Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Moon ... old tropes?

Nothing could withstand the hype surrounding the first film Twilight, but I guess the thing that stands out the most for me regarding the new filmed version of New Moon, the second book in the series, is that the sensibility of the new director Chris Weitz seems so much more overtly action-oriented than the first film in the Twilight saga. Catherine Hardwicke, the director of Twilight, created a beautiful, romantic material world which definitely revealed a feminine sensibility sensitive to the issues faced by many teenage girls.

I've written about the book, here at last is the film.

In New Moon, perhaps because much of the story has to do with Bella's best friend Jacob Black (the bulked up Taylor Lautner) and his transformation into a werewolf (yes, I know you adults are laughing already) the emphasis is on the physical struggles that the Quileute Indian boys undergo, their efforts to track down any errant Vampires who wander into their territory as per a treaty enacted between the two groups.

This gives the young buff Indian actors an excuse to run around the entire film without shirts on provoking yelps of delight behind me in the cinema.

Cleverly, when Meyer constructed the series she took her cue from the classics. Meyer is not the most accomplished writer; however, she cannily taps into tropes that hit at the core of young romantic love. In Twilight, she called on the familiar dynamic of tension between Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. She is biased against her future lover thinking him too proud; he, vain, aristocratic and beautiful, secretly adores her. In the second installment Meyer turns to fragments of the plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as an appropriate plot line.

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), our teenage heroine, is seemingly abandoned by Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) after a disturbing accident in the Cullen family home. He has determined that, for Bella’s well being, it is unsafe for them to be together. He disappears from Forks, Washington with his family to unknown parts.

The ever accident prone and depressed Bella soon realizes that every time she puts herself in an unsafe situation she summons up the spirit of Edward admonishing her so she does so with increasing frequency. In the book, the period of her depression is actually much more prolonged and painful but I’m sure this would bore the teenagers right out of the theatre. Here in the film we are reduced to intermittent bouts of screaming during her nightmares to signify how much Bella is suffering. This sent a titter of screeching and laughing from the row of teenage girls behind us.

She asks Jacob, her now best friend, to rebuild a motorcycle that she thinks will provide the adrenaline rush and fear and will make Edward a constant psychological presence in her life.

Jacob does so happily but Bella witnesses a change in him that is frightening and inexplicable to Bella. Some members of the Quileute tribe have the ability to transform into werewolves. Their role is to patrol the reserve and keep it free of vampires. Whatever antipathy that Jacob might feel towards Edward because he is in love Bella is now intensified because he has secretly taken on this role.

Bella’s daredevil antics have more serious repercussions than she can foresee. After recklessly cliff diving after she watches the Quileute boys doing so, Edward’s sister Alice rushes to her side because her telepathic powers have told her that Bella has tried to kill herself.

Miscommunication between the Cullen family members and a misunderstood telephone call convince Edward that Bella is dead so he decides to commit virtual suicide by having himself killed by the Volturi – an elite band of vampires living in Italy who kill other vampires when they threaten the reveal the existence of their secret life.

Romeo (Edward) banished from Verona thinks Juliet (Bella) is dead and decides to kills himself - get it kids? Bella and Alice race to Italy to save Edward (flying on Virgin Airlines and driving in a flashy sports car no less).

Edward has been dragged before the Volturi for almost exposing himself to the Italian populace, all donning blood red cloaks, who coincidentally are celebrating the anniversary of the expulsion of vampires from their town. It's the silliest part of a silly pot line.

The Volturi are a band of cartoonish characters led by Aro (Michael Sheen, a wonderful actor camping it up here and ill used by the director). Is there a reason why the Volturi have to come across as 18th c. fops in bad wigs with too much white makeup and pseudo English accents? Camp doesn't even begin to describe it. The director resorts to the same silly cinematic clichés about vampires that were boring twenty years ago.

Of course, the assembled vampires are incensed by Bella’s presence - her blood always provokes an intense, almost erotic reaction in this crew. Although the fight scene is intriguing to watch in its Matrix-like, slow-mo beauty it is an unsatisfying denouement. Edward and Bella are spared.

They return to Forks, Washington and make nice. Bella resumes her old complaint with which the film starts and begs to be turned into a vampire so that she might live forever with Edward and never age but he agrees only if she will marry him. Fade to black.

Horrors! A fate as a vampire or as a wife? I find it amusing how resistant Bella is to the idea of being married, a theme which is carried through to the third book Eclipse.

I had put the book aside in the summer but now I am curious as to how this horrible dilemma will be resolved.

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