The Twilight Saga:New Moon — the latest screen installment in the multi-part epic of unfanged, sparkly teenaged vampires and the women who love them — is nigh on four hours (fine, more like two) of declarations, pining, and idealized American landscape. To Twilight’s many initiates, New Moon will act as another portal into a sacred, safe, and desperately needed world, where true love doesn’t stand for anything but itself, and where people are pretty, adoring, and adored. For these viewers, the “goodness” of Twilight hinges not on narrative merit or deft characterization (because both are absent) but on its role as a set piece to hang sweet fantasy on. And nobody should begrudge them that — your humble author feels the same exact way about Pootie Tang.
HOWEVER. Taken as a work of cinema to which critical standards apply, New Moon is a painful slog, a trudge punctuated by moments of either deep discomfort or unintentional hilarity. The plot structure reminded me of a dream described by a 5-year-old; the details are more or less interchangeable aside from the obvious good and bad, and the film’s events unfold not so much in an arc or crescendo guided by underlying themes and attaining narrative climax, but as one damn thing after another, a Perils of Pauline series of life-or-(un-)death near cataclysms met by last-minute rescues. But this matters not; the superstructure serves only to cradle the ineffable moments of gasping intimacy. Much like Skinemax.
Various critics of Stephenie Meyer’s young-adult novel series have deemed it “abstinence porn.” This useful notion is borne out by New Moon’s many love scenes, which evince a somewhat sadomasochistic sublimated child sexuality; longing glances and professions of deathless love culminate in steamy, loaded, erotically tense, palpitating sessions of … hand-holding, skipping in tandem through a fantasy forest, or near-kisses interrupted by ringing phones, more declarations, or more attacks by more monsters. In other words, where the sex “should” be there’s restraint and interruption (hence the explosion of erotic fan-fic online, filling in the blanks, as it were). Early on, uncomfortably numb Bella (who spends three months of narrative timeframe and, seemingly, screentime staring out a window) shares a tongueless-yet-hot kiss with her undead beau, Edward (Robert Pattinson, who never deviates from looking like he’s advertising something). That’s as far as it goes, kids. And, hell, as far as it should go; this is heady stuff for tweens who are beginning to experience the flutters of desire without being anywhere near ready to start contemplating you-know-what.
But skin hunger infects everything, making me feel jumpy and vaguely queasy, as though I were watching something I shouldn’t. Male shirtlessness abounds to the degree of nearly amounting to its own character, mostly in the form of a ridiculously handsome “Native American” gang of teen werewolves, one of whom (Lautner, as dark horse Jacob Black — get it?) falls selflessly and protectively in love with protagonist Bella Swan (Stewart). Why? Who cares.