MOONSTRUCK: EXPLORING THE UNSTOPPABLE VAMPIRE VIRUS OF “NEW MOON”

The Cinerama is a massive, sprawling theater, stretching half a block across downtown Seattle. Its dark, dome-shaped ceiling is punctured by pinprick-sized holes that spill out illumination. Reclining in one of the 808 cushy seats, one enjoys an evening spent under vicarious, calming stars.

Tonight, however, raucous shrieks, giggles, and cheers drown out the Cinerama’s relaxing vibe. Nearly every seat accommodates the restless buttocks of some squealing teenaged girl.

It’s “Twilight” fever.

Based on Stephenie Meyer’s insanely popular book series, “New Moon” is the second onscreen installment in the “Twilight” series. Tonight, the anxiously awaited film premieres in Space Needle City, and its faithful female followers have arrived in rabid droves.

I have no use for the “Twilight” series. My loathing of the first film was exacerbated by the fact that days before the screening, I was still shaking from the brilliant “Let the Right One In,” an infinitely superior vampire film.

However, the “Twilight Experience” – with its thunderous marketing campaign, religious fan base, and unique, emotional tug-of-war between repression and desire – is oddly fascinating. Even as I stand convinced that the “Twilight” film franchise is a garish marketing stunt disguised as a movie, there’s still something admirable about the unconditional allegiance fans lavish onto angsty heroine Bella Swann and the fanged, yet blood-abstinent Cullen family.

At the Cinerama, hormones and estrogen flow like rivers. White belts, inscribed, “I love Edward,” secure tight jeans. Black hoodies are silk-screened with the face of actor Robert Pattinson. When unzipped, they reveal black t-shirts underneath, also decorated by Pattinson’s pale, omnipresent mug. Beneath that, maybe a Pattinson bra, or an Edward tattoo. I feel like a dirty old man lurking about at a cheerleader camp.

So much for the fans. Who are the fresh-faced heartthrobs inhabiting this lucrative “Twilight” landscape?

Flash back a couple of days, to a drizzly, fog-enshrouded afternoon. I take refuge in the dry, comfortable lobby of Fairmont Olympic Hotel, soon guided to a swank guest room. It’s here that I meet “Team Felix and Demetri.”

Actor Daniel Cudmore greets me at the door. Alarmingly tall, Cudmore plays Felix, a villainous vampire from “New Moon.” His stomping ground in the film is Volturi, a sort of underground social club for the undead. Cudmore’s fashion sense is… black. Black hair, shirt, pants, shoes, and socks. As Spinal Tap might remark, “There’s none more black.”

The next to greet me is Charlie Bewley. Sporting an English accent and fashionably disheveled blonde hair, Bewley plays Demetri, Felix’s vampire sidekick and another longtime resident of Volturi. Bewley is about a foot shorter than the human skyscraper looming next to him.

Asked why “New Moon” made its world premiere in Madrid, Spain, Bewley explains that “Spain is the most supportive country, the most ‘Twilight’ country in the whole world. It’s based on box office there, and book sales.”

“People like romance in Spain,” chimes in Cudmore.

“It’s the boredom levels there,” laughs Bewley, “and lack of things to do. And it has the largest female ratio.”

Realizing that he probably isn’t ingratiating himself to Madrid’s tourism trade, Bewley stops abruptly to reconsider his choice of words. “Actually, I can’t wait to get to Spain. But let’s face it. People feed into things because they have a lacking of that in their lives.”

Apparently, millions of teenybopper mall bunnies around the world share this lacking. During its opening day, “New Moon” reportedly sold ten tickets per second. “Fans love these books so much,” confirms Bewley, already in postproduction on “Eclipse,” the third “Twilight” film. “It’s disrespectful to those guys to stray from the characteristics and interpretations outlined by Stephanie Meyers.”

The young actors provide a few other interesting “Twilight” tidbits. They heap praise on “New Moon” director Chris Weitz (“About a Boy,” “The Golden Compass”), dubbing him “The Master of Preparation.” Listening to the duo elaborate, one gets a sense that Weitz knew exactly what he wanted, leaving nothing to chance, way before yelling “action.” No Mike Leigh-styled improvisation for this high-stakes production.

Meanwhile, both men reveal their mutual love of Rugby, and how mastery of the sport complimented their “Twilight” characters during a lively fight scene. “It’s not that we’re running around killing things during rugby,” explains Cudmore, “but you’re aggressive. The whole point is to beat the other person, and stop them from getting to a certain place. It is primal, and it’s certainly fun to tap into that thing that we always push down.”

Cudmore and Bewley seem like nice guys.

Flash forward 48 hours. I’m back at the Cinerama, swimming in its surreal ocean of swooning young women. The film’s cast might feature several alpha males, including Cudmore and Bewley, but this audience includes few men. Looking sleepy and mildly disgruntled, those who are in attendance appear to be bored fathers, providing wheels for their “Twilight”-addicted offspring.

An energetic DJ entertains the smitten, loyal masses, divided into two packs. Calling itself “Team Edward,” one half worships Pattinson, who plays “Twilight” lead vampire Edward Cullen. The remaining girls make up “Team Jacob,” named after the buff, Native American, sometimes-werewolf played by Taylor Lautner. Lautner owned very little screen time in the original film. In “New Moon,” however, he dominates the series like a territorial predator – which is essentially what he plays.

What about the film? “New Moon” is a better movie that its predecessor. The action scenes are more potent. It’s a tighter, more dynamic experience than “Twilight,” mostly due to the new dimension provided by Lautner and his vampire-hating werewolf pack.

Even so, I sat through much of the film cringing at its campy, saccharine teenbait. The soap opera melodrama of the first film continues. Fearful that he will succumb to feasting on Bella’s blood (obvious metaphor: frustrated, blue-balled teen desperate to get his nut), Edward ditches this potential poon and gets out of Dodge. However, Bella finds that by placing herself in dangerous situations, she prompts a ghostly likeness of Edward to emerge in a passionate puff of smoke.

“Don’t do it,” cautions this concerned phantasm. But the more reckless she becomes, the more frequent her vicarious encounters with this tall, pale, and handsome lust interest. Bella dives off a cliff. She hitches a motorcycle ride with from some lecherous dirtbag. Most threatening to Edward, she begins a flirty friendship with Jacob.

Kristen Stewart employs only one acting technique. Looking perpetually confused, she lowers her face, flutters her eyebrows, and twitches her head. Bland, bland, bland. Pattinson is also fairly expressionless, but his brooding, emo presence grows on you, like fanged fungus.

Smothered in lipstick and pancake make-up, Michael Sheen gives a hammy, wild-eyed turn as Volturi’s head-ripping head honcho. He’s more Dean Stockwell in creepy “Blue Velvet” mode than commanding vampire royalty.

Lautner steals the show with some real charisma and enthusiasm, but spends most scenes naked from the waist up, more pristine Playgirl model than some tough tribesman from the backwoods of Forks, Washington. The first time Lautner doffed his shirt, hundreds of drooling audience members let rip with a lusty “Ooooooh!”

Yuck.

I don’t get “Twilight.” But I must confess to a certain admiration for its fans. It’s unusual to find an entertainment legacy that means so much to so many people. Even though I can’t fathom its appeal, millions of faithful followers connect with “Twilight” in a major, unprecedented way. I had “Star Wars” and the Kiss Army. Now, nearly every sixteen-year-old girl in the world has “Twilight.” I guess I can’t begrudge them that.

* * *

While scribing these last few paragraphs from a crowded Seattle-area java joint, I listen in on a conversation between two middle-aged women slurping lattes.

“I’ve gotta see that new ‘Twilight’ movie,” confirms one.

“Yeah,” the second woman responds. “That Edward is a real dreamboat.”

Forget swine flu. It hasn’t hit me yet, but “Twilight Fever” is catching, big time.




Posted on November 22, 2009 in Features by
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