When new distributor Summit left behind Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke in its rush to push through the second film in their windfall franchise, they took a calculated risk. Abandoning a silly Twilight script that had been passed on by Paramount, Hardwicke and writer Melissa Rosenberg went back to the heart-pounding first-person intensity of the Stephenie Meyer original, which wound up selling 70 million copies worldwide. The dream that inspired Meyer–chapter thirteen in the first book–is a scene in a rain forest between a lovelorn young girl and a sparkling 109-year-old vampire who is restraining himself from biting and killing her. That tension is the heart and soul of the Twilight series.
Meyer always knew that New Moon was an odd book, as Edward abandons Bella, who is depressed and bereft for much of the movie. While the book makes clear why Edward leaves Bella–to protect her–the movie leaves his motivation murky. Forlorn Bella, well-played by Stewart, turns for support to muscle-bound Jacob instead. There’s a reason that Summit is pushing Taylor Lautner as fresh bait for tweens. There isn’t enough of the central relationship between Stewart and Pattinson to hold this film together. The device of having Edward hover and disappear as a protective warning to Bella is risible. While young girl moviegoers gasp whenever Lautner removes his shirt (which is often), the film’s parallel vampire vs. werewolf structure also begs credulity.
[Clips of Stephenie Meyer on Oprah on the jump.]
Hardwicke knew that the New Moon script needed work. While the first film had its weak points, Hardwicke could channel Twilight’s throbbing romantic pulse, and pulled strong performances from her two young leads.
Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) is a flashier filmmaker who works well with actors. (He says he’s considering giving up directing.) More conventionally glossy than Twilight, New Moon boasts more male-appeal action (including some cheesy fast-motion CG werewolves) and a short climactic sequence in Italy featuring the Volturi vampire clan, led by the always-entertaining Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning. But the Volturi feel tacked on. It turns out, Meyer admitted to Oprah Winfrey, that her mother told her she needed to beef up her ending. So she brought the Volturi into the series earlier than she had intended for a noisier finale.
Summit’s smart to broaden the appeal of the Twilight franchise–the movie is primed for a huge opening weekend–but I wonder how this one will play for the moms, the romantics who fell for Edward and Bella in the first place. And the Saga is headed toward more edgy action-horror, as 30 Days of Night horror director David Slade promises a darker, gorier and more guy-friendly Eclipse. Gosh, there’s plenty of that stuff for the boys. Why ditch the women who delivered this franchise in the first place?
Here are the Meyer-Oprah interviews, one and two: