Going to a midnight movie is an experience that has to be included in the review of the film. First, who was there? Mostly female–about 1 in 10 people were male–and not as many shrieking junior high girls as I expected. The audience was mostly high school/early college kids and adult women. Didn’t see any grandmothers, but there were at least a couple bona fide cougars there. Rrroooow. And who were they picking up? Was it the two dudes running around in actual Twilight T-shirts? Was it the unintentional (or was it?) Emmett with his hat sideways? No! It was Ben, from the local college, who asked himself “how can I make this ridiculous female obsession work for me?” and came up with the idea to mousse up his hair like Edward, slap on the oversize movie-star glasses Edward wears in the first movie, and saunter around with the Cullen copyrighted “I’ve been bringing sexy back since 1917 and I’ve still got it” strut. Girls were asking him for pictures right and left…I overheard some girl say he’d told her she was number 193 to ask for a picture so far that night–and this was in line for my drink and popcorn before the movie! That guy gets the Young Entreprenuer of the Week award. I know he wasn’t selling anything, exactly, but he made himself a hot commodity, and got all the Facebook friend requests he could hope for. Also he won the hearts of at least a few underage girls, because there was a pair sitting near us who kept giggling about him.
But enough scene-setting. If you’ve been to a midnight show before, you know about the excitement and the electric hum in the air. And even if you don’t, you’ve seen the media blitz and the hyperventilation over this movie’s release for the past month or more, so you can imagine the buzz in the audience.
The movie was…the movie was better than I expected. I was ambivalent toward the first film: on the one hand, it was deeply flawed in execution and design; but on the other it was Twilight on the big screen with a hot Edward to stare at, and it was hard to hate for those reasons. From the previews, with their ITT Tech student-designed wolves and endless shots of Bella running somewhere with the same expression on her face, I didn’t expect the sequel to be much better. But New Moon was a clear step above its predecessor in terms of directing and filming; it wasn’t without flaw, but it was a hell of a lot better than the first one. It was smooth and professional, Forks and surrounding areas looked green not blue-gray, and a few of the scenes were downright breathtaking (and, no, I don’t mean of shirtless Edward or Jacob–I’ll talk about that in a bit). A few in particular that stuck in my mind were when the wolves are chasing Victoria through the forest, and the camera goes to a bird’s eye view and focuses on a raven flying for a few seconds before moving to Victoria running below it…when Bella watches Sam Uley cliff jump and the camera flips with him to follow him down…when the wolves tear Laurent apart. All great stuff, and even better given the first one left me no memorable visuals except the ones that evoked tears of laughter.
There were no tears of laughter this time around, and I have to think that’s in the film’s favor (even if it did mean I didn’t have the consolation of being “that amused” by it if everything else about it was bad). The aspects that got me the first time–Edward Sparkles, Mike Dexter as Carlisle, the godawful Halloween vampire makeup–were all still there, but somehow they stood out less this time. Has familiarity blunted the edge of their humorousness? I think all but the Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli for all you kids too young to understand the cinematic brilliance that is Can’t Hardly Wait) should have been re-done and to hell with keeping a visual continuity; when I looked at Edward and the Volturi, especially, I saw the chalk more than their expressions, and every time someone started sparkling I got pulled out of the moment. Those elements were badly worked in the first place, and I wish Chris Weitz had grown a pair and changed them.
I think he could have gotten away with changing them, too, because he didn’t change very much else. The lightning-speed vampire effects are in the same style, just better-executed, the cast is nearly identical to the first film for the characters who appear in both, and the story adaptation is almost painfully true to the book. Which I say because I did get kind of bored in a couple places, because, let’s face it, there are long stretches of that book where not much is really happening. The biggest changes (that I noticed, and I will say up front that it has been at least six months since I have read the book) were that some of the timeline around Victoria coming back to Forks was shortened, while her involvement in a couple minor incidents was changed; Edward’s little scuffle with the Volturi is turned into a full-on fight (with a cool visual addition of vampire skin cracking like stone when hit hard enough by other vampire skin); and the Edward/Bella make up conversation happens before the Volturi confront them and not on the plane ride home.
Also that conversation was seriously shortened, and it lacked some of what my friends and I picked out as the iconic lines of Edward’s speech back when we were first reading the books: “It was the blackest sort of blasphemy for me to say I didn’t love you,” and “My life was like the night sky before you, dark but with stars. Then you came blazing like a meteor, and when you were gone I could no longer see the stars; I had been blinded to all but you.” NOT THERE. I was sad. But I’ll forgive it because Robert Pattinson was so very heartfelt in his delivery of the few lines he did have in that scene.
Speaking of the acting…for me the only one I want to call out as Unsatisfactory is Kristen Stewart. She was a very consistent Bella, and I’m sure that I’m being too hard on her, but I just don’t get her interpretation of the character. She looks like Bella–she’s great when she has her mouth shut–but she just delivers too many of her lines with a stutter and too much force for shy and sweet Bella. She’s not sweet. She’s not nice. And, unfortunately, I didn’t really see enough variance in her expressions or mannerisms to buy the utter devastation wrought by Edward’s leaving or the small happiness Jake brought her at first or the despair at the end when she’s trying to save Edward. It was pretty one-note, and that was unfortunate because a lot of the minor characters really glowed around her. Billy Burke as Charlie was spot-on concerned, out-of-his-depth dad, and he even had a couple funny lines like when he called himself a “famous ladies man.” Jessica was hysterical. The monologue she had about zombie movies was intelligent and witty, and she delivered it with energy, affront, and relateability. Ashley Greene was bright and startling (literally, she jumps out of the screen at the audience as she jumps out at Bella) again as Alice, and what little we got to see of Jackon Rathbone’s Jasper was as suave as last time (I always thought he did the best vampire last time). The rest of the Cullen family was on screen so little as to be almost after-thoughts. Rob Pattinson as Edward didn’t have a whole lot to do but look tortured; I thought his best scenes were the break-up, which was entirely believable–I believed him, and I knew it was a lie!–and the two make-up scenes.
Obviously the Volturi were all new additions to the cast, and I think they were all played with the reserved detachment and, at most, clinical interest, as they are characterized as having in the book. The wolf pack was also new aside from Jacob, and they were uniformly adorable. All of them are good-looking kids, but more importantly they have a warmth and an earthy cuteness rather than a sophisticated handsomeness to them, that was really suited to the wolves as described in the book. Taylor Lautner was amazing as Jacob. I am so glad he worked so hard to keep that part, because he really lit up the screen with his smile and his jokes and his obvious Jacob moves like taking his shirt off to daub Bella’s head wound with it so she can see his ripped physique. And this time around, most of the female interest in the audience was centered on him rather than on Edward. The first time Jacob went shirtless, the woman sitting behind me exclaimed, “Oh sweet Jesus!” And I couldn’t disagree. Yum.
One thing that really came through watching the events of the book onscreen was how hard Bella plays Jake. I think the movie amped up some of the almost-moments for them, but it really gave me a better understanding of why Team Jacob exists at all. I credit most of that to Taylor for making me see Jacob’s emotions so clearly.
Overall, New Moon was a much better movie than Twilight; it solved at least a few of the major problems in the first film, kept true to the story of the book, and sets up the third movie with an awesome cliff-hanger moment. I still can’t tell if you’d like this movie if you aren’t a fan of the books, or if you’d be entirely easy following the movie if you haven’t read the books, but after seeing it I am certainly more excited for Eclipse than I was for this one after watching Twilight.
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.