Summit Entertainment // 2009 // 130 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // March 29th, 2010
The next chapter begins.
Listen, I want to understand the Twilight phenomenon. I don't have to like it -- I'm probably not even supposed to -- but I at least want to understand it. I was underwhelmed by the original Twilight, which began well enough before descending into silliness and -- even worse -- boredom once Edward Cullen is revealed to be a vampire (a plot point upon which the rest of the series hinges; that could be a bad sign). Still, I charged ahead, determined to understand the appeal of these movies. The second film in the four-part series, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, does nothing to help me out.
All is well in the life of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart, In the Land of Women). She's turning 18, she's got a good group of friends (including Up in the Air's Anna Kendrick) and a handsome, brooding boyfriend named Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Sure, he's a centuries-old vampire who sparkles in the sunlight and drinks blood to survive, but every relationship has its obstacles. When a papercut causes a member of Edward's family to attack Bella (read that again), he realizes she's not safe around him, dumps her for her own good and moves away. That leaves Bella months and months to mourn and mope (not only do we see the seasons change outside her window, but also get a title telling us what month it is; this is not a film that gives much credit to the intelligence of the audience) before becoming an "adrenaline junkie" and taking stupid risks in the hopes that Edward will show up to save her.
He doesn't, but nice-guy Jacob (Taylor Lautner, Valentine's Day) takes an interest in Bella and the two become thick as thieves. Before long, though, Jacob starts behaving differently -- he's angry and on edge, and something has clearly changed with him. Like all the members of the Quileute tribe, Jacob is a werewolf; leaving Bella in that uncomfortable position where you have to decide if you want to date a vampire or a werewolf. What's a girl to do?
The Twilight Saga: New Moon leaves me at a loss for words. It's not that I hated it. It's that I can barely remember having seen it, even minutes after its (cliffhanger) ending. In her review of the Blu-ray release, Judge Jen Malkowski has already done a terrific job of defending reasons to like The Twilight Saga: New Moon while not exactly defending the film, and that's just about right. As someone totally unfamiliar with Stephanie Meyers' source material, I can't comment on the ways in which New Moon is or isn't faithful to its literary counterpart or if it manages to transcend Meyers' prose. I can only report whether or not New Moon works on its own as a stand-alone film, and I would suggest that it does not.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon barely feels like a movie to me. I couldn't tell you what it's about if asked, except to say that it seems to be about a girl caught in a love triangle with two boys who are a) monsters and b) intensely wrong for her. That's it. As far as plots go, that might cut it for an episode of Gossip Girl (except the monster part), but for a blockbuster "event" movie it's a little thin. It's a lot thin, actually. It's Lara Flynn Boyle. And while I recognize that the entirety of the Twilight series (as envisioned by author Stephanie Meyer) is really just an extended metaphor for abstinence, I think there's a different message that young people are going to derive from the film: no romantic relationship is worth having if it isn't fraught with drama and angst. This isn't something most young people -- who have no shortage of drama in their lives -- need to be told, but it's rarely been sold with more intensity (or, for that matter, success) than in the Twilight films.
Take, for example, the romantic conflict at the center of New Moon. I don't even want to get into the whispering, gaunt moping of Robert Pattinson, whose Edward promises nothing to Bella except eternal life (and who wants to live forever when you spend your days in a state somewhere between brooding and whining?). I won't really even spend much time on Kristen Stewart, who is very talented and capable of good work (Adventureland, The Runaways) but who reduces her performances in this franchise to a series of ticks and mannerisms -- she's all hand-in-hair and lip-pulling. Instead, I'll focus on Taylor Lautner, a young actor who seems nice enough; what he lacks in charisma (which is considerable) he makes up for in abs. His Jacob spends the first half of the movie as the only likable character -- he's sweet and upbeat and has a crush on a girl and wants to make her happy. Naturally, Bella isn't interested in him. It isn't until Jacob begins undergoing his (SPOILER ALERT) transformation to being a werewolf -- a rite of passage for all the boys in his tribe -- that he becomes a brooding a-hole and, of course, finally catches Bella's attention. There's a weird kind of teenage angst wish-fulfillment going on in The Twilight Saga: New Moon, and I think it both speaks to and will help shape a generation that believes that love automatically equals unhappiness. It can, but only if you're with the wrong person -- and all of these people are wrong for each other. I don't care which teenage fans are on which team or who gets the most screams or how many of them hate me for saying it. These characters make each other miserable. At the same time, they seem to love being miserable. I guess, in that way, they deserve each other.
Summit releases The Twilight Saga: New Moon as a two-disc special edition DVD. The first disc is primarily just the film, which is presented in a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks strong, if not great (admittedly, Blu-ray is spoiling me a little and it can be hard to go back). Most of the film is shot in mopey, washed-out earth tones; it isn't until the last act of the film, when the characters travel to Italy and the photography warms up a good deal that we get to see the full potential of the DVD presentation. Overall, it's pretty solid. The same goes for the Dolby 5.1 surround track, which presents the angst-ridden dialogue (a good deal of which sounds embarrassingly like the poetry of a lovelorn eighth-grader) in the front channels, while reserving the rear speakers for some cool surround effects and the better-than-it-should-be soundtrack.
The only bonus feature contained on the first disc is a feature-length commentary track from director Chris Weitz and editor Peter Lambert. I actually enjoyed the commentary a good deal more than the film; Weitz is surprisingly chatty and never loses his sense of humor about the entire Twilight phenomenon. More importantly, though, the talk is fascinatingly candid about the concessions that Weitz made as a filmmaker to pay service to the fans -- letting shots go on much longer than they should, for example, because he anticipated a lot of screaming in the theater. Not only does it explain the film's bloated running time and glacial pace, but also seems to remove any pretense of artistry from the film. Weitz goes through the motions of making an actual film, but it's obvious from his commentary that he's just a guy for hire, creating a product for the rabid fans to consume. The movie isn't made for anyone else, which justifies my reaction to it.
The majority of the supplemental features are contained on the second disc. Up first is a six-part "making-of" documentary, called "The Journey Continues." It covers the production from pretty much the release of Twilight through the final editing of New Moon, and while it's not nearly as revealing as Weitz's commentary track, it is an interesting look at the creation of a single-installment in a hugely successful franchise. There are a number of elements to keep track of that don't normally factor in to filmmaking, and the documentary hints at some of these without ever getting too in-depth. Also included on the second disc are several music videos off the soundtrack: "Satellite Heart" by Anya Marie, "Spotlight" by Mutemath and "Meet Me on the Equinox" by Death Cab for Cutie. Finally, there's "rehearsal footage" (???) of the band Muse performing the song "I Belong to You." The music videos I get, but the Muse footage really feels like padding -- even if you do like the movie or that band.
My own reaction to The Twilight Saga: New Moon doesn't matter. The movie is critic-proof. I'm not the audience for it, and its fans do not care about what I have to say. They want attractive characters who brood and pine and mope. They want romance with hints of the supernatural. They'll get it. But whereas the original Twilight at least tried to tell a story, The Twilight Saga: New Moon does not, despite the fact that it's a technically superior and better-looking film.
I'll keep my hopes up for the upcoming The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, mostly because it's being directed by David Slade and stands the best shot at working on its own. New Moon does not. It's a placeholder.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Summit Entertainment
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (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
* Rehearsal Footage
* Music Videos
* Official Site