As if the moral undercurrent of Stephenie Meyer's best selling Twilight novels-which use vampiric temptation as a trope for heroine Bella Swan's (Kristen Stewart) hormonally-induced turmoil in retaining her chastity-wasn't obvious enough, New Moon director Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) felt it necessary to put Swan on a Virgin flight mid-way through the flick, taking an already-obvious allegory and turning it insulting. And while the franchise's tweenage fan base will hardly mind (or notice) this lack of directorial subtlety (the material is likely deserving of a little scoffery anyway), Weitz's work still lands decidedly as the second cinematic misfire of The Twilight Saga; for it confuses hysterics for histrionics and fails to do anything of social relevance with its running theme of quasi-religious gimmickry (Meyer herself is a Mormon). Still, to live in today's world is to know of Bella, her subhuman lovers Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), and the romantic tie-ups that transpire in Meyer's contemporary-set faux-fairy tale. As such, no one batted an eye when New Moon went on to bank a hearty $296.3 million domestically on a high of 4,124 screens. With its legion of followers-neatly divided into teams supporting Edward or Jacob, mind you-and midnight release parties, DVD and Blu-ray sales should be equally impressive.
Whereas other 2009 releases, such as Richard Kelly's under-considered The Box, tackle spiritual mysticism with hope and ambiguity, New Moon takes the reckless route of painting young love and youthful impulsivity as absolute barometers on how to live one's life. Of course, in order to convince viewers that Bella and Edward are indeed Meant to Be (thus eschewing the picture's inherent moral hang-ups), Weitz draws some passive paragons between Meyer's couple and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Early in the film, Edward recites, from memory, a few lines of the tragedy with Bella looking on in awe. Over 100 years her senior, Edward is able to recall Shakespeare's words not out of his love for Bella or passion for culture but due to repetition-he has attended high school for decades, for his appearance is and has been that of a 17-year old boy. Still, the film placates to only the most ostensible themes of Romeo and Juliet-star-crossed love, cultural boundary and heartsick-inspired suicide-and passes this off for profundity as to skirt issues that require any real sense of characterization or exposition (to be fair, Jacob and his wolf pack brethren do recall the occasionally homoerotic airs of Romeo and Mercutio). Even Edward's delivery of the aforementioned lines is dreary in its monotony; he's more akin to the world's most depressed stoner (omni-red eyes and all) than the romantic icon he's often heralded as. Naturally, the character is meant to represent the brooding, sensitive type, though Pattinson's emotional range is too crudely realized for his performance to be anything short of maudlin.
Just as Edward assumes the role of Bella's emotional crux so too does Jacob fulfill the role of her growing lust for physicality. At the film's opening, Pattinson and Stewart exchange kisses between some more-heavy-than-hot panting and petting to show the teenager's now-conscious need for intimacy. Unfortunately, her beloved Edward soon departs Forks, Washington, leaving her emotionally devastated and physically unfulfilled. It's around this time that she notices the new found muscularity of her childhood friend Jacob, who almost too literally embodies the notion of an alpha male (as opposed to the Gothic mystique of, as he puts it, "That Cullen kid.") This is when things get bad, for Weitz cares more about finding new ways to get Lautner shirtless than he does for developing Jacob's affection as anything more than doggish loyalty. Seemingly, it's Jacob's ability to protect little miss Swan that makes him so alluring to her, especially given the abandonment of her former safeguarding suitor. And although we all want to feel safe, Weitz paints Bella as too pathetic to live without the men in her life, which sure is a fine aspiration for girls everywhere. Still, through Bella's social and survivalist ineptness, the director is probably giving the franchise's target demographic exactly what they want-a man to drool over, another that loves unconditionally, and a girl willing to sacrifice her eternal soul for a vampire's lifetime of postnuptual nookie. Ah, to be young again.
Plain and simple: with a new director comes a new look. Fortunately for Twilight fans, Weitz has said "Begone!" to the washy blue tint of the series' last installment, which felt almost muddling in its acidity. Present now is a fairly healthy level of grain that caters well to the film's sometimes wondrous natural set pieces-which, for whatever reason, feel far more convincing than its predecessor's exteriors-and still-sub-par CGI. Though, to be fair, the effects of the film do blend well with the high levels of saturation and low lighting gloss of DP Javier Aguirresarobe's (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) aesthetic. This effect is likely due to the unique transference of the color negative film used on the project, as it's, according to Kodak, designed to lighten grain weight when shooting in dim locales. Still, this can give the imagery a tinge of artifice that may not have been intended, or present, in New Moon's theatrical representation. That said, this Summit transfer is still a solid output and I doubt anyone outside Blu-ray aficionados will find much to complain about. Hell, most fans will probably be too busy screaming at their television set to notice the disc's slight inconsistencies anyway. In the off chance that the movie is watched with a silent, observant audience, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is both crisp in its nuance and immersive when it roars.
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Dakota Fanning, Michael Sheen, Bronson Pelletier, Kiowa Gordon and Jamie Campbell-Bower
Director: Chris Weitz
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg
Producers: Wyck Godfrey and Mark Morgan
Genre: Romance, Fantasy
Rating: PG-13 for some violence and action.
Running time: 130 min.