If not for the presence of Kristen Stewart as Bella, "Twilight Saga: New Moon" would easily qualify as one of 2009's worst films. Without Stewart, we would be left with mopey, emo boy Robert Pattinson's window dressing portrayal of Edward Cullen and, even worse given the growth of his role in this film, Taylor Lautner as Bella's childhood friend, Jacob Black.
Much has been made of Lautner's beefing up for the immensely changed Jacob, unfortunately while Lautner's chest may glisten in the moonlight his acting is howlingly bad, especially in his scenes with the immensely more talented Stewart.
In most ways, new director Chris Weitz ("Golden Compass") has improved upon Catherine Hardwicke's first film in the series. This may have as much to do with the first film's success and this film's higher budget as it does any improvement of the source material or particular enlightenment on the part of the director. While the technology is vastly improved, Alexandre Desplat's original score is exemplary and Javier Aguirresarobe's camera work is a marked improvement over that of Elliot Davis's in the original film, there's little chance of anything in "Twilight: New Moon" being mistaken for award-winning cinema.
But, I suppose that's not really the goal here now, is it?
The truth is, "Twilight Saga: New Moon" is geared squarely at fans of Stephenie Meyer's novels and, in fact, having read the novels or, minimally, seen the original twilight is an essential ingredient in truly appreciating "New Moon," which carries on very much from the first film and remains surprisingly faithful, according to most fans, to Meyers' second novel.
I admit it. I haven't read the "Twilight" novels. And won't.
If "Twilight Saga: New Moon" made any gestures that indicated an interest in holding my attention, it would likely be judged more harshly than it shall be in this review. However, quite simply, "Twilight Saga: New Moon" wasn't made for me and is absolutely fine with that simple fact. "Twilight Saga: New Moon" was made for its legion of existing fans and, undoubtedly, those existing fans are likely to consider "New Moon" an improvement upon the original. Unfortunately, for this critic, the return of screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg dooms "Twilight Saga: New Moon" to "also ran" status, with dialogue that is so stilted and absurd it's difficult to not openly giggle like a, well, schoolgirl who actually gets how silly all this faux romanticism really is after all.
If you happen to be one of the 13 people known to be unaware of the "New Moon" storyline (11 are from Al Qaeda), in "Twilight Saga: New Moon," Bella and Edward are pulled apart after an ill-fated Cullen birthday party that nearly goes awry when Bella accidentally gets a paper cut. He disappears, never to be seen again he says, but that proves to be only a few minutes in screen time as he re-appears throughout the film each time Bella's in danger and, boy, does she catch on!
In Edward's absence, our favorite virginal player takes a liking to Jacob Black, her buffed up best friend who harbors a not so secret secret of his own.
While it's to be admired that Lautner beefed himself up for the role of Jacob Black, the simple fact is he's woefully inadequate in the shadows of Robert Pattinson's Edward Cullen and he's definitely no match for the mesmerizing Kristen Stewart, who can turn the silliest of lines into utterly watchable cinema.
Not even the presence of Michael Sheen, the film's other true "actor," as Aro, leader of the Italian Volturi clan of vampires, can rescue the proceedings from being a cartoonish spin-off of "Lost Boys" meets Tom Cruise's godawful spin in "Interview With the Vampire." Yet, despite my own out loud laughter during these scenes, a quick perusal of the theatre quickly revealed misty-eyed teeny-boppers wishing it could be them in the arms of that hunka' hunka' burnin' love, Jacob Black.
An appearance by Dakota Fanning as the ultimate bad ass vampire makes you want to rush out and watch Abigail Breslin go whup ass on the zombie's in "Zombieland" one more time.
Now, Breslin was bad ass. Fanning? She's just bad.
So, despite improved cinematography, a stellar score and a few successful tweaks here and there, "Twilight Saga: New Moon" is a step down largely due to the miscast Taylor Lautner, Melissa Rosenberg's laughably bad dialogue and Weitz's tendency to cave in to the inherent comic potential of this soap opera for teenage romantics.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic