— by ALEXA MILAN —
I have never seen a pop culture phenomenon as polarizing as “Twilight,” and based on the reviews for the second installment in the series, “New Moon” is no exception. Personally, I enjoy the “Twilight” books. Yes, they’re poorly written. Yes, they’re extremely cheesy. But to me they are fun, escapist entertainment. That’s what “New Moon” sets out to be, and director Chris Weitz’s adaptation actually succeeds more than the book.
In “New Moon,” human high school student Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) are just as in love as in the first installment. But when Edward’s brother Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) almost attacks Bella, a guilt-ridden Edward fears being with him is too dangerous for Bella. Determined to keep her safe, Edward leaves town, where a broken-hearted Bella feels the sting of losing her first love.
Completely numb for months, Bella finally starts to heal when she grows closer to her friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who quickly makes it clear he’s interested in more than just friendship with her. But just when Bella is getting used to supernatural beings not being in her life, Jacob discovers the legends that his Quileute tribe is descended from wolves are actually true (spoiler alert unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months) — Jacob is a werewolf, sworn to protect the tribe’s land from vampires.
The change in Jacob sets in when Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre), one of the nomadic vampires from the first film, returns to Forks, Wash., in search of Bella, who she’s determined to kill. Bella has to adjust to her friend’s new-found identity, avoid crossing paths with Victoria and try to forget the Cullens, who re-enter her life in a dramatic way.
From a filmmaking standpoint, “New Moon” improves on “Twilight” in every way, largely thanks to Weitz’s direction. Catherine Hardwicke’s directing in the first film was uneven and the story very disjointed. The script borderlined on over-the-top cheesy even for “Twilight” fans, and the acting was wooden for the most part.
But with Weitz in the director’s chair, the story is much more cohesive and the directing is solid. Gone are Hardwicke’s unnecessary extra shots and the first film’s odd blue tint. The book’s trademark teen angst is still present, but screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg inserts enough extra humor to counterbalance it. The story moves at a slow and steady pace, but that’s the way the books are set up.
Though the dialogue is still a bit cheesy, the actors seem much more comfortable in their roles this time around. The two standouts in the film are the hilarious Billy Burke, who plays Bella’s dad Charlie and also stole the show in the first film, and the always wonderful Michael Sheen, who plays the creepy leader who enforces the vampire laws.
The special effects are also a huge step above those of the first film. While they’re nowhere close to the quality of the effects of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” for example, they suit the film’s needs. I was satisfied with the werewolf transformations, and the other effects look much less fake than in the first film.
Alexandre Desplat’s score is a little odd at times but is solid overall, and the rest of the film’s soundtrack is strong, featuring bands like Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, OK Go and Muse.
In a nutshell, “Twilight” fans should find “New Moon” to be a huge improvement from the first film, while people who hate “Twilight” will probably hate this movie too. If you’re one of the few people not on either extreme who was indifferent to the first film, I’d suggest giving “New Moon” a shot. Fans will be satisfied while the haters will continue to hate.
Follow Alexa Milan on Twitter at http://twitter.com/alexamilan.