HiH review: The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Passion born of Youth, Courage born of Despair.
A Review of The Twilight Saga: New Moon

by Claire Ramsey

“Eyes, look your last,
Arms take your last embrace, and lips (O you
the doors of breath) seal with a righteous kiss
a dateless bargain to engrossing Death!”

Romeo and Juliet, Act V Scene 3. Romeo is at the Capulet tomb, preparing to drink the “bitter conduct,” the “unsavory guide” which will kill him and let him spend eternity with his beloved wife, Juliet.

But these are also the words of Edward Cullen in “New Moon,” the second installation of the ferociously popular Twilight series of books and movies. Edward and his love Bella are snuggled in desks at the back of senior English, half-watching an unidentifiable version of Romeo and Juliet, when the teacher demands Edward repeat the last lines of “iambic pentameter” he has heard. Edward does so, and the longing to be able to die is palpable on his face and on his lips (a moment before, he was whispering to Bella that he envied Romeo his human fragility, his mortality.) Quite clearly, he envies it in Bella as well, since he has appointed himself the guardian of her human soul.

At that moment, I could have told you much about the end of the movie. “New Moon” is, in great part, itself a version of Romeo and Juliet. As one of the werewolves quips, “the wolf’s out of the bag now.” The elements of R&J are all there — look, count them:

1. Werewolves vs. vampires = Montagues vs. Capulets (or Jets vs. Sharks, for that matter.)

2. Well-meaning but fumbling adults in the persons of Bella’s father and his Native American friend.

3. A powerful, kind medical man in Carlisle Cullen, together with a powerful unkind prince of vampires dispensing murderous justice. (Did Aro remind anyone else of Star Wars emperor Palpatine when he cooed his last line about how interested he would be in how Bella would turn out as a vampire, my children?)

4. A wholly unnecessary trip to Italy, for ambiance.

5. A boy and a girl who love each other just because “they do.”

6. And, naturally, a misunderstanding where said boy, Romeo/Edward, believes that his girl Juliet/Bella is dead and prepares to join her.

Since R&J is one of my favorite stories (and probably since this is the first movie I have seen in a theater for months!), I am able to give “New Moon” a much higher grade than “Twilight.” It still has many of the flaws that “Twilight” exhibited, still has the dubious praise of being a phenomenally beautiful movie representation of a weak story, but it achieves some things that “Twilight” did not: a heartfelt drama, warmth, and color.

A Bitter Conduct

So, what went wrong? Well, as I already noted, the story was weak. I won’t apologize for spoilers, because how could there be any? Only Bella could be this oblivious. This time it’s with regard to her friend Jacob and his Native American relations who are suddenly running around without shirts (ok, that wasn’t all bad) and passing on reports of large animals killing hikers in the woods. I mean, really! In “Twilight,” Bella worked out the inscription describing the Cold Ones and their eternal vendetta with what are pretty clearly werewolves: “Twilight” Jacob nearly told her as much. However, even after having seen the supernaturally large wolves, Bella still doesn’t put it together until she sees Jacob shapeshift right in front of her. (At least she has dropped that annoying Claire-Danes-style-lip tremble, because with “Twilight” Bella it always came out more like a sneer.)

Moreover, the plot was not only predictable, it was jerky: more than once, plot points sprang up out of the ground with no warning and apparently only because they needed to happen to get on to the next parts of the story. For example, Bella and Jacob see young men cliff-jumping: mention is made of how dangerous it is, and the camera gives us a little extra time to make absolutely certain we notice this moment. Might as well hang a sign saying: you will be seeing this again! Or how about the moment (we will come back to this in a minute) when a cold Edward tells Bella he and his family are leaving and that he doesn’t want her anymore, and then exacts a promise she will not do anything “rash?” It does not take a Shakespearean scholar to see the connections between those two scenes, nor their promised influences on later ones.

I will give Stephanie Meyer a grudging pass on this one, since I have not yet read the book on which the movie is based. It is possible that in the book she led more carefully to the essential plot points of Edward and the Cullens’ leaving, and Jacob also abandoning Bella to protect his “secret.” It is possible that the filmmakers and director Chris Weitz skipped vital lead-in scenes in a ham-handed attempt to shorten the story…but I doubt it. From what I have seen of both Meyer’s writing and the work of the filmmakers, I have to guess that they were doing the best they could with very little.

Engrossing Death

But, boy, did the filmmakers ever take that very little and turn it into something! “New Moon’s” sets, makeup, and costumes are as beautiful and as engrossing as Death with Robert Pattinson’s face (and chest, and… well, never mind…) Like “Twilight,” the strength of “New Moon” is its art direction, together with the inherent throat-catching drama of the Romeo-and-Juliet ending. Here’s the good stuff to watch for!

I don’t know if it is the Shakespearean influence or not, but Edward and Bella are actually developing into characters I can care about (or perhaps Pattinson and Kristin Stewart are developing as actors) but things were a lot better in their scenes. (At least until the aforementioned parting scene… Robert, why so wooden?)

Like “Twilight’s” magic of the gleaming vampire skin in the sunlight and thunderous baseball game, “New Moon’s” effects (with a couple notable exceptions) were enchanting and seamless. The exceptions: the world-spinning-around-Bella effect, showing the audience the passage of time and me the error of eating popcorn; and the supposed painting of Carlisle Cullen in his former position as prince of the Volturi. (It didn’t even look like a painting, not even a photo masquerading as a painting… huh?) However, the weak effects stuck out because the others were so beautiful and believable. The lovely tiger-eyed vampires (hello, Dakota Fanning!) and shapeshifting werewolves were a real highlight. (And, as I already mentioned, the ubiquitous shots of muscular shirtless guys didn’t hurt anything.)

My favorite effects have to be, however, the wholly unnecessary (but who cares?) slow-motion moments. One was at the beginning when Edward stalked toward Bella with his jacket blowing in the wind around him so we can clearly see every buff muscle outlined under his T-shirt. Even better was Bella’s graceful run through Italian streets crowded with red-robed extras in her last desperate attempt to save Edward from his suicidal act. (How can a vampiric Romeo commit suicide? I will leave this one mystery to your imagination… it’s worth the price of admission.)

A Righteous Kiss

Three revelations I am looking for in the next installment(s):

  • What exactly, if any, was vicious vampire Victoria’s part in Bella’s near-drowning and rescue?
  • When will Jacob fight some R&J-worthy duel to the death to protect Bella? (I thought it was going to happen about three times in “New Moon”; he’s got ‘loyal friend to the end’ written all over him…)
  • Where, or will, Bella and Edward find a Friar Lawrence to marry them?
  • For those, like me, who find it easier to follow this story on the screen rather than on the page, join me at the movies… I wonder, will Bella finally go into the darkness of the Cullens’ “eclipse?”