Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wendigo Meets NEW MOON (2009)

Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight was one of the last films my friend Wendigo saw in a theater, due to his advancing invalidism, and one of the first films reviewed (based on his report) on this blog. He had to wait until this week to see Chris Weitz's sequel when the DVD arrived in his mailbox, and to an extent he's been spoiling for a fight with all the Twi-haters out there. He yields to no one in his vampire fandom, and his isn't bound by any notion of what a vampire should be, since there is no such thing as a vampire. It's essentially a fantastical creature, and from his reading and viewing Wendigo finds that vampires fit as well in fantasy or romance stories as they do in horror films. Horror fans don't have to like non-horror uses of vampires, but they have no business arguing as if such uses are inherently wrong. Folklore from the Middle Ages forward, he claims, is full of vampire lovers who are not simply bloodthirsty bogeymen, so today's trend is really nothing recent or decadent. Call either film bad if you must, or all of Stephanie Meyer's books, but be sure you mean that they're badly written or directed or acted, not simply that they're stories you're not interested in.

Wendigo's fighting spirit is dampened a bit, however, because he must report that New Moon is not as good as the Twilight movie and doesn't live up to its source novel. More than the first film, the sequel seems intended for book fans only. It offers less of a hook for people like me who haven't read the novels. My own feeling was that the novelty that kept the first film interesting had worn off, despite the introduction of new elements. Wendigo objects to the new film's overemphasis on Taylor Lautner as Jacob the werewolf, whose coming of age, so to speak, is the main novelty of this episode. At the same time, it seriously overemphasizes Robert Pattinson as Edward the vampire, who is absent from most of the New Moon novel.

The scariest men in movies today? Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner certainly seem to give lots of folks the willies for some reason or other.

In the book, Wendigo says, Bella Swan often hears Edward's voice when she approaches dangerous situations. To keep Pattinson on screen as much as possible, Weitz visualizes these interventions so that Edward appears as a ghostly image who serves as Bella's personal GPS system. It's one example of Weitz's too-obvious approach to the material. There's little visual imagination here, especially in the special effects scenes of vampire-vs.-werewolf battles. The novel itself keeps the violence mostly offstage, but the film does nothing to make these scenes more dramatic or cinematic.

A potentially big scene in which the werewolves chase Victoria the evil vampire through the forest is slowed down to tedium in order to go with the chosen soundtrack song, for instance. The movie always cuts to the obvious to the point of being primitive. One well-designed shot meant to illustrate Bella's despair after Edward's departure sends the camera circling around her thrice over as she mopes in her room while the seasons change from summer to winter outside her window. Nicely done, but it gets overstated by the addition of titles announcing the passage of each month. Wendigo actually excuses this scene a little because it's the closest translation possible of Meyer's portrayal of Bella's despair with three blank chapters, each headed by a month of the year.

Overall, though, Wendigo faults New Moon for losing focus on Bella, who has to be the central figure of the series despite all the Team Edward/Team Jacob hype. You lose track in the movie of the fact that the story is supposed to be told from Bella's point of view, but there aren't enough moments here to establish her viewpoint. Instead, the camera drools over the two supernatural hunks without similarly glamorizing Kristen Stewart. The proper fairy-tale aspect of the story is lost, Wendigo says, if you don't keep her at the center. In New Moon she seems like just one of many characters careening about, and not the most interesting. For my part, I don't think Stewart was well served by what struck me as a rushed screenplay by the same writer who adapted Twilight. The dialogue seems more wooden this time, more expository, maybe because there's more mythos to reveal here.

While Wendigo is disappointed by the sequel, he doesn't disapprove of it entirely. He's happy to see Kristen Stewart on screen, for starters, and he thought the film fairly portrayed the novel's werewolves, instant transformations and all. Weitz's direction isn't all inept, and Taylor Lautner did come through with what was meant as a star-making performance. Wendigo was happy to see that Weitz took the trouble to shoot the Italian scenes in Italy, but for the little the production took advantage of the landscape and the red-robed extras I felt they may as well have done it all on a soundstage. Dakota Fanning makes a promising appearance as pain-inducing Jane, the Volturii's precocious minion, but Michael Sheen isn't as menacing as he should be as Aro the Volturii spokesman.

Future bandmates Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, among others, in New Moon. You simply can't go wrong with sticking a bunch of mismatched people in an elevator. Below, vampire Tony Bla--I mean Michael Sheen asks, "What are you looking at?"

Wendigo is a little worried about the choice of David Slade, the director of 30 Days of Night, to direct Eclipse, the next film in the Twilight series. While he liked Slade's earlier film, that was more an action film than anything else, and with him at the helm Eclipse may well lose even more of the distinctive viewpoint that defines the whole Meyer series. Summit Entertainment may have doomed its long-term project, in his opinion, when it insisted on too fast a schedule to accommodate Catherine Hardwicke. He intends to stick it out and see them all, but he doesn't plan to look at New Moon again anytime soon.


While the big-budget vampire show was a bit of a letdown, Wendigo would like to send you home with a low-budget recommendation. He recently saw Mark James and Phil O'Shea's Vampire Diary in an edited-for-TV broadcast on the Chiller channel. It's a British pseudo-documentary about the accidental discovery of a real vampire that is pound-for-pound (or dollar-for-dollar) much more effective than New Moon. An unedited version includes a lot of hot lesbian action, which makes it something I'll watch some day, but Diary isn't just prurient. Wendigo saw some real imagination both in the writing and the direction that New Moon was too often sorely lacking.
Take a look at a trailer for Vampire Diary, uploaded by monarch movies:

And as a change of pace, here's the Eclipse trailer, uploaded by clevverTV

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