The Twilight Saga: New Moon *****
With the first Twilight film proving to be a blockbuster success much greater than anyone imagined it was inevitable that the follow up novels would be quickly adapted for the big screen also. But, I doubt anyone expected them to come so quickly, with second instalment New Moon coming to the big screen this week and third instalment Eclipse coming next summer. With the production of these films likely being somewhat rushed in order to meet their target release dates, however, the question on everyone’s minds is likely whether following up the first film so swiftly bodes well for the quality for the sequels or not. After all, on plenty of occasions in the past, films that have been rushed have ultimately failed to live up to expectations, and with expectations as sky high as they are for this sequel a lot of fans could end up leaving the cinema disappointed if the film has in any way suffered as a result of the rush to meet this release date. Fortunately, the film has many things in its favour. All the principal actors from the first film have returned along with a number of big names who are joining the cast and while original director Catherine Hardwicke is no longer involved, the directing duties have been put into the capable hands of The Golden Compass director Chris Weitz who has done a very good job considering the rushed nature of the production.
Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is turning 18 and despite her insistence that no one make a big deal of her birthday, vampire best friend Alice Cullen (Ashley Greene) can’t help throwing her a party. During the party, however, things take a turn for the worse when Bella gets a paper cut and Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), the most recent vampire to join the ‘vegetarian’ Cullens, loses control and nearly kills Bella in the process. After nearly losing her and afraid of putting her into further danger, love of her life Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and his family abandon the town of Forks, Washington, in an effort to protect her from the dangers inherent in their world. As the heartbroken Bella sleepwalks through her senior year of high school, numb and alone, she discovers Edward’s image comes to her whenever she puts herself in jeopardy. Her desire to be with him at any cost leads her to take greater and greater risks. With the help of her childhood friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), Bella refurbishes an old motorbike to carry her on her adventures. Bella’s frozen heart is gradually thawed by her budding relationship with Jacob, a member of the mysterious Quileute tribe, who has a supernatural secret of his own. When a chance encounter brings Bella face to face with a former nemesis, only the intervention of a pack of supernaturally large wolves saves her from a grisly fate, and the encounter makes it frighteningly clear that Bella is still in grave danger. In a race against the clock, Bella learns the secret of the Quileute’s and Edward’s true motivation for leaving her. She also faces the prospect of a potentially deadly reunion with her beloved, involving an encounter with vampire ruling body The Volturi – whose members include Aro (Michael Sheen), Caius (Jamie Campbell Bower), Marcus (Christopher Heyerdahl) and Jane (Dakota Fanning) – a reunion that is a far cry from the one she’d hoped for but that just might give her what she has wanted all along – immortality alongside her love Edward.
At the screening of The Twilight Saga: New Moon I was at the auditorium was packed full (and I mean full – there was hardly a free seat to be found) of bloodthirsty teenage girls. And, from the way they were screaming throughout, it is clear that they loved every minute of it. So, suffice to say, the target audience absolutely loves the film. But what about other moviegoers? Quite surprisingly, perhaps, there may be enough to satisfy non fans as well as die hard fans of the Twilight series. It actually wouldn’t have taken a whole lot to please the teenage girls the film is so clearly aimed at – just the sight of a buff Taylor Lautner with his shirt off was enough to melt members of the core audience – but the film so much more than is really necessary for it to do so. Just like with the first film the script has much more substance than the majority of teen orientated films with the tragic love story at its core being much more complex than you might expect. This is particularly reflected in the character development, notably Bella’s descent into depression and subsequent transformation into a reckless adrenaline junkie after being left by Edward. The character’s deteriorating emotional state is portrayed quite effectively and is of course helped considerably by a strong performance from Kristen Stewart who portrays a believable sense of despair at her isolation. The believability of her performance is also key to the believability of her character’s relationships. Stewart shares convincing on screen chemistries with both Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, something that makes us care about what actually happens. From a story perspective, Bella’s developing relationship with Jacob and eventual realization that she cannot live without Edward are both very well handled. Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner also deliver good performances but it is Lautner who really deserves kudos, having gone to great lengths to buff himself up in order to stay on in the now meatier role of Jacob. The best performances, however, come from some of the cast members with more limited screen time. Despite being on screen for all too brief a time, it is the actors portraying The Volturi who really stand out. Suitably chilling and threatening, Michael Sheen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Christopher Heyerdahl and Dakota Fanning make for perfectly evil vampires, a stark contrast to The Cullens. In particular, Michael Sheen delivers a performance that is full of charisma and Dakota Fanning is excellently creepy, creating a sense of menace with just a stare and the delivery of a line of dialogue. The film also delivers in other areas. The action is far more amped up this time around, providing far more for the male viewers dragged along by their girlfriends to enjoy, and the action sequences are bigger and more exciting than in the first film. They are aided considerably by very good visual effects that may not be the best you will see this year but certainly get the job done. In particular, the werewolves are very well realized as are their transformations from their human counterparts. Also noteworthy is that just like Twilight provided a new spin on vampires, this film does the same for werewolves, approaching them from a somewhat direction, albeit less effectively than with vampires in the first film. One of the highlights of the film is the climax which both adds some colour to proceedings by taking the action to the much more exotic locale of Italy, and provides a well executed confrontation with the sinister forces of The Volturi and establishes them as a potential villainous force that will hopefully be explored further in future sequels, something that would allow us to see more of the fantastic performances by Sheen and company. The action is the one significant improvement that this film has over its predecessor, the main contribution that director Weitz has to offer, yet overall the film doesn’t live up to the standards set by the first film. Nonetheless, this does not make it a bad film on any level. The Twilight Saga: New Moon is a thoroughly enjoyable romantic fantasy that fans should love without exception and just might attract a few new fans as well.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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