A Film Review: New Moon
New Moon, part of the Twilight franchise, increasingly seems to me perhaps to be author Stephanie Meyer's attempt at writing a nineteenth century novel for the Facebook generation. All the associated tropes are there; Edward Cullen the distant, pale aristocratic vampire with oodles of cash and good taste and his rival Jacob Black, the commoner with the heart of gold and little else to give except his unswerving loyalty. Of course the aristocrat oppresses the serf by his very presence (in more ways than one as we find out). Bella Swan is the young woman caught in their midst, a well-meaning if little too earnest 'lost soul' who longs for the romance that so eluded her divorced parents. The signs are there in the books although they are somewhat submerged in the two films that have already emerged from the Twilight franchise; Bella spends her days re-reading Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet also features and what is Edward but a re-hashed Heathcliff/Romeo, the psychopathic anger of both channelled into the murderous intent of a vampire. What is so amusing is that the teenagers of today, who are supposed to sneer at Shakespeare and cruelly reject the Brontes (according to those endless depressing surveys), are lapping up the same kind of story re-told in a bizarre fantasy context where vampire and werewolves co-exist with hostility somehow out of the sight of the 'ordinary' people around them. Of course there is all the complaints about the lack of sex making this series of books a subtle treatise on abstinence however looking at it from the point of view of it being a tribute to the 19th century it makes perfect sense. Think of the titular character in Thomas Hardy's bleak Tess of the D'Urbervilles who pays for her 'wanton-ness' with murder and cruel death on the scaffold. Like in a typical cheap horror movie nothing good comes of the girl who wastes herself on some underserving guy. If Meyer is wanting to be complete in her devotion to Wuthering Heights and their ilk then she is sticking to the script perfectly.
Saying that, the second film 'New Moon' is a disappointment compared to the first. Even though the storyline of 'Twilight' was ridiculous, the earnestness of the actors and the subtle treatment afforded by director Catherine Hardwicke made up for its limitations. There were also several deviations from the book, which angered 'Twihards', but showed that the director and screenwriter were at least able to assert some independence in translating book to film. 'New Moon' seems much more slavish to the book and therein lies some of the problem; it tries to cram too much in as the books does and as a result seems a bit rushed at times, particularly the latter third of the film. Ideas are flung in without warning, something which the book also suffers from, particularly the idea of the Volturi the 'Vampire royal family' which seems to appear from nowhere, particularly if you had come into the film 'cold.' Similar to 'Twilight' the relationship between Bella and Edward is built on the knowledge of the audience rather than actual evidence; there are several glimpses of them lying in meadows gazing at each other but that hardly develops the sense that these people are deeply in love with each other. One of my favourite scenes in 'Twilight' was when Edward jumps down onto Bella's van while she is cleaning it and they have a little interchange that conveys a sense of the excitement/nervousness that they have in each other's company. In 'New Moon' there are no such scenes and Edward is barely allowed to raise a smile and the tortured intensity begins to get boring after a while.
But there are some things about the film which make it fun to watch; it is unintentionally amusing and even some in-jokes. For instance early on Bella complains about being older than Edward at 18, he points out that he is actually 109 which makes him far too old for her, a little dig perhaps at some of the controversy that surrounds the key relationship in the film? The Volturi are better than I imagined them in the book, living it up in a Medieval walled city in Italy, seeming to take their sartorial decisions from an Adam Ant video. Michael Sheen as head Vamp Aro is particularly magnificent, coming across like a campy, slimy Tony Blair with his most dangerous weapon the innocent looking Jane (played by Dakota Fanning), who inflicts mucho pain on the hapless Edward. The conflict in these scenes between the hardcore, proper vampires and the wussy Cullens are amongst the most exciting in the film; when Edward hits the floor his face shatters for a moment reminding us most effectively that he is not 'human' (the make-up is still lame enough to show RPatz's stubble). The werewolf element is as silly here as it comes across in the book, half-naked boys running around the woods and it not raising an eyebrow with the rest of the town? Not that we get to see much of the rest of the town, we are firmly embedded in Bella's perspective now and she is fast loosing her grip on 'real' life. The scenes with her classmates are a welcome contrast with the fantasy, reminding the audience that Bella is turning her back on all of normality when she commits herself to the Cullens. That Edward realises this (and so tries to prevent her) is one of the more interesting tensions in their relationship. That he is emotionally manipulative with it is one of the problems with the character that is not resolved by the romantic slush peddled with it; that he is her protector blah blah where in fact Bella gets into more and more dangerous situations by her association with the vampires. Her attempts to re-create that rush only serve to show the creative vacuum at the heart of the story; Bella is a girl addicted to bad boys. Edward is the ultimate ('safe') bad boy for teenage girls and middle aged women to project their fantasies onto. The rest of the story is in many ways incidental. Still, like Edward the 'masochistic lion' I feel the need to persevere with the films if only to see if it gets any worse.