Stone hearts and hot blood

2009-11-30 00:00

FILMS based on favourite book series have a built-in audience that can immediately propel them to box-office glory: the biggest openings of the year have been Harry Potter and New Moon. The audience is primed to descend in large numbers, but will they like what they see? For many of the Twilight acolytes, it is enough to see Edward Cullen again. A year of swooning over pictures of star Robert Pattinson in magazines is rewarded by the real thing, Bella Swan’s vampire boyfriend.

But those same audience members already know they won’t get much of an Edward fix from the story, because New Moon is about loss: Edward decides he must leave Bella (Kristen Stewart) to protect her from the danger of being around vampires. In the book, Bella discovers a way to make her memories of Edward fresh — if she does something reckless, she hears his voice telling her to behave. So the filmmakers can simply add a vision of Edward to the hallucination to satisfy the fans.

Fortunately, Bella also has a truly flesh-and-hot-blood friend, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), the Native American from down the road who also, it turns out, has a supernatural secret. We know ahead of time that the secret involves a growth spurt that leaves Jacob extremely buff — the gasp of pleasure when he first took off his shirt was a highlight for many.

There is not much point critiquing the story of a film based on a beloved book, but how well is the experience of reading the book captured by the film?

I am a fan of the Twilight series, but I didn’t like the first film that much, because I felt it strayed from the original in unneccesary ways — characters were changed, situations added and others subtracted. New Moon is far more faithful to its source, simply tweaked to make it more cinematic. The visual effects work well (Jacob’s transformation into a wolf being well handled, and the wolves themselves a nice blend of ludicrously huge and faintly human); the vampires’ unnatural speed is well done (better than in Twilight) and there is enough quiet time to allow one of the crucial ideas that propels the story, why Edward is so reluctant to change Bella, to be absorbed. The scenes in the Italian hill town where the Volturi, the terrifying vampire “royalty” rule, are splendidly visual, with a nice cameo for an almost grown-up Dakota Fanning as one of the more creepy of their band.

The current vampire frenzy may be faintly silly, but what is so wrong with a world in which a teenage girl’s boyfriend regards her tenderly and knows he could damage her? Maybe if more boys were a bit like courtly undead Edward, and less like the hooting teens in Saturday’s audience (note to boys, that’s a way to lose a girlfriend), teenage girls would have happier, safer lives. ****

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