Beefcake, old and young.

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattison

Director: Chris Weitz

Halfway through watching “Twilight Saga: New Moon” (TSNM), it occurred to me that I had not thought of “Interview With A Vampire” (IWAV)since about a year after it came out.  IWAV made big waves before it came out, mainly due to the choice of Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat.  The author, Ann Rice, was not thrilled with the selection.  Oh well, $224 million worldwide gross helped to assuage her disappointment, to be sure.

By the time they rolled out the second movie installment of the multitude of books, the series had run out of steam.   Despite the death of it’s lead, Aaliyah, the movie was released in the no man’s land of February and managed to gross just $10 million over it’s $35 million dollar budget.    Ann Rice’s books, from most accounts that I have heard (never read them myself) are vastly superior works, and the first movie was better than either of the “Twilight” movies I have seen.  The care that they took with the introductory movie of the series indicated a dedication that, for a variety of reasons was not adhered to.  The series withered on the vine.

The Twilight series, thus far, has received a much kinder fate.  On the eve of the release of the film, it’s production company, Summit entertainment, acquired the rights to the rest of the books, due to the positive experience that it’s author, Stephanie Meyer, had in the making of the first film.  They then ramped up the production schedule to pump out the next movie in just one year.  This is normally a bad sign for a movie, so original “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke bailed at this point.  This may have been an “artistic” stance, but, financially for her, it was a big mistake.  Enter “American Pie” and “About a Boy” director Chris Weitz.  He had no problem with the schedule, but that was not enough for him to be considered for the third movie, “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” to be released merely 9 months later and directed by David Slade.

One important bit of cohesion, so far, has been screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg.  It is clear she is comfortable with the path of each character, with no need to cram scenes together in order to get stuff in.  My wife, who has read the books, identifies that while lots of each book has been left out, the story is streamlined effectively.  This, I believe, has been the key to the series skyrocketing success.  While the Rice movies went from having her write the screenplay for the first movie and then shut her out of the second completely (instead opting for two hacks) the makers of the Twilight Saga opted for one consistent voice, and it shows.

Look over your shoulder, in the tree. You will see the nemesis for part 2...
Look over your shoulder, dude. You will find the baddie for movie #2

Now, to the movie.  TSNM, starts off shortly after the events of the original.  Celebrating her 18th birthday, Stewart’s Bella is acutely aware that her body continues to age while her boyfriend, Edward (Pattison) is over 100 but will forever look like he is 17.  The celebration of her birthday provides another complication as an accident leaves Bella in a jeopardy which, given that she is the only non-vampire hanging out with a family of vampires, she will continue to

Beefcake! Beefcake!

experience.  Edward uses this as a jettison point, and soon moves with his family to somewhere else, never to be seen again.  Enter Jacob (Lautner).  Jacob Black is a longtime friend, and mostly a peripheral character in the first film.   The way Rosenberg portrays him, though, leaves no doubt his importance to the development of the series.

His age, two years younger than Bella is also a factor.  Although he pines for her, Jacob is destined to be without Bella,

Jacob's new buddies

and this becomes central to the plot of the film.  Lautner gained 30 lbs of muscle mass to retain his role from the first time, and in doing so, provided the movie with it’s biggest selling point.  “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” paraphernalia was all the rage in the teen set for Christmas Season 2009.  If they had dumped Lautner for some meathead, I doubt the feeling of belonging in one court or the other would have felt so authentic.  It helps considerably that Lautner portrays the lovesick Black with such heartbreaking fierceness.  You can see him change from a happy go lucky friend to a fierce competitor with some amount of authenticity.

Stewart, for her part as Bella, was given a big gift by Rosenberg as well.  The majority of the book, “New Moon” is about a mopey, miserable and inconsolable Bella.  Stewart is an actress that is best served in small doses, and Rosenberg cut out a large part of her Edward Cullen blues.  More than they had in this film would have sunk the story, I believe.

Another plus for the film is the limiting of Pattison’s Cullen.  His role is meant to be mysterious, and the more he is on the screen, the less mystique he has.  I am not a huge fan of his, either, but then, I don’t think the movie was made with schlubs like me in mind.  His brooding, 90210 vampire is not extremely likeable by people at large, but I think this is the intent.  He is a freakin’ vampire.  And they have a club of their own.

Such a nice, upstanding family

The one place that I think could have been fleshed out (pardon the pun) a bit more is the vampire clan(s).  The more I learn of their kind, the more I would like to know.  According to Shanyn, their back stories are covered in the books.  The Cullen clan portrayals are good, for what we see.  I particularly like Peter Facinelli’s Carlise, Ashley Greene’s Alice and Jackson Rathbone’s Jasper Hale.  The idea of a functioning group of vampires with designed roles and gifts is akin to the X-Men, but it works well here.

Bella’s dad, Charlie Swan, played with wonderful understatement by Billy Burke, is a perfect compliment of styles for Kristen Stewart.  When he is not forced into the obligatory hugs after the nightmares, he provides a solemn, wizened and wry sense of humor that suggests perhaps Bella won’t be such a drag when she grows up.

My favorite part of the film comes with the trip to The Volturi.  They play a big part in the conclusion of this film, and, I presume the next (I did not ask Shanyn).  Many more back stories to learn, and I am sure I won’t get them all.  Getting a few would be great, though.

I would not expect most men to jump at the chance to see this film.  Like I said, there is a clear delineation between the violence in a movie like “Live Free or Die Hard” and this one.  There is plenty I could pick at in this film, but it flows so easily, I cannot help but put the criticism aside and enjoy it for what it is: a female fantasy.  There is nothing wrong with that.  This movie improved on its predecessor, but more importantly, made the original Twilight more relevant.  So far, the series is an object lesson on the importance of consistency in the screen writing voice in a series of films.  That said, knowing that Rosenberg wrote “Eclipse,” I am sure that my wife and I will be looking for a babysitter in late June…or early July.  Hopefully before August.

**** out of *****


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