This is why I love seeing movies in theaters instead of on television monitors, even humongous ones: The hysteria over New Moon — a rather turgid genre chick-flick that under different circumstances would attract scant notice — will turn all screenings for the next week into Big Events. My Lord, after seeing Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson on every magazine cover but this one and Bon Appétit’s, even I, a skeptical 50-year-old male, felt my heart leap at the pair’s first appearance onscreen. I felt privileged to behold them — and, given the fanatical demand for tickets, I was. Their giant heads loomed so very large ... even bored, I was spellbound.
Without the frenzy, the movie is endurable. I found the last one, Twilight, fun but shallow compared to the momentous adolescent hormonal feelings that flood Stephenie Meyers’s novel — the idea that Bella’s smell drives the vampire Edward to distraction, and that he thinks if he acts on his urges he’ll lose control and rip her to pieces. It’s an overwrought, Mormon view of the perils of surrendering to the flesh but on some level, in this sexed-up capitalist culture that keeps us all in a state of arousal, it moves us.
Damn if director Chris Weitz doesn’t go to the opposite extreme in New Moon. He slows everything down. He adds pauses between pauses. The actors stare longingly at each other and just won’t say . their lines. It’s not so much unresolved sexual urges this time as florid, Romeo and Juliet romanticism — a comparison pointed up by readings of (and a movie clip from) Romeo and Juliet, as well as a climax in which Bella and Edward get their signals crossed and end up very nearly committing suicide over the loss of each other. This is a movie that begins with the man telling the woman, “This is the last time you’ll ever see me,” and the woman telling the man, “If this is about my soul — take it. I don’t want it without you.” Then it gets even more intense. Edward takes off and Bella falls on the ground and can’t get up — for hours and hours. Night comes. A muscular werewolf finds her and carries her home. Then she sits in a chair by the window — immobile, wasting away, as the camera circles around her and the seasons out the window change.
The hook for women (and especially young girls) is the fantasy of men fighting over them. First two vampires fight over Bella. (One wants to kill her, the other to save her.) Then two werewolves fight over her. Then a bunch of werewolves fight two vampires over her. Then more vampires fight even more vampires over her. Then a lovesick vampire fights a lovesick werewolf over her. Bella saves Edward, then Edward saves Bella, then the Native American werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) tries to save Bella from Edward.
Jacob does make it a kinky triangle. Whereas Edward is like a Eurotrash aesthete with white-marble skin and the highest brow in movies, Jacob is a dark and hairy biker dude with the lowest brow in movies and a trapezius the size of a watermelon. With his ultradefined abs, pecs, and deltoids, he looks like a Nautilized caveman. His gang of shirtless werewolf boys protects mortals from vampires — although we see that one werewolf once lost his cool and shredded half his mortal fiancée’s face. (She stuck by him — biker mamas understand that wolves will be wolves.)
New Moon adds a new set of characters called the Volturi, a regal body of vampire lawmakers led by Michael Sheen, who bulges his eyes like Dwight Frye and speaks in a high, giggly voice that recalls Tiny Tim. Despite the cavernous, medieval Italian setting, the Voltori sequence is rather cheesy, but it’s fun to see a deadpan Dakota Fanning with blazing red eyes as some kind of psychic dwarfish executioner who delivers lines like, “This may hurt just a little.” She's growing up nicely.
Pattinson is better in gorgeous repose than when he speaks and moves, but since most of his performance consists of striking poses, that barely matters. Kristen Stewart is, as always, lovely and believable — and with her long white face and two big front teeth, she looks like she’d fit right in with the vampire clan. The movie has a few good flourishes. I loved the bearish werewolves’ whooshy, syncopated, overhead chase of an evil red-haired vampire woman toward the cliffs. The punky vampire Alice (Ashley Greene) wears a long black-white-and-gray-striped Michael Kors jacket that’s to die for. Weitz’s compositions have no spark, though, and his pacing is so flaccid that you’re going to need the electricity of a live, first-weekend audience to stay charged up throughout the two-hour-and-ten-minute running time. So line up and have a good time before this moon goes into eclipse — and you have to wait for the next installment, Eclipse.