet off to Italy with Edward's "sister" Alice, and face an ancient clan of deadly (but also polite) vampires, the Volturi.
If it sounds above like there's a lot going on in the plot of New Moon, and it's action-packed, don't be misled. True to its source material, the film tells a story in which not a whole lot happens, but in which dreamy young people have a series of emotional conversations in close-ups. As any action/horror fans who ended up seeing either Twilight movie must have been irritated to discover, these are romance stories with vampires -- not vampire stories with romance. Furthermore, they're weird romance stories with creepy religious undertones, allegorically celebrating abstinence as the highest virtue, but romanticizing an obsessive and unhealthy relationship that borders on abusive (for example, Edward behaves like a stalker toward Bella throughout the first film, and in this one threatens to kill himself if she ever left him). Personally, I'm all about supporting supernatural/fantasy series aimed at women, but it upsets me that the most popular one ever is so anti-feminist -- and so poorly written. Please come back, Buffy the Vampire Slayer!
Beyond these complaints, though, I would commend New Moon's production team for doing a pretty good job with a book that doesn't lend itself to a great film adaptation, and the slowest in this four-part series. Hundreds of pages of Bella moping that filled the middle of Meyer's text are thankfully condensed into a couple of moody music montages here, which improves on the book greatly. And the crew really manages to wring as many audiovisual pleasures out of the story as they can, including a nice chase sequence in Forks' woods, fun werewolf transformations (instead of slowly shifting, they just pop in an explosion of fur!), and and an appropriately decadent Italy sequence. The film crackles most in this third act, where the melodrama goes all out, the sets and costumes dazzle, and the sinister Italian vampire clan add some sustained menace to the story.
There are missteps in this installment, too. When the camera settles on the CGI wolves for too long, which it does often, they don't actually look that great. The film feels a little claustrophobic and close-up heavy compared to the previous installment, which was able to give us more of Forks and its beautiful environment. And the ghostly vision of Edward that Bella sees when she puts herself in danger looks really silly. Sticking with the book's voice-only hallucinations would have been a better choice, but I suppose keeping Pattinson off the screen for the film's middle hour would have terrified the studio and perhaps angered his many groupies who pay to see the movie 10+ times in the theater. On a deeper level, I think New Moon gets itself into trouble tipping the balance of its love triangle too far to Jacob's side. Jacob is so sweet, and Lautner is so likeable, that when Bella runs off to rescue her true love Edward, I realized I hadn't missed him. Though maybe it would be more honest to admit that I did miss buff, tan, shirtless Jacob when I was stuck with only slim, pale, shirtless Edward. The sparkly vampire skin just didn't seem to cut it anymore. It is fun to have a blockbuster film, though, that strips its men down for practically every scene and lets its leading lady keep all her clothes on!
In terms of performances, the quality of the casting is mixed. In addition to putting on layers and layers of muscle since Twilight to sell us on Jacob's physical transformation, Lautner has managed to make this teen wolf a really sympathetic character. I think he does a much better job than Pattinson, who sometimes just looks crazy as Edward rather than enigmatic or mystical, and whose attempts to seem tormented too closely resemble the appearance of someone with bad indigestion. Stewart is someone I want to think well of, and who seems to have serious ambitions outside this pop franchise, but she vacillates between compelling and irritating in her acting style (just watch the hospital scene at the end of Twilight). There are some fun performances in the supporting cast, including Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) turning up her deadpan humor as Bella's school friend Jessica, and Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds) having delicious fun as a kinky vampire sadist.
Summit Entertainment's Blu-ray edition of New Moon looks as beautiful as the hearthrobs on screen, with a crisp, bright, and colorful image. From the lush greens of Forks' rainy forests to the blood red robes everyone sports at the Italian street festival, the colors on this disc appear rich and textured -- even the muted browns of Bella's long mopey period. There are no compression artifacts to mar our view of these pretty faces, but this extra-sharp image sometimes calls attention to the film's frequent green-screen work, which isn't quite as seamless as the crew claims in the special features. The DTS-HD Master Audio track makes for a nice listening experience, too, with the lovely score and the not-quite-as-lovely indie tracks filling the speakers. Mr. and Mrs. Mumbles, Stewart and Pattinson, can make the dialogue a challenge to hear clearly, though. You might count yourself lucky if it lets you miss out on Stephanie Meyer's dialogue, though.
This disc has a nice slate of extras, though not as many as I'd expect for a franchise with such committed fans. An interviewed crew member at one point mentions of an original 3-hour cut of the film, which made the lack of any deleted scenes on this Blu-ray seem suspicious. Are we heading for a double-dip down the road? Until then, fans will have to be satisfied with a commentary track from director Chris Weitz and editor Peter Lambert, a six-part making-of featurette, and a few music videos. The commentary track is both informative and good-humored. In addition to giving clear and detailed explanations of the different types of shots, editing techniques, and CGI effects, Weitz and Lambert gently joke about the Twilight fanbase without being unkind or insulting. These jokes begin early on, when Weitz explains his decision to reveal the title slowly ("I thought that in the theaters there would be nothing but screaming for the first thirty seconds of the movie"), and continue with references to "the improved Taylor Lautner 2.0 body" (about which Weitz says, "Daaa-amn!").
The making-of segments are extensive and well-made. They're broken down chronologically along the span of the pre-production, production, and post-production process, starting with "Life After Twilight" (5 minutes), in which the actors dish about adjusting to their popularity after the first film's frenzy. Part Two examines Weitz's approach to the franchise, with no mention at all of the first film's director, Catherine Hardwicke, who was not invited back for the second (though I thought she did what she could with the source material). Weitz admits that he's worried being "hunted down and killed by a pack of teenage girls" if he screwed up the film -- not an idle concern with this fandom! "The Subtle Details" (8 minutes) takes a look at the details of set design, costume, props, etc. in New Moon. A much longer fourth part "A Look at the Production" (30 minutes) gives us just that, with an emphasis on stunt work. Additionally, we find out that poor Lautner had to shoot all those shirtless scenes in weather below 40 degrees, and that the forest for Bella and Edward's big break-up scene was swarming with mosquitos. Someone points out the irony of these little critters sucking blood out of the supposedly bloodless vampire throughout this scene. "It's Not Magic" (10 minutes) showcases the post-production visual effects, and also shows Bella's stuntwoman (who is nowhere near the character's age, I was surprised to see) jumping off a 70-foot building without wires into a giant sack of air. Lastly, "Ready for the World" (8 minutes) peeks in at the editing and the recording of the film's score. The editor says he hopes that if people "like the book a little bit, they'll like the movie a little bit." The world seems so split along pro- and anti- lines with this series: who likes Twilight "a little bit"?!? Music videos finish up the extras: "Meet Me on the Equinox" by Death Cab for Cutie, "Satellite Heart" by Anya Marina, "Spotlight" by Mutemath, and 90 seconds of rehearsal footage for "I Belong to You" by Muse. None of these features are exclusive to the Blu-ray, so you'll find the same offerings on the two-disc DVD release.
The Twilight series offers a lot to enjoy, if little to respect. It's soapy fun with some horror elements thrown in, and ranting about its faults (either narrative or political) can make for a surprisingly good time. If either of these aspects appeal to you, stick around for the final two installments, which crank up both -- especially a ridiculous narrative structure and exasperating politics!
Review content copyright © 2010 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Summit Entertainment
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Music Videos
* Official Site