‘Twilight’ saga continues with torso fest

In the year or so between Twilight and just-released sequel New Moon, the vampire romance craze has hit the stratosphere, afflicting women all over the world of all ages with OCD (Obsessive Cullen Disorder). Even normally sensible mothers who would have once rolled their eyes at their daughters’ Sweet Valley High collection and topless Backstreet Boys posters now devour Stephenie Meyer’s books feverishly and gaze at their husbands as if they’re wondering if they’d look good with sparkly skin and fangs.

For those of you who live in caves, the Twilight series focuses on the relationship between 100-year-old “vegetarian” vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) in Forks, a rainy little American town. In the first instalment, Bella slowly sussed out the moody dreamboat’s dark secret – he’s vampire that only drinks animal blood and loves going to high school over and over again – and then had to escape from the sort of vampire that does enjoy chomping down on virginal maidens’ sweet necks.

In New Moon, the two are still going strong; constantly competing with each other about who loves whom more. However, following a bloody incident, Edward decides it would be best if they broke up, for like, forever, and leaves town. Poor Bella sinks into a mega-depression, but things start looking up when she discovers she can hallucinate Edward when she puts herself at risk, which leads to her getting closer to childhood friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who just might be concealing a toothy mystery of his own…

This time around, Chris Weitz has taken the directorial reins from Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen), despite his poor book-to-film transforming credentials – he mutilated the adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first of Philip Pullman’s excellent fantasy trilogy (my favourite), killing the potential film franchise in one fell swoop (for that, I will never forgive him). It’s evident that he’s tried very hard to please the fans, sticking like superglue to the book’s plot and providing plenty of eye candy for those on both Team Edward and Team Jacob.

But while the increased budget has led to prettier, shinier actors and effects, New Moon lacks the dreamy, atmospheric quality of the original – Weitz’s glossy end result is a film anyone could have made. All the rich potential for angst and sensuality has been stampeded over with heavy instrumental music (the appropriate emo soundtrack of the first film has not been emulated here) and gratuitous torso shots, with both elements often combined for the film’s most dramatic moments – like when Edward is about to commit suicide with a sunshine striptease. (Not that I’m complaining too much, more on that later.)

The film’s hollowness isn’t helped by the mechanical acting of the three leads. While the amazingly buff Lautner and beautifully dishevelled Pattinson are undeniably delicious, the former lacks depth and the latter seems rather bored with it all. Stewart, still woefully miscast, looks like she’d rather be somewhere else, probably in an edgier indie film. A warmer, spunkier and more accessible actress would have been better – when Bella is “depressed” it’s barely distinguishable from her usual laconic, heavy-lidded demeanour.

Stewart also fails to generate chemistry with either of her leading men, which will undoubtedly satisfy besotted fans. It’s hard to understand why Bella is so in demand with the two hotties. Then again, Forks’ teen girl population seems limited to shrill gossipmongers like Bella’s classmate Jessica (Anna Kendrick), and aloof vampire babes like Alice (Ashley Greene) and Rosalie (Nikki) who are related to Edward and thus automatically repulsive to the vampire-bigot Jacob by virtue of being bloodsuckers. Oh, I get it now. Ladies, let’s all move to Forks!

The supporting characters – the Cullen vampire family, bloodlusty nomadic vampires, pack of werewolves, evil Italian vampire council – all inject a lot more enthusiasm and life into their roles, but unfortunately, you don’t get to see much of them.

That’s how the film generally feels – despite the 130-minute running time, it feels like there’s not much of anything, especially not potentially tantalizing plot strands: Bella’s adrenaline junkie mission; the vampire Victoria’s quest for vengeance (against Bella, as Edward killed her mate in the first film); the growing friendship/romance between Bella and Jacob; the potentially stunning Italian citadel setting; Jacob’s brotherly camaraderie with his tribal peers, etc.

This likely stems from Weitz and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg trying to pack as much of the book’s details as possible, as well as the copious amounts of photos and discussions on all the film’s aspects before its release.

Yet despite these shortcomings, New Moon definitely achieves guilty pleasure status, mainly due to the aforementioned gratuitous torso shots – it’s a sumptuous cinematic celebration of the male form, a refreshing antidote to the usual objectification of female bodies.

Gorgeous teenaged torsos every which way you could imagine – dripping with rain and sweat, sparkling in sunlight, covered in chocolate (ok, maybe not that last one) – have the lion’s share of screen time, surpassing dialogue. In contrast, all females remain modestly clad – Bella barely even wears a dress apart from a brief, hilarious dream/premonition sequence where she and Edward are running about in the woods all sparkly.

What’s more, when the owners of the torsos do speak, it’s to say the things every woman wants to hear. These fine male specimens are all one-woman kind of guys, desiring nothing more than meaningful stares and occasional kisses (Edward: “Bella, you give me everything just by breathing”).

Even when Bella gets cruelly dumped, it’s only because Edward loves her so much. Yes girls, if your man acts like a massive jerk, it means he IS just that into you – forget the lessons learned from that Jennifer Aniston flick.

All jibes aside, much has been made of the Twilight series’ disturbing elements: Bella’s sadomasochistic and co-dependent romances with both Jacob and Edward, sexually frustrated Puritan values, paedophilic overtones, etc. All these are present in the film and are all the more disturbing with the addition of video and audio, but it’s a faithful interpretation of the source material, so that has to be a plus for Twihards.

Another positive is the light humor threaded throughout the film – intentional moments like Jacob admitting he’s too young to buy his own cinema tickets (Bella’s doing it for him) and the self-involved Jessica prattling on about how her life is hard too, as well as seemingly unintentional (or else, highly tongue in cheek) comedy that arises from more ludicrous moments – i.e. Edward trying to kill himself by taking his shirt off; Bella and Edward skipping about the forest in that dream sequence; Bella finding nonsensical reasons to brush her fingers against Jacob’s torso.

The Twilight Saga is more than mere books and films; it’s a pop culture phenomenon. Most would agree that the books have little literary merit, but they are certainly addictive, with a romantic fantasy that dee
ply taps into the female psyche. It would be difficult for any movie to transcend this obscene amount of hype and overexposure, however good or bad it actually was.

So although New Moon is far from perfect, Twilight fans are bound to love it, and those yet to be indoctrinated might enjoy the film for its gloss, thrills, light laughs, yummy manboy treats and the fact they’ll know what they’re talking about when they tease their OCD friends.

Eclipse, the third chapter due next summer, is in the hands of the indie filmmaker David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night), who may just be able to inject a little more oomph into the whole production. So, Mr. Slade, if you’re listening, I’d like to put in a request for more atmosphere, more sizzle and a better soundtrack – but don’t forget the torsos either.

Three out of five stars. (Two stars for the movie plus an extra one for the torsos).

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009, Summit Entertainment, 130 minutes)
Directed by Chris Weitz Produced by Mark Morgan, Wyck Godfrey
Written by Stephenie Meyer (novel), Melissa Rosenberg (screenplay)
Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner


PS: Enjoy the eye candy below…

The Wolf (Six) Pack
The Cullens (the males are sadly dressed but you can tell there is some nice torso action under there!)
Jacob Black in the rain

4 thoughts on “‘Twilight’ saga continues with torso fest

  1. Pingback: Supersized Sunday « Pop Culture Playpen

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