A year after Twilight scorched the cineplex with its tale of forbidden teenage human/vampire love the second chapter of author Stephenie Meyer's harlequin saga has arrived to once again stir the loins of enraptured tweens (and their mothers and their mothers' mothers) everywhere. Having already sold out its first 2 000 showings several days before its release The Twilight Saga: New Moon is arguably the most critic-proof movie of the decade. And yet here goes ...
From a filmmaking standpoint New Moon represents an immediate upgrade over its predecessor which all too often felt slipshod and amateurish. Under the more assured hand of director Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass About a Boy) who took over the reigns from Twilight helmer Catherine Hardwicke the film can at least boast the gloss and shine of a real Hollywood movie and not some straight-to-video hack job. Better visual effects more accomplished camerawork improved production design and a more seasoned cast all add up to a vast improvement in production values in New Moon. It could very well be the awesomest issue of Tiger Beat ever.
Where the film falters — fatally in my opinion — is in its porous plotting and sluggish pacing. Meyer's source material mandated that its teenage heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) be separated from her vampire paramour Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) at the outset with the bulk of the narrative devoted to Bella coping with the loss of her goth James Dean. But producers of the adaptation loath to reduce their most valuable asset to a mere cameo expanded Pattinson’s presence — and the film suffers for it. Edward lingers throughout New Moon's prolonged first act strutting around in slow motion and uttering lines like “Bella you give me everything just by breathing” before finally ditching the old lady and disappearing to Italy on official vampire business.
The inciting action — Edward’s departure — is followed by a decided lack of action specifically in regards to the futile efforts of Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) a musclebound shape-shifting werewolf who emerges as a potential rebound candidate for Bella. The two friends engage in a painful protracted flirtation: She ogles his (typically shirtless) chest stares deeply into his eyes and tells him he’s beautiful but when he makes a move she shuts him down citing her continuing devotion to Edward who appears repeatedly to her in the form of a distractingly cheesy Obi-Wan Kenobi-like apparition. In the end poor Jacob is left holding nothing but an aching pair of werewolf blue balls.
New Moon is all about longing: Bella longing for Edward; Jacob longing for Bella; me longing for something anything to happen. The film teases us with ominous talk of a looming war between vampires and werewolves but it’s just that: talk. The real action I’m told is saved for the next two Twilight installments Eclipse and Breaking Dawn which judging from the current trend will no doubt be stretched into six equally critic-proof films. Until then we're forced to subsist on New Moon's meager melange of pointless adolescent melodrama — sprinkled liberally with gratuitous shots of toned shirtless boys.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.