The Twilight Saga is a national phenomenon. It is also completely critic-proof. I can stand here and berate everything wrong with it, pick apart every last detail, but it doesn’t matter. These films print money, and will continue to despite everything. And for the life of me, I can’t quite figure out why. I’ve never read any of the books, nor do I have any interest to. I’ve been told they clear up a lot of the issues and speed bumps the films have. But that doesn’t matter. Films are not made to be companion pieces. They have to stand on their own. While the Harry Potter series and the amazing Lord of the Rings trilogy both omit and alter a lot of details, they stand as entertaining and interesting films in their own right. You don’t have to have read any of the books to understand the appeal — the heart is still there. If Twilight ever had any heart, the creative team behind these train wrecks have ripped them clear out.
The plot is simple (and damn near nonexistent). There’s a fiasco at the Cullen household when constipated-looking Jasper attacks Bella at the sight of blood. For this reason all the Cullens (who evidently must travel everywhere together… sort of…) leave the town and Bella quickly replaces the creepy vampire Edward with the often shirtless werewolf Jacob. It’s a lateral move on Bella’s part, since these characters are barely distinguishable from each other. It confuses me that there are loyal “teams” of fans for either of them, since they are written exactly the same. Of course, Bella spends a lot of time looking confused and distraught. Kristen Stewart is a capable actress; one just has to look at her work in Into The Wild or Adventureland to see that. But here, she is given nothing to do. She doesn’t even look like she’s trying. The actors here know they have a paycheck, so they feel no need to prove themselves. The only one who emerges unscathed is Anna Kendrick, who has so far shown she can do no wrong. She has a natural talent and just feels utterly right on camera. Of course, not being one of the three central characters, she is left with barely anything to do herself. She plays a member of Bella’s other friends, who pop up simply to name-check characters from the book. It’s a shame the best actress here is thrown to the side. You just feel the filmmakers rushing to get to the end of the story so they can move on to the next one.
The direction here, by Chris Weitz (who is responsible for the wonderful About A Boy) is so pedestrian and simple it borders on offensive. There isn’t a moment of inspiration; it seems like Weitz felt no connection to the material. This is point-and-shoot filmmaking. Never once does he explore the possibilities of cinema, rather, he just lets the characters talk until it’s time to move onto the next scene. Occasionally, special effects will occur, but they appear so manufactured and rubber they have no effect. With the advent of digital technology it’s easy for anyone to throw together a werewolf or two — but that won’t make them effective. If you look back at a film like Jurassic Park, the special effects still, for the most part, hold up. And it’s because Spielberg understood that just doing something isn’t enough. You have to paint the scene, the characters. Let the audience take part in the world, instead of just showing it to them.
I wish I could say this movie had merits. I really do. I hate disliking a film so much. I don’t want to completely toss aside something that people so obviously hold dear, so here is the redeeming quality: in the spirit of such things as The Wicker Man remake, Troll 2, and I Know Who Killed Me — this is a great bad movie. It really is. It is so fantastically without direction and redeeming qualities. It’s a two-hour long ad for Twilight — an attempt to sell the books, the soundtrack, and obsessions. But if you get some friends together and grab some drinks, there is definitely a good time to be had. I’ve rarely laughed so hard. For all the good comedies do, there is nothing quite as enjoyable and hilarious as a bad film. After watching the first Twilight film, I looked forward to the second for this exact reason. I knew it had to deliver. Of course, in that way, New Moon went above and beyond my expectations.