If Elvis and Christopher Walken had a son, he would look like Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the dreamy-eyed vampire in Chris Weitz’s film The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The much-anticipated film is a sequel to the hugely popular Twilight, based on the best-selling series of books by Stephenie Meyer, who has found a teeny-bopper formula for repackaging the classic Wagnerian theme of love-death. If the screeches from the audience during the screening I attended are any indication, then this film will, like its predecessor, satisfy the romantic longings of its target audience: twelve-year-old girls. For that group, the endless focus on star-crossed lovers hurts so good; for the rest us, it just hurts.
As you may know, at the center of the plot is Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a high-school student who has moved from Phoenix, where she lived with her mother, to a small town in the Pacific Northwest, to live with her father, a cop who devotes some of his time to tracking the mysterious source of brutal slayings. Bella, a withdrawn, brooding teen, draws the attention of the aloof Edward, who has previously shown no interest in any girl. Eventually, he reveals that he is a vampire, but not in a bad way. With his vampire family, he feeds only on animal blood, which he compares to tofu: It provides nourishment but never really satisfies. Danger thus lurks in every meeting between Bella and Edward. He might be tempted to feed on her, as might other members of his family; even if those temptations can be suppressed, there is the risk of Bella’s being caught up in the battle between the Cullen family and a group of much less principled vampires.
Twilight is the ultimate female teen romantic fantasy, about the awkward female outsider who finds a complex, deep, dark male outsider, the one all the other girls wish they had. In this case, standard teen romance becomes a kind of teen gnosticism, since here the brooding James Dean happens to have preternatural powers and is clued in to the secrets of the universe.
The filmmakers are clever enough to know that the real draw here is the seeming impossibility of the love between the two characters. In New Moon, Bella and Edward just happen to be studying Romeo and Juliet in class. The story is all about longing unrealized, never about what Shelley called “love’s sad satiety.” It is also about being addicted to the danger itself. As Edward says in one of many instances of clichéd dialogue: “You’re like my own personal brand of heroin.”
The dreadful dialogue is matched by poor filmmaking technique. The Pacific Northwest setting, with its gloomy weather and its heavily wooded landscapes, suits the plot perfectly. But the rest of the filmmaking is utterly uncreative. The film tediously repeats slow-motion shots, zoom shots, and encircling shots. There is also that cheesy glitter vampires sport when they are seen in the sun. Large werewolves appear on the scene via the crudest CGI in recent memory, and Edward communicates with Bella in a hologram reminiscent of Princess Leia’s appearance to Obi-Wan. Then there are the profound silences, as Bella and Edward, with eyes averted, bear the excruciating pain of a love that cannot be.