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The Twilight Saga: New Moon

One for the Twi-Hards

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Hoping to capitalize on Twilight’s unexpected box office success and satisfy a teen fanbase — known as Twi-hards — eager to reenter Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight universe onscreen, The Twilight Saga: New Moon arrives in multiplexes everywhere only a year after the modestly budgeted Twilight made its debut.

The producers of The Twilight Saga, Summit Entertainment, replaced Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke with Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy, American Pie) for New Moon, presumably due to Weitz’s experience handling big-budget effects and action-oriented sequences on The Golden Compass.

As New Moon opens, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is about to celebrate her18th birthday. Bella and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a 109-year-old vampire in the body of a teenager, are still dating — chastely, of course. Although she receives gifts from her father, Charlie (Billy Burke), and longtime friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), all Bella really wants is for Edward to make her a vampire so she can be immortal and spend eternity with him.

Edward’s family, also vampires, led by Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), his wife Esme (Elizabeth Reaser), and siblings, Alice (Ashley Greene), Jasper Hale (Jackson Rathbone), Rosalie Hale (Nikki Reed), and Emmett (Kellan Lutz), decide to throw Bella a birthday party. After an accident leaves Jasper in a barely controlled frenzy for Bella’s blood, Edward and his family decide to leave the town permanently, without Bella.

Inconsolable, Bella spends several months pining and moaning — sometimes screaming in the dead of night — for the absent Edward. In a clever, if derivative, use of a 360-degree tracking shot, Bella sits immobile, brooding near a window as months pass and autumn turns into winter.

She turns to Jacob to fill the Edward-sized hole in her heart and develops a taste for risky behavior. But every time she does something reckless, she sees and hears Edward, if only momentarily.

As hinted in Twilight and revealed in the trailers and the TV ads, Jacob belongs to a Native American tribe of shapeshifters and, like Edward, he’s Bella’s protector but also a Hulk-like threat when he turns into a gigantic wolf. A loose triangle develops between Bella, Jacob, and the absent Edward, with old and new dangers appearing as needed in the second and third acts.

Replacing Catherine Hardwicke with Chris Weitz as the director caused concern, even consternation, among Twi-hards, but they had little to fear from Weitz. With a bigger budget for visual effects — both practical and computer generated — plus a filmmaking style heavy on crane shots, tracking shots, and the occasional helicopter shot to give New Moon a more epic scope, Weitz delivers visually in ways Hardwicke didn’t, or couldn’t, with Twilight.

Weitz also knows what his mostly female audience wants. He introduces Edward walking toward the camera in slow motion, the better for female audiences to bask in his handsomeness. Jacob doesn’t get a slow-mo intro, but he goes shirtless for long stretches of New Moon’s running time.

New Moon’s deficiencies aren’t visual, however, they’re narrative. Weitz was only a director-for-hire on New Moon, having little say or sway over the screenplay — Melissa Rosenberg’s first draft was written before he was hired. With two sequels still to come, the personal stakes for Bella and Edward are minimal. So little changes in Bella and Edward’s romantic relationship that New Moon could have been condensed into twenty or thirty minutes of screen time.

Jacob’s presence in New Moon seems an obvious plot device to pad the book series and the big-screen adaptations. Like Edward, Jacob is a supernatural, super-powered protector and a physical threat to Bella. But the possibility of real conflict, romantic or otherwise, never materializes — not with Bella’s true love off screen.

New Moon’s third act introduces the Volturi, Italian aristo-vampires. Their leader, Aro (Michael Sheen), seems to offer the possibility of change to the status quo, but ultimately doesn’t, at least not until the next film in the Twilight series, Eclipse(due next year), or the fourth and final film, Breaking Dawn (due in 2011). Non-Twi-hards, however, might have little interest in revisiting Meyer’s universe.