New Moon, the latest release in the Twilight franchise, has a lot to say about eternity?and not just when it comes to vampires.
If You’re already a fan of the books and films, you probably know the characters, plotlines, and catchphrases intimately. And if You’re not, the film is still enlightening for what it says about the eternal human need to make sense of the world through stories.
Before we get to the Shakespearean allusions (of which there are many), let’s be clear about one thing. New Moon doesn’t do subtle. Baz Luhrmann’s nuanced Romeo and Juliet it definitely is not.
What it does do, however, is go straight for the jugular of its main demographic: young teens, the age group for whom much of life is about extremes. Emotions are heightened, physical changes can seem overwhelming, and even the smallest social gaffe can feel like a life-and-death dilemma. (Before adult fans howl in protest, bear in mind that the novels are published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.)
New Moon opens with heroine Bella Swan quoting Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence: ?These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder / Which, as they kiss, consume.?
Much like the famous play it references so often, New Moon‘s themes are both universal and eternal. Girl meets boy, true love blossoms, and powerful forces intervene to keep them apart. As one half of this particular star-crossed romantic duo, Bella’s in a constant state of angst over forbidden love Edward Cullen. But unlike Juliet, Bella’s problem isn’t feuding families in Verona. It’s the fact that Edward is a vampire.
The conflict was set in the first film, Twilight. Edward is irresistibly drawn to Bella but, as the bad-boy-hero archetype, he denies his feelings in a bid to protect the heroine’s innocence. Giving in wouldn’t just mean breaking curfew at the soda shop. If Edward succumbed to his urges, he would turn Bella into a vampire.
New Moon draws out that tension when a minor accident emphasizes the danger of Bella’s relationship with Edward. To protect her, Edward and his family leave town. By vampire standards they’re a pretty peace-loving bunch, but as Bella pines for Edward some far more sinister vampires turn up. they’re seeking revenge on Edward and, since he’s not around, decide that killing Bella will inflict a suitable amount of pain on him.
Blood feuds between vampires aren’t really the main attraction here though. Instead, It’s another universal dramatic element: the love triangle. Taylor Lautner plays Bella’s friend Jacob Black, a faithful ally who’s there to pick up the pieces of her broken heart. And while Jacob is clearly in love with her, he’s also got a secret that rivals Edward?s. Jacob is a werewolf.
If You’re getting the sense that New Moon deals in well-worn dramatic themes, you’d be right. And in principle, there’s nothing wrong with that. they’re some of the most enduring plots for film and literature for a reason?they speak directly to and about the human condition.
But don’t mistake New Moon for a complex exploration of love, rivalry, or temptation. Its colours are painted in bold, straightforward strokes. The good guys are clearly good and the bad guys are just as plainly bad. And that is both the film’s strength and its weakness.
On the positive side, creating such unambiguous characters and plot development plays straight to the intended demographic. The Twilight franchise isn’t really part of the horror genre, despite the abundance of werewolves and vampires. The books and films are all about teen romance?grand, dizzying, dramatic first love. And much like the mainstream romance novels that hold such enduring appeal, it relies on a tried and true formula that satisfies audiences by the millions.
For the most part, the actors manage well within those restrictions. Robert Pattinson (as Edward Cullen) looks suitably moody and conflicted, and It’s clear that he could deliver the goods in a more challenging role. He did a fine job as Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter films, and it actually makes for an interesting comparison to watch the trailers that are out for his next major role, Remember Me, in which he gets to chew the scenery with old pros like Pierce Brosnan and Lena Olin.
And Taylor Lautner provides a surprisingly appealing performance as the werewolf Jacob Black. I say surprisingly because, let’s face it, the focus of the franchise is the romantic tension between Edward and Bella. In another actor’s hands, the character of Jacob might have remained incidental. He’s the third wheel in the love triangle, the second fiddle to the leading man, and the guy that Bella blatantly uses as a way to get closer to her true love (she hangs out with Jacob so he’ll fix a dirt bike for her, a necessary danger factor that helps her conjure up visions of Edward).
Yet Jacob is the most likeable of the three. He’s as conflicted as Edward (having just been turned into a werewolf), but he’s also a warm, genuine, fully rounded character, one that you’ll likely find yourself relating to more than any other in the film. And given the blunt-edged approach of the novels, That’s a definite testament to Taylor Lautner’s abilities.
In fact, you may even find yourself rooting for him to get the girl?but That’s where the downside of the simplistic approach comes in. Because Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of Bella is, quite frankly, deader than a vampire.
Sure, She’s supposed to be depressed and lovelorn. But It’s possible to convey intense emotions without grand gestures (think the wonderfully talented Anna Paquin in The Piano‘she was only around 12 at the time, and It’s as brooding and melancholy a film as any). When you find yourself watching Bella’s face for any signs of emotion, you have to wonder if She’s already a member of Edward’s soulless vampire clan after all.
That won’t matter to committed Twilight fans though. And with great production values, spooky settings, and a particularly charming werewolf, New Moon has plenty of other attractions to sink your teeth into.