Chris Weitz, who has come a long way since co-directing American Pie with brother Paul, seems to have approached the second film in the newly dubbed “Twilight Saga” with the same utter disregard for proactive development as his predecessor, Catherine Hardwicke. New Moon is every ounce as boring as the first Twilight film, relying even more on the deep pockets and low expectations of tweenage girls. However, if two promising American directors (Hardwicke and Weitz) approached the same material and turned up dreck in both cases, maybe there is something more at work here. Maybe the material just sucks.
We find Bella (Kristen Stewart), our helpless heroine from the first installment, starting her senior year of high school in Forks, Washington, the cloud covered northwestern town perfect for hiding a family of vampires. Edward (Robert Pattinson), her fangy boyfriend, throws her a birthday party, during which his brother tries to eat her. This is standard fare for a family of vamps with a human mascot. Nonetheless, Edward decides to end his relationship with Bella. Oh the heartbreak. Luckily, she fills the void in her heart by spending time with a 16 year old Native American werewolf, Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Don’t worry, she does go through a period of depression first; she’s not that much of a monster skank.
New Moon feels more like a supplement to the hefty tome on which it is based; a celluloid special feature released only to enhance the experience of committed fangirls rather than bring new ones into the fold. The dialogue is wooden, the effects are lackluster and the plot never materializes. But that’s all par for the course, because this movie is really about oggling Robert Pattinson’s gravity-defying coif and Taylor Lautner’s washboard six pack. It’s all about the inappropriate eye candy here; sorry boys, Kristin Stewart isn’t allowed to preen the same way her costars do. That would be illegal.
In many respects, the flocking to Stephanie Meyers’ vampire epic is part of a cultural phenomenon that has nothing to do with the quality of the work. Audiences are begging for fantasy series. Ever since Harry Potter popularized the idea of literature consumed by the pound instead of by the page (a concept long successful in the mystery, fantasy and science fiction worlds), audiences and readers alike are desperate for magical characters they can languish with for hours. This decade began with The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, a nine hour epic that only got more involved once it hit DVD, and another tryptic of Star Wars films. The experience is now measured in days. So perhaps the key to The Twilight Saga’s success is about familiarity. It could be about anything at this point.
As for Mr. Weitz’s failure to make a decently cinematic adaptation, I believe we can chalk that up to a few overly ambitious production companies. Both the first film and this one are completely half baked, almost like watching a work print with first-pass effects work. Ms. Hardwicke was originally attached New Moon, but left because she didn’t think the script was ready to shoot for a Thanksgiving release. In other words, Mr. Weitz hopped aboard a Hindenberg that could have been saved with time. But given the king’s ransom that was collected upon opening, the joke really is on the rest of us. Oh well, maybe they’ll make the third one right, but probably not.