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The Twilight Saga:
New Moon

Debate amongst hardcore fans of the Twilight Series usually comes down to one dichotomy: Team Edward or Team Jacob? This would lead all the ladies out there to believe that, unless you want to date a queasy townie, you have to choose between the sexy but emotionally distant dreamboat, or the hunky and dedicated, but potentially abusive dreamboat. Good luck with that.

New Moon finds Bella (Kristen Stewart, who, with her meal-ticket movie franchise and sly, corner-mouth grin, must act quickly lest she become the Neve Campbell of the Aughts) is worried that she will grow old and ugly as compared to her vampire beau, Edward (Robert Pattinson) and wants desperately to become a vampire. Bella is further frustrated by the fact that Edward refuses to be physically intimate with her for fear that he would kill her in his, um, excitement.

After a paper-cut incident where her vampire friends behave like, well, vampires, Edward decides that he and his clan should skip town in part to protect Bella. Devastated by Edward's departure, Bella becomes the most boring adrenaline junky ever and starts hanging around the hunky slice of boy-beefcake, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who turns out to have secrets of his own. In the end, Bella must choose which broody boy she wants to be with.

Like most modern versions of vampires and werewolves for tweens, this movie does not explore the creatures as you're likely familiar with them. The ability to turn into a werewolf, for example, is inherited, and has nothing to do with the lunar cycle. Turning into a wolf is instead triggered either by choice or involuntarily by anger.

As the movie concerns itself most with the romantic counterparts of the guys, the downside of dating a werewolf is illustrated by the scarred wife of a member of the pack who was too close when he got angry once. While the movie forgoes any potential insight into the werewolf / puberty transformation like in the indie horror Ginger Snaps, it does, interestingly, take a split second to ruminate on the nature of violence as an inherited disposition and the effect it has on the children, associates, and spouses of potentially violent men.

The story is treated with a harlequin-lite tone, and, like the tweens it's designed to enthrall, the movie spends more time ruminating about what happens when the leading guys take their shirts off than it does developing any heady themes. Becoming a werewolf, for example, apparently means developing both a well-toned upper body and an allergy to shirts. Either that or werewolves chose "skins" over "shirts" when picking sides in the vampire versus werewolf battle.

Meanwhile, vampires shimmer like an overcompensating stripper in the the sunlight, a trait that Edward seeks to use to threaten to expose vampires to the world by, you guessed it, taking his shirt off in order to compel the vampire nobles to kill him in an act of romantic suicide.

This is not to say that the hunkiness is a fault, per se. I spent over two and a half hours largely enjoying the combination of teenage-boy fantasy and wargasm that Michael Bay presented in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen last summer. I can be the first to admit that the first shot of Megan Fox straddling a motorcycle to airbrush the gas tank is absolutely no different than Taylor Lautner deftly removing his shirt to gingerly dab Bella's wounds. In its own perverse way, New Moon should be applauded for giving the girls something to fawn over that as potentially mindless as the normal guy fare, but not as obviously mean-spirited.

The backbone of the Twilight story is the infatuation that Bella and Edward share, and Pattinson and Stewart have a decent enough chemistry, but the implications of a relationship between an 18 year-old girl and a 109 year-old vampire are creepy no matter how you slice it. I could ruminate about the metaphorical implications of the story, but it's been done excellently already elsewhere. Suffice to say that, when the Twilight Saga is subjected to feminist criticism, it holds up only slightly better than Mein Kampf.

Even if you set aside your ardor or contempt for the theme and Saga aside, what you're left with is still a fairly disappointing movie. Bella, who needs to be the emotional anchor and barometer for the movie, is played by Stewart with a depressed and angsty forlorn stare that bounces back and forth between numb and lost. It inexplicably seems as though she's literally swimming through the Washington state air. (Though in her defense, it does seem to rain often in Forks, WA.) Add to that the fact that Stewart plays emotional pain with a heavy-hand as physical pain and you've got a Bella that's just as isolated from the audience as her friends.

For all the movement, gesticulation, and emoting in the movie, the story never really goes anywhere. In contrast to the recent Cirque du Freak movie, where three books were awkwardly crammed into one movie, New Moon seems like it needed another book's worth of plot to flesh it out and actually tell a complete story. The only part of the plot with any real danger or tension to it is a continuation of events from the first Twilight movie that serves as a placeholder before the next movie. New Moon is the literary equivalent of Stephanie Meyer, the Saga's creator, saying, "Hold on, I'm still thinking of the next one."

The fact of the matter is that if you're a twihard, none of this matters, anyway. You will see, or have already seen, this movie and will enjoy it. If you're still sitting on the outside of the Twilight Saga cultural phenomenon, get comfortable. There's absolutely nothing this wooden, go-nowhere movie is going to do to convince you to get on board. Maybe the promised vampire on vampire on werewolf fights in the next one will bring more guys around, but I'm going to go ahead and keep my shirt on, anyway.

Matt Sameck

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