Before I begin writing any sort of review for The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Chris Weitz, 2009), I would have to give my history with the franchise. I was peer pressured to read the entire series just when it started to become popular, and as I finished the first novel, I was floored by how soul-crushingly awful it was. I think Stephenie Meyer and the way she glorifies her insanely warped views on relationships, sex and most of all just general human decency are disturbing, especially because of how her words and beliefs as defined by what she was written in these overlong messes of novels have become accepted by literally millions of females young and old. When I read New Moon, it seemed like it became even worse; the big bag of psychological disorders (Edward Cullen) who constantly wants to kill you and eat you, the abusive angry jerk (Jacob Black) who constantly wants to smash your face in, and the bothersomely vapid girl who everyone thinks is perfect and amazing (Bella Swan), loving the idea of either treating her like some sort of secondhand citizen and most of all, a rapedoll. You could read lots of essays and analyses about how the Twilight novels pretty much spells the end of feminism as we know it, so I?ll save you the time.
The first Twilight film earned a 2/100 from me. Catherine Hardwicke, who has directed some pretty effective work in the past, most notably Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, had created a teen film that was so uneffective in every way that it was embarrassing to see that while it would make more money in a day than the rest of her films ever made, it might as well have been the end of her career. Every problem present in Meyer?s literary abortion was just amplified by the film being an absolute mess. The production values, from the special effects to the score (we know this isn?t your fault, Carter Burwell) to even the simple stuff like a sound effect were abysmal. Fans attributed this to the film being ?low-budget?, but considering what the film required and the $37 million they had to spend, there were better production values when Danny Glover was in that very laughable car chase in James Wan?s first ?Saw? film. The film was an unwatchable mess that benefitted so much from the midnight showing that I attended, it was a step away from witnessing The Room, except instead of throwing spoons we had a bunch of overweight insecure teenage girls wetting their pants at the times that fans of the Tommy Wiseau film would have screamed ?BECAUSE SHE?S A WOMAN!?
This transitions us into Chris Weitz? New Moon, which starts out in this really awkward void. A large moon takes up the screen, and slowly fades away to reveal the title, which happens so slowly, it was evoking a bit of a 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe. Bella is running through a sea of red robed men and has a really vivid dream of Edward approaching her in a field where she turns into an old woman. This shot, and many more to come, are actually rather beautiful. But as far as I knew at this point of the film, it was still as awful as ever, and of course I was cracking up (only one to be doing so, naturally) every time Eddie sparkled all over his nearly naked body. It?s funny, it will always be funny, but it?s not like it is a hole that any filmmaker can dig out of at this point.
Then once the initial fifteen minutes of Bella whining to Edward and the Cullen?s of how she is growing up and wants to be a vampire so badly, the film does something that I never would have expected in a Twilight film. It takes every single complaint and joke made in a thread like the New Moon and Twilight threads in General Discussion at Rotten Tomatoes and makes it well aware that they know what is up. Edward is a 109 year old man who lurks high school for tail; this was on the mind of nearly everyone of my ilk, and now it?s been addressed. It was far more sugarcoated in the novel, and from that point on, the film manages to take it?s full stride.
Bold hyperbolic statement time: The film works very well for what it is and is still godawful if you view it the way Stephenie Meyer would want you to. But watching it for what it is, it is a lesser, more ambitious take on Hal Hartley?s Trust. A love story (or in this case, triangle) of some very screwed up people, and on top of that, these ?perfect? characters are now nothing more than very immature, very angsty teenagers, and the film goes out of its way to show that. It?s safe to say that Chris Weitz has singlehandedly reinvented Twilight. That itself makes it clear that New Moon is nothing less than extraordinary. It takes an abymsal series and alchemises it into a cinematic silver medal. The film goes into business for itself, and when Weitz claims that this is supposed to be his signature piece after the studio-mangled bomb The Golden Compass, I believe him. He used this as an outlet for the film he wanted to make, and I feel confident in saying that Eclipse and Breaking Dawn won?t have this level of auteurism. And yes, I did call a Weitz brother an auteur. Shoot me.
When Edward finally breaks up with Bella because of Jasper?s little CAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE moment and the fact that she?s just a dumb loonie (but let?s face it, so is he), the film goes almost completely into self mockery, and through that self mockery it becomes a double edged sword. As the camera goes into 360 while Bella stares out the window, the months progressing, the sheer ridiculousness of her behavior is nothing short of hilarious, yet the cinematic effectiveness of it all makes even its most funny moments more emotionally effective and provocative than anything in the Twilight novels or the first film. It flat out criticizes all the behavior that is considered angelic by the fans of the series, yet does it in such a way to where fans can pull a completely different message from it. It is just as emotional as the most die hard fans think it is.
The tonal issues that Twilight had are fixed in a splendid way this time. All the times where Twilight was accidentally funny have been made to be hilarious to its own credit. The high school friends are now made into real people, while them and the rest of the high schoolers of the last film were nothing but grossly offensive carichatures. It gives talented actors like Anna Kendrick room to breathe and really put a nice edge to the film. The high school in the first film was one of the worst I?ve seen in a film; now it works better than it even needs to. That said, the Cullen family has been far reduced, and while they were by far the best thing about the first film, the entertaining and interesting nature of the film is reduced to one scene. It is mostly replaced with a greater focus on Jacob Black and his family, which I will get to later, but let?s get this out of the way, they?re awful. Edward is awful and all, but I would call myself ?Team Cullen? only because ?Team Black? is a bunch of annoying twits that deserve to be mauled by dogs?spoiler alert.
A long lull in the film that gives stuff a little time to breathe yet also pads the runtime too much for its own good comes from the development of Bella and Jacob as they bond and become this cutesy little almost-couple as Bella is constantly having nightmares and making hell for her father (Billy Burke), who in just about every scene has a big wide face that screams ?My daughter is such a derpderp.? As Jacob becomes an outlet for Bella to get over Edward, Jacob gets drawn in by the always shirtless, airbrushed ab-showing fatties of his indian community. He cuts his hair, gets a tattoo, and suddenly threatens to beat the crap out of everyone, including our dear friend Mike, in one of the truly hilarious scenes of the film. Another bold statement, but only for me: Face Punch is the funniest movie within a movie since The Flower That Drank The Moon.
A big flaw of the book still present in the movie is that sideplot that brings our pseudo-villains from Twilight back into the action, Victoria and Laurent (sp?), who are boring, not theatrening at all, and serve as nothing more than a boring distraction. This dragging subplot serves as nothing more than a distraction to move some things along, and give us more opportunities for some absolutely awesome shots and scenes that have very little to do with the film itself, and show more of the stamp of the filmmakers doing what they wanted with the material. It?s too pretty, it?s too witty, and too insightful on its own vapid subjects where as I?ve stated and will continue to, I?m shocked how this film actually worked.
That said, the film has some serious third act problems. The whole Volturi subject, which are supposed to be the ?villains? of the series, are both incredibly tacked on and are portrayed as some really nice, cool yet evil dudes. Michael Sheen and co. only really have one and a half scenes, but Sheen, who I?ve never seen not be great, seems to have so much fun with the role that with a some more screen time, he could absolutely steal future films from any director or actor. But, a line that comes towards the beginning of his performance, ?Such a waste.? that he says in passing is pretty reflective of his role. It?s a tacked on annoyance that makes all this screentime left to those annoying werewolf boys fall flat. Edward?s stupid little suicide move leads us to the film?s one token action scene, which is anticlimactic but is about 200x better than one of the worst action scenes I?ve ever seen, from Twilight. An underplayed shot of a tour group being lead in by a hot vampiress in Italy to the room of vampires, who devour them all, is something that borught a huge smile to my face. This family of royalty is incredibly sinister and evil, and Weitz plays that well, but these are supposed to be the villains of the series, and I?m pretty sure that Stephenie Meyer does not want virgin viewers of the films wanting the Volturi to kill the shit out of Bella and Edward. Because I sure did.
And then?it ends. Jacob tries to blackmail Edward and treats Bella like she owns him, Bella finally takes a stand for once in her life and tells Jacob to GTFO, and then Edward asks Bella to marry her before he turns her into a vampy. It is made soul crushingly obvious that ?being the one to turn her? is just a thinly veiled metaphor for losing your virginity, which in Meyer?s books, is treated like 1. something that someone like Bella desperately needs and 2. something that will cause you to suffer immeasurable pain the rest of your life. Spoiler alert for Breaking Dawn: holy shit is #2 true. I don?t need to spell it out, but this series is going to be really awesome when it gets to that point and if Lars Von Trier, David Cronenberg or Richard Kelly don?t get offered it, bring Weitz back. It is clear that he understands rapewolves and ?when she?s 7, she?ll look 17″ and ?he eats her because he?s hungry?, and that is why this film works. It eviscerates Twilight and while it probably will not be recognized by ANYONE as the game changer that it is, this may have saved the Twilight franchise from being a tremendously shitty fad a la Hannah Montana. I love the Harry Potter books, but New Moon is a better film than Half Blood Prince. Despite it being a tremendously flawed film, New Moon is probably the biggest surprise of the year. It took something I hate and floored me with it?s willingness to show just as much disdain for the characters as I have, some fantastic cinematography, and also a willingness to take itself seriously in a very mature way. The cliffhanger is almost as stupid as the one at the first Twilight, but instead of some flashy credit sequences with Radiohead?s 15 Step, it is Alexandre Desplat?s score set to some very shadowy yet classy text.
Hate the film as you might, and probably should because the source material is so awful (if you haven?t read it, don?t), you can?t deny that this is both a massive step up and far different from the first film. Actually, you could deny the former, but the latter, nah.
TEAM TYLER?S VAN!
EDIT: Postavant reader Armin helped me put it together; this film works because Weitz pretty much played every card from the Buffy playbook. Have to add that as in.
Also, read my Tweets that I made before and during the film at http://www.twitter.com/postavant