Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" Review

It really freaked me out when I first realized celebrities were getting younger than me. Two weeks out from twenty-three, I'm already starting to feel like an old fart. And so, in the interest of open-mindedly embracing my juniors' most recent box office obsession, or at least in an attempt to distance myself from those who've congested the internet with second-hand cynicism, I offered the Twilight Saga two hours of my time. Now, I've never read any of Stephanie Meyers' novels, and I haven't seen the first film, so my litmus test may be flawed from inception, but I gleaned enough from "New Moon" to not only catch up with its angsty supernatural love triangle, but also to deem it dead on arrival.

Chief among its misconceptions, "New Moon" is packaged as a blockbuster but deals heavily in the abstract. The heart of the film is loss and the desired effect should be a visual provocation of melancholy, but the story is often too silly (werewolfs) or too melodramatically pretentious (vampires) to earn the incessant pouting or self-pity of its egotistical protagonist, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). The film attempts her brain surgery with boxing gloves.

This second installment in the series also presumes its audience is already deeply invested in Bella's relationship with the 109 year-old vampire, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), but as a stand-alone film, we're given nothing that suggests the legitimate profundity of their connection except for the sweet, cliched nothings they whisper to each other, one-dimensionally enamored in such a way as to suggest that the feelings they share are much too vague to be accurately filed, 'love.' If anything, their relationship seems only to reinforce the high school stereotype of overeager hormones as a surrogate for genuine affection. And as for Bella's centennial significant other, what does her grating persona offer that eleven decades of other women hasn't? Furthermore, where does this relationship fall in regards to pedophilia?

The film is further cheapened by its abbreviated visual shorthand for male attractiveness. Falling cleanly in step with the grand tradition of sexualizing women in boy's comic book films, The hunks of "New Moon" (which would make a great 2010 wall calendar), add little more than perfectly parted hair and bare, toned abdomens to the proceedings. Exhibit A: one Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), teenage grease monkey, wolfman, and all-around studmuffin, with whom Bella seeks solace after being left by Edward. The movie plays itself as a reconciliation piece for the majority of the achingly insubstantial second act, with Bella learning to cope with heartbreak and carry on. Her maturation is completely undercut, however, in that she won't allow herself to view Jacob as a replacement for Edward, and in a narrow elusion of Shakespearian tragedy at the end (call it Romeo and Juliet and Dracula and the Wolfman), is happily reunited with him. The excessive, plodding character development is rendered entirely ineffectual because everyone ends up precisely where they began.

--With one exception, which makes for perhaps the most ludicrously unnecessary cliffhanger in the history of franchise filmmaking. Bella wants in on the vampire scene, which like everything, Edward is moodily adverse to. In the final moments of the film, he agrees to grant her wish on one condition--her hand in marriage. Bella gasps, credits roll. I mean, shouldn't that go without saying? What else would this dunce call a life of eternal commitment? She'll swear her undying love and accept the curse of perpetual life, but has never considered the 'M' word? Are you kidding me?

"New Moon" is a film that will be enjoyed almost exclusively by fans that are either too familiar or too enamored with the source material to judge it objectively. The premise seems to have potential as a bleak independent film, but these characters are marginalized to the point of virtual nonexistence. The emotional core of the film, its relationships, are unconvincing, and as pure spectacle, the action is unexciting. The themes have been more eloquently expressed in a thousand better films, and the visual effects have been surpassed by nearly every other major blockbuster this year. In short, "New Moon" is a corporate impression of art that rings hollow with each simulated emotion. It exists solely to sell a label.

So call me an old fart or take this review as further proof that you don't need to know the series to hate it, I can't disagree. Like an actual new moon, there's really nothing to see.


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