Here comes the sun. Perhaps not in Forks, Washington, which by all appearances is just as wet and dreary as ever, but the sun, in the form of a new and improved movie, has risen on the Twilight series. With the release of the second installment, Twilight Saga: New Moon, the thermostat inches higher, resulting in a movie that is intense and emotional, if a bit overcooked.
New director, Chris Weitz did some things right. For fans of the series who were disappointed by the first cinematic outing, this movie works better than its precursor, Twilight. Viewers again enjoy the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest (filmed in Vancouver), take special delight in the stunning Volterra scenes (filmed in Montepulciano, Italy), revel in improved cinematography, and hold their breath during action scenes that really rock. The vampires are believable as they run faster than birds can fly, and the wolves—although sometimes too animated—manage to be simultaneously threatening and reassuring.
The main cast of characters is back, along with some pleasing additions. Bella's movie dad, again played by Billy Burke, manages to be funny but not silly, strong but not overbearing, and far more engaging than his literary counterpart, who is an overgrown lost boy. Newcomers include the hauntingly beautiful Jane (Dakota Fanning) and a creepily effective Aro (Michael Sheen).
Manipulation of time both works and fails in this film. After Edward leaves Bella, she is shattered. The fast-forward effect from October to December as Bella stares out her window, the seasons changing from fall to winter is very effective—and more efficient than watching those hundreds of pages unfold on the screen. Scenes, especially in the beginning, involving dramatic pauses often morph into melodrama marked by uncomfortable waiting. The lingering close-ups of Edward and Bella draw attention to Edward's makeup instead of their smoldering passion. Heavy foreshadowing clues us in to the Shakespearean snafu that is sure to follow, but is probably overkill. The one instance that should have been slowed down and developed more fully was the transition from Bella's cliff-diving exploit and its consequence: Edward's decision to provoke the Volturi into destroying him.
How does New Moon, the book, fit in? Quite smoothly, in fact. For true lovers of the Twilight series, this movie is a treat. Nice and long (more than two hours), the film evokes the spirit of the book, and the visual and aural impact of seeing and hearing the living, breathing characters is profound. We watch Bella wandering in the woods—big trees, small girl—as her heart is breaking into a million pieces. We hear the crunching and grating as vampire marble bodies meet Italian marble halls. We see the anger, we hear the crack as Bella slaps Paul and triggers his human-to-wolf transformation. And most compelling, we feel the heart-wrenching, cut-to-the-core cries that come from Bella's dreaming.
New Moon author Stephenie Meyer names Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as her inspiration for this volume, and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg carries the torch. Teenagers consumed by obsessive love? Check. Forbidden love between mortal enemies? Check. Tragedy brought about by miscommunication and misunderstanding? Check. Love triangle? Check. All the boxes are checked, but the essential element that makes it all believable is missing. Bella is just not very loveable. She "translates" everything Edward says into personal shorthand that says "I am not worthy. He doesn't love me." Bella is, literally, nothing without Edward—no friends, no hobbies, no interests—so why is she the love object of two men (Jacob and the ever-hopeful Mike) and a vampire? And while Bella is overemotional, super dependent, and obsessive, Edward is gloomy, intense, and full of scowls. Enter Jacob—Bella's sun, the source of warmth and goodness, the one that makes her "feel alive." He saves her life, he's funny, he's strong, and he's good with his hands. And he's a giant, vampire-destroying wolf.
If the love is sometimes hard to believe, Bella's pain is real; she is a victim—the casualty of a powerful adversary that brings the strongest of us to our knees—-of first love, all consuming and blind. The viewer, the fan, must suspend better judgment and just enjoy the ride. Team Edward or Team Jacob? For now, for Bella, it is Edward, the "him" in "It is him. It's always been him." But the sun will keep shining, waging its battle against the rain and the darkness, and who knows what might happen. There just might be an eclipse.