Over Thanksgiving weekend, Daniel Crandall took in a groan-inducing teenage melodrama, and heard the age-old question, "What good is my soul if my boyfriend isn’t around?"
Twilight: New Moon may be a relatively faithful adaptation of the Young Adult novel on which it is based. The film, however, is marred by poor acting, clichéd writing and an overdependence on familiarity with source material to grasp the world in which the story is set. Worst of all, it treats the Soul as a commodity to be bargained away for romance and passion.
The filmmakers are clearly relying on the book’s popularity to ensure a large audience. On that, one has to give the producers credit. They know their audience. The movie brought in the third highest opening weekend box office, surpassing The Dark Knight and Spider-man 3. Fans of the Twilight books are as predictably slavish to these movies as fans of the Harry Potter books were to those movies.
Fans of the books will get more out of these movies than will those unfamiliar with Stephenie Meyer’s series. Several subtle jokes work only if one knows the novel’s characters. For example, one scene takes place in a classroom where students are watching an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. As the camera pans across Bella’s classmates, Eric’s face fills the screen. He is weeping in reaction to the drama. This elicited chuckles and a muttered, “That’s just like Eric,” from the girls behind me. One had to know this character in order to get the joke; nothing in the film set it up.
Requiring viewers to be familiar with material beyond what’s presented on screen is a tactic that risks creating a wall of separation between the audience and what’s happening on screen. Given that Eric’s metrosexual behavior is what our cultural elites expect from men, I wondered what is so funny about his reaction. The scene struck me as just another pathetic example of Hollywood turning boys into whimpering girls. Since I am not a part of the “in crowd” concerning the books or Eric, the scene literally kicked me out of the movie’s ‘clique.’
The movie not only barred me from the ‘cool kids table’ for not knowing Meyer’s characters, but the film’s dialog is, at times, ridiculously clichéd. From sappy declarations of “I can’t live without you” to a werewolf riffing on Bruce Banner’s line, “Don’t get me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” I began to wonder what bad writer the film’s creators brought in as a script doctor. George Lucas, maybe?
Even if one grants that Twilight: New Moon is pure melodrama, the dialog still fails because the actors delivering it do not have the talent to pull it off. Instead of the pretentious, over-serious performances, they might have been better served by adding a few catchy song and dance numbers and calling it High School Horror Musical.
Despite its many technical demerits, the movies greatest failing is its message. The film turns the Soul into a mere commodity offered up for worldly passions. In New Moon’s version of a Faustian bargain, it declares, “That Mephistopheles is so dreamy, romantic and just plain hot.” Bella declares, over and over again, that she doesn’t care about her soul, and will gladly give it up to be her vampire boyfriend. Ted Baehr notes that the movie turns the question, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” on its head.
According to Stephenie Meyer and this film’s creators, it seems, if losing one’s soul is done for teen romance, then it is the greatest good. Is that really the message we want young adults to carry into the world?