I liked "Twilight", the first film better. Perhaps because it was new and we didn't know how this world would translate visually yet. It isn't a huge stretch to jump from author Meyer's written page to the visual screen, she does what a huge number of writers do today and writes her books to be made into films. The first film introduced us to everything we were familiar with in the books so it was interesting, new and unusual.
I think "New Moon" suffers from the same problem I felt the first two Harry Potter films suffered from. The director of each film is so faithful to the source material; he doesn't add any artistic flourishes of his own. After the enormous success of "Twilight", director Catherine Hardwicke left/ was fired because she protested the shooting schedule the studio was imposing on her. Chris Weitz, the director of "American Pie", "About a Boy" and "The Golden Compass" stepped in and took the reigns. But the difference between the two is both subtle and great. Because he is used to directing big budget films, he is able to handle the task of shooting them on an accelerated schedule, but he doesn't quite know (or care?) about how to get the best performances from his relatively young and inexperienced stars. He also doesn't (have time to?) add any artistic flourishes of his own, to make the book really come alive on the silver screen.
He also directed "Eclipse", the third installment, which is due next summer.
Filmmaking is a visual medium and there are frequently problems with adapting other mediums to this huge canvas. Often, plays seem 'stagey' when adapted to the big screen; two actors have a conversation, one leaves and another enters, continuing the story. When a good filmmaker gets their hands on a play and adapts it for the big screen, they are able to 'open it up' and create a dynamic new universe for the story, making us forget it was a play in the first place. Books are often problematic because a well-written book usually explores the characters' inner feelings and their thinking. What is making them say or do what they are doing? How do you translate that to the screen? Well, Meyer does that for the filmmaker by having her characters talk about their feelings all the time.
If you have read the book, the movie will seem very familiar to you and a certain amount of this is expected and necessary. The fans have to be able to recognize key elements and we have to get to the right point for the third film to pick up the story. But because it is so faithful to the book, "New Moon" seems a little boring. And because the actors aren't great at their craft, at least not yet, the film quickly resembles a teenaged version of a television soap opera.
Bella (Kristen Stewart) is trying to get back to a normal life and returns to school in Forks. Edward (Robert Pattison) is at her side every moment, much to the consternation of her friends. Then, Alice (Ashley Greene), Edward's 'sister' asks Bella to come over one night for a surprise birthday party. Bella reluctantly agrees to avoid hurting Alice's feelings. Bella is becoming more and more determined to become a vampire; Edward was made a vampire at seventeen and Bella doesn't want to grow old without him. An accident at the party causes Edward and the Cullen's to leave town, for Bella's protection. But Bella becomes deeply depressed and soon finds solace in the company of her friend, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), an Indian who is handy with cars. Soon, it becomes apparent the Jacob has some issues to deal with and Bella becomes reckless as she starts to seek thrills that will help her feel alive.
Bella has a couple of reasons for wanting to become a vampire; she has fallen madly in love with Edward and wants to spend the rest of her life with him and because he is pretty much immortal, she doesn't want to age because she feels he will not want to be with her when she is thirty, forty, fifty, older when he will always look like he is seventeen. Both of these messages are not exactly enlightened, especially when the main audience for these books and films are pre-teen girls who are usually already dealing with self-esteem issues. Thankfully, much of Edward's being seems to be to dispel these theories. He doesn't want her to be a vampire because he knows there are many things she will miss out on. And he frequently states he is so in love with her that he won't care what she might look like in the future. This is nice to hear, but as it constantly comes up, it becomes boring very quickly.
She also wants to become a vampire because there is a female vampire hunting for her, to extract revenge for Edward killing her lover, another vampire who wanted to kill Bella. Apparently, it is hard for vampires to kill one another, although Edward was able to do so in "Twilight". But Bella believes that by becoming a vampire, many of the threats she faces, as a human will go away.
Much of the film, as the book, is about the relationship between Bella and Jacob. Jacob finds his body changing in strange ways and soon realizes he is a werewolf. Werewolves and vampires don't get along, so Bella now faces another problem. Can she juggle her relationship with Jacob and her love for Edward?
Eventually, the entire story shifts to a small medieval village in Italy and Bella and Alice race to the town square to stop Edward from revealing himself to the many humans who have assembled for a festival honoring the mythical vampires who control the town, the Volturi. If Edward exposes himself, and their secret, the Volturi will have no recourse but to kill Edward. You know, this story development played a lot better in the book. In the film, Alice and Bella have a realization and the next moment they are speeding through the Italian countryside in a yellow Ferrari. In the film, this development seems like a wild stretch.
Once they meet the Volturi, we are introduced to Jane (Dakota Fanning) and Aro (Michael Sheen) among others, two ancient vampires with amazing powers who oversee all other vampires in the world.
All of the actors are good, none are great. Robert Pattison almost seems to be smirking through his lines, like he can't believe how corny they are. Believe it. Sure, he's good looking and plays Edward like James Dean might have if he had played the role, but he doesn't really go to any depths as or for the character. Everything is on the surface. And this seems like an okay fit for the film. And clearly the millions of tween girls who have already seen the film doesn't seem to care.
Kristen Stewart is also okay as Bella. Throughout much of the film, Bella is either madly depressed or trying to be madly rebellious and independent. This second idea might work better if we didn't see Edward pop up as her conscience every time she tried to do something dangerous. It makes her seem like she can only live if she is in a relationship with Edward. Not exactly a great message to present to all of the tweens in the audience. "You are only good and productive when you are in a relationship with your boyfriend." But to be fair, the movie can't be faulted for this alone. This is the main idea behind the books as well.
Taylor Lautner has the most complex role as Jacob, the younger member of the Quillite tribe who becomes friends with Bella. Throughout the film, Jacob goes through some changes wreaking havoc on his life and strains his relationship with Bella. He has the most to do, the most to show, the most to emote, and this makes his character the most complex, the most interesting.
The rest of the cast is basically background for the romantic entanglements of these three characters. Even Edward's "family", the Cullen's, have virtually no screen time. This makes all of these actors almost non-existent. The good thing about this is that most of them barely register and this is a good thing based on their acting ability.
"New Moon" is already a worldwide hit and the next installment "Eclipse" has already been made and will be released next summer. But that doesn't mean the movie is great, only that it has tapped into a fan base willing and able to propel it to blockbuster status.