As with most hugely popular things, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is a polarizing force; either you love it or you hate it and the only other option is to completely ignore it (as if such a thing were possible in light of the media onslaught promoting The Twilight Saga: New Moon). And, as the reviews that are pouring in show, so it goes for the movie: if you love the books, you will love this movie, but if you haven’t read them or already think the story sounds stupid or melodramatic, this movie isn’t going to convert you. As an unabashed fan myself, I’m willing to venture that I can tell which movie critics have given the books a chance and which haven’t: those who gave Twilight decent reviews and trash New Moon haven’t read word one, and those whose New Moon reviews overflow with the reasons it is so much better than Twilight probably have their very own copies with overworked, creased spines.
Most fans of the books found Catherine Hardwicke’s version of Twilight to be very nearly tragic and they were incredibly vocal about their disappointment. They were just as vocal about what they wanted from a New Moon adaptation, which was nothing less than an absolutely faithful rendering of the novel. Summit Entertainment heard their cries and has delivered a well-wrought, thoughtful version of New Moon that, while not a scene-for-scene rendering of the novel, is pretty much what readers like myself imagined as they read Bella’s tale of heartbreak and painfully slow recovery. This is good news for the fans and not entirely bad news for newcomers to the franchise. Fans will have very few complaints, most of which will be nitpicky (Edward’s Volvo is supposed to be silver!), as the screenwriter and director were reigned in from changing anything or including anything that truly violates the intricate mythology of the series.
Newcomers may be dazed and/or confused by Bella’s intense depression when Edward leaves, as Hardwicke’s Twilight simply did not establish a relationship of any real depth between our star-crossed lovers, and director Chris Weitz does not have time to do more than try to recap the intensity that is established in the first novel. However, they will find relief in the promised vampire and werewolf action, along with several instances of much-needed comic relief, all of which are perfectly executed by supporting cast members (Kellan Lutz as Emmet Cullen nails some well-placed snarky comments and Anna Kendrick as Jessica Stanley gets the entire audience giggling with her monologue about zombie movies).
Therein lies the crux in forming an opinion about this movie; if you’re a fan of the book, its faithful adaptation pleases you, but if not, New Moon fails as it succeeds. Because Twilight did not establish reason enough for Edward to be someone for whom Bella would give everything, the intense depression Bella falls into when he leaves, around which the entire movie revolves, is somewhat confusing to a viewer who does not know the books. Weitz does an amazing job trying to make up for where Twilight failed, in that he makes sure the opening minutes of the movie between Bella and Edward absolutely smolder, but there’s only so much he can do without re-making Twilight. Thus, the movie must almost completely ignore whether the viewer understands why Bella is grieving so profoundly over her seemingly fickle vampire in order to succeed in showing the depth of that grief.
Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of Bella as the zombie she becomes in the book when Edward leaves is dead on. From her pained screams as she awakens from nightmares to the more subtle vulnerability as she tries to lie to her father about her grief, Stewart’s complex pallet of gray emotions shows her dedication to this project and her tremendous growth as a young actress.
The audience, now convinced of Bella’s hopeless state of mind, must now be equally convinced that young Taylor Lautner’s Jacob Black is the only one who can pull her out of it. Lautner’s dedication to keeping his role as Jacob (there was much talk of re-casting the part) is probably most noticeable in his perfect 6-pack abs, which are nearly perpetually on display once the secret that he has become a werewolf is revealed, but it also shows as he nearly expertly moves from joking about what makes a real man to vulnerable confessions of his unrequited love to Jacob’s uncontrollable anger brought on by being forced to live a life he would never choose. Of course, a successful portrayal of Jacob as Edward’s rival only serves to make the viewer wonder why choosing between her sweet, gorgeous werewolf pal and the brooding vampire who left her high and dry for months is even difficult.
Another way in which the movie’s successful elements are undermined by Weitz’s fidelity to the book is that the “minor” characters (most of the humans, vampires, and the wolf pack other than Jacob) must be exactly that, minor. Bella is much too wrapped up in her grief to notice anyone other than Jacob, who is the only one able to break through her sorrow and make her feel a little better. As I mentioned, Anna Kendrick makes the most of her few onscreen minutes, and veterans Dakota Fanning as Jane and Michael Sheen as Aro are both fantastic as members of the terrifying Volturi coven, but critics complaining that there isn’t enough of them are complaining about the movie being too true to the book.
To the critics busy writing about all of these “flaws” in the movie, I suggest writing a book review instead. My bottom line on New Moon, the movie? With impressive CGI of werewolves and vampires, gorgeous scenery of the North Pacific region and Italy, and humorous dialogue (most of which is nowhere to be found in the book), the movie does all it can to satisfy those viewers who are basically uninitiated into the world of Twilight. But the focus, as I would argue it should be, is on pleasing the fans who counted down the months and minutes until its release, and that focus pays off. This is an adaptation that succeeds so well in capturing the essence of the book fans love that they will pay to see it multiple times in the theater and are already filling the fandom message boards with excited speculation about what types of extras will appear in the DVD’s special features.