Just how painful is a first breakup? For New Moon’s Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), separation is akin to death, with Shakespearean melodrama and consequences. In the second film in the Twilight series, which arrives Saturday on DVD, it’s the star-crossed lovers’ senior year in the rainy town of Forks, Washington, where Romeo and Juliet is required reading and hanging out half-naked has become de riguere.
Shakespeare’s play is an apt jumping-off point for a pair of teens who’ve seen more death and danger than your average rural kids, and points to some of New Moon’s core motifs. After a little paper cut puts Bella’s life on the line, Edward skips town in the hope of keeping her safe from his blood-thirsty vampire brethren, making room for the bulked-up Jacob (Taylor Lautner) to step in. Edward’s absence -- and Jacob’s realization that he’s actually a werewolf -- leaves both Bella and her relationship in danger, now that her boyfriend isn’t around the protect her from the most evil of forces to the most mundane of local thugs.
As Edward mourns off-camera and Jacob shows a lot of skin (werewolves are averse to wearing shirts), Bella starts hopping on motorcycles and throwing herself into harm’s way. While the love of her life may be 109, she is, after all only 18, and her recklessness lets her feel closer to her man while working out some age-appropriate rage. Eventually, of course, one of her angsty stunts goes awry and it triggers a chain of events that include vampire mythology, hot luxury cars and a vibrant slo-mo scene with life, death and the emotional stability of millions of Twilight fans at stake.
Romantic, melancholy and awash in sweeping, beautiful cinematography, New Moon is a heavier affair than its precursor, with both new story elements and a new director. The film’s double-disc DVD offers a big window on the creative vision of Chris Weitz, who took the helm from Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke. Hardwicke’s movie was all kinetic action, taught sexual tension and tortured chastity, but Weitz’s is a softer, slower affair where everyone’s already happily making out. Where Twilight bore all the promise of a heart-throbbing first love with sexy flying scenes, New Moon is all logistics of dating an immortal hunk whose family might kill you.
In the DVD commentary on the first disc, Weitz discusses not only the scenes of which he’s most proud (and there are a lot), but also what his vision was for various camera shots, angles and lighting decisions. The wealthy Cullens are art collectors but now, Weitz explains, their family scenes have roots in the art itself. The second disc, meanwhile, is six-part documentary on the making of the film and its stars, with segments like “Life After Twilight” and “Chris Weitz Takes the Helm.” While it features the same pace and excitement that characterized Twilight, it’s largely one long piece of propaganda that feels like it’s meant for press, not for devoted fans longing for a real insider’s glimpse.
Ultimately the extras are much like the film itself, reinforcing the lead sex-pots’ star-power and offering enough story to keep the franchise chugging. But with lamentable lack of authenticity and energy, New Moon leaves us hungry for what (fingers crossed!) might be a more satisfying next installment.