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Friday, Nov. 20, 2009

The Twilight Saga Continues

New Moon Rising

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There was no such thing as a good vampire in earlier generations of film and literature. Lately, however, the creatures of darkness come in all shades of good, evil and in between. The way was clear for Stephanie Meyer to introduce the family values vampires, a loving and benign clan called the Cullens, in her best selling Twilight series.

In the second movie adapted from Meyer’s books, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the plot sometimes seems illogical within its own fantasy world and the seen-it-already post-Matrix computer images are nothing to draw blood over. But the vampires and werewolves that roam under the New Moon are only larger-than-life projections of roiling teenage emotions and hormones. Twilight’s success is not for being a good vampire tale but for its psychologically insightful depiction of teens.

 It’s significant that when our heroine, Bella (Kristen Stewart), awakens from a dream at the start of New Moon, she shares her pillow with a copy of Romeo and Juliet, not Dracula. It’s a romance story in the updated gothic setting of the Pacific Northwest, where the sun is curtained in gray overcast and the dark foliage of the old forest. Bella’s heart and body aches to be “changed” by the handsome, dashing young (at 104) vampire of her dreams, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). But he demurs, not wanting to take her on a step from which she can never turn back. Romance is the dream of love, compounded by eroticism that can never find release. Becoming a vampire is, as marriage once was, a bond for eternity. And in our essentially unromantic society, the message is clear: there is something to be learned, and gained, from delayed gratification.

 And then all at once Edward makes his pronouncement: “You just don’t belong in my world, Bella.” The unaging Cullens must move again, as they do every few years to avoid suspicion, and he doesn’t want to take her along. Devastated and in deep sulk, Bella gradually turns to a boy who has always been fond of her, the Native American Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Her heart is divided. Realizing that Edward’s promise to always protect her means that his apparition will appear in moments of danger, she embraces the emotional rush of disaster, hurling herself in harm’s way to gain his attention. She knows Jacob is the more sensible choice, an affable lunkhead who would give her the world if he could. And then Jacob makes his pronouncement: “Bella, we can’t be friends.”

Guys are so weird! But then, Bella is drawn to weird guys. Turns out Jacob has been initiated into a warrior society of werewolves, whose ancient mission is to protect humans from vampires. Romeo and Juliet had it easy. Twilight Saga is more like Romeo, Juliet and Mario.

Where to turn? Bella’s parents are divorced—mom is in faraway Florida and dad is a caring man over his head in parenting a teenage girl. If Bella were a boy, he’d take her hunting. As it is, he’s flummoxed.

Stewart plays Bella with the distracted blankness one often sees in girls her age. As Edward, Pattinson gives the movie’s most interesting performance. He resembles a pallid James Dean or Montgomery Clift, a chiseled dreamboat struggling with emotions hard to articulate yet capable of handling himself when the going gets rough. Through an emotional maelstrom of suicidal impulses, self-sacrifice, ecstasy and despondency, New Moon plays in all keys of teenage uncertainty. The screenplay is laced with humor, most of it intended.