Chris Weitz's The Twilight Saga: New Moon (which I suppose was subtitled to highlight the franchise and avoid confusion with this year's excellent Moon), is a lot better than I thought it would be. I still haven't read any of the books, though I enjoyed the first film, though, for vampire fare, it was a bit bland and pretty stupid in places.
New Moon is also a bit bland, but less so, with the addition of the wolf pack characters, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) from the first film and his Native American buddies who protect their land from vampires. Lautner was likable in the first film, and he's really very good in this one.
The film opens with a quote from Romeo and Juliet, and continues referencing star-crossed love of several kinds, mostly between Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart) and Jacob this time, and still always between Bella and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the vampire boyfriend.
When Bella and Edward's romance is threatened when the Cullens decide to leave the town of Forks, where Bella lives, a really pretty convincing romance ensues between Bella and Jacob, complicated by Bella's seeing visions of Edward which lead her to take part in some risky behavior, and Jacob's initiation into his tribe's vampire-hunting wolf pack.
I suppose I have to be on "Team Jacob" now, as he's played so well and the romance between him and Bella is more interesting, dangerous and intriguing than the foreordained one between her and Edward. Edward's okay, but his vampire family is pretty annoying and they show up too much. In general, in both romances this time, there's a lot of eternal swearing which is then promptly ignored for sometimes less than persuasive reasons, leading to more eternal swearing.
However, Bella's depression, which exactly follows the romantic developments, is not, as it could have been, particularly depressing. It's more of a metaphorical teenage angst which is at times humorously or interestingly handled. It kind of reminded me of Fannie Brawne's mid-romance depression during her affair with John Keats in this year's Bright Star. Both films take romantic loss and separation seriously, not as character flaws or necessarily useless or permanently damaging emotions in themselves, which is kind of refreshing. There's a pretty witty From Here to Eternity reference when Bella gets in trouble in the water.
Director Weitz seems to have found a pretty good franchise niche after failing to launch the His Dark Materials trilogy with his The Golden Compass (2007). He stays quite faithful to the successful markers laid down by Catherine Hardwicke in the first Twilight movie and sticks to the story pretty effectively.
From the previews, I honestly thought the addition of the "Voltori," elder, powerful vampires who enforce their vampire code with the vampire death penalty in their vampire Vatican, had the potential to ruin the film. But it ended up being not bad, with Dakota Fanning and Michael Sheen doing all right with the material as powerful elders. Sheen is better here as a vampire than he was as a werewolf in this year's Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.
So, if you're a diehard or even slightly interested fan of the books or the first film, breathe a sigh of relief. It hasn't been ruined yet. I'm sure there are a million details from the book which haven't made it to the screen. I overheard several conversations like that just on the way to the parking lot. But it's an entertaining, solid film that leaves you wanting to see what happens next. It's fun, soap opera-y vampire cheese. What would that be, like blood pudding? There are, what, one or two more books? I don't know for sure.
Followed by The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
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