| Much like the “Harry Potter” series, the gap widens considerably between the readers and non-readers of the best-selling novels by Stephene Meyer with a noticeable effect on the enjoyment factor and entertainment value. The faithful fans familiar with the characters have a tremendous advantage watching the third cinematic outing unfold.
The melodramatic soap opera focuses on a love triangle. Human heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is forced to choose between 109-year-old vampire Edward Cullen (dreamboat Robert Pattinson) and frequently bare-chested American Indian Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who can turn on a dime into a werewolf. Things are even more complicated because these two suitors are natural enemies.
Bella’s high school graduation is only a month away and she is determined to finalize her decision by then.
The opening scene goes back one year and takes place on a rainy night in Seattle. Riley Biers (Xavier Samuel), a young student from Forks, Wash., is attacked, bitten in the palm and left screaming in agony. Riley’s parents ask Bella’s father Charlie Swan (Billy Burke), the chief of police in Forks, to look into their son’s disappearance. A crime wave of murders and similar disappearances serial killer has hit nearby Seattle. The culprit behind all this violent behavior is red-headed Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is building an army of “newborns,” newly created vampires who are undisciplined, super-strong and insanely thirsty for human blood.
Victoria is seeking revenge against Edward and the Cullen family for killing her mate James. She wants to inflict the same pain by killing Bella.
An uneasy alliance between the Cullen clan and the pack of werewolves is formed to protect Bella. This leads up to a climactic battle. Padding is added to extend the running time to two hours with flashbacks to the back stories of Jasper and Rosalie (Jackson Rathbone and Nikki Reed) and the historical origins of the spirit warriors of the Quileute Indian tribe who transformed themselves into powerful werewolves to protect their territory against the undead cold ones.
The revolving door of directors finds Great Britain’s David Slade (“Hard Candy” and “30 Days of Night”) at the helm. He tries to escape the claustrophobic small town setting and intimate pillow talks with sweeping aerial photography. Filming actually took place in and around Vancouver, British Columbia.
Composer Howard Shore (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Departed” and “The Silence of the Lambs”), also new to this blockbuster franchise, provides a haunting original musical score that helps set the mood. Continuity is provided by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (“Dexter”), whose dialogue sparkles with tongue-in-cheek humor. Her best scene takes place in a tent while Bella is sleeping after Jacob’s body heat prevents her from freezing to death. Jealous rivals Edward and Jacob show an admiration and respect for one another during an emotionally heartfelt man-to-man talk. Edward explains his selfless love for Bella while reading Jacob’s inner thoughts.
The special effects are better than the first two installments with the CG wolves looking more realistic next to the live actors. The acting is nothing to write home about. Pattinson is stiff and wooden. Parents will continue to cheer his conservative Victorian attitude about abstinence and wanting to wait to have sexual relations until after marriage.
Lautner has the magnetism and charisma that should carry him far in Hollywood. He makes a game attempt to sway both Bella and the audience’s allegiance away from Edward. The best and hottest kissing scene is between Lautner and Stewart.
Stewart shows a steely determination to lose her virginity, take risks and become a vampire. She appears very comfortable snuggling passionately with Pattinson, which should fuel more rumors about their real-life pairing.
The standout acting laurels go to Burke and Anna Kendrick playing class valedictorian Jessica Stanley, whose graduation speech emphasizes making mistakes in life and taking time to smell the roses before rushing into hard choices with irreversible consequences.
The filmmakers indulge the fans with lots of group poses. The movies main weaknesses are the much too obvious red contact lenses, cheesy wigs, poor contrast in skin tones between the vampires and the humans, rushed execution of the action sequences and the drab-looking costumes.
Teenage girls and their mothers will be in seventh heaven swooning over the two male leads and imagining themselves as the desired object of affection.
The advance screening audience seemed to leave the theater in a state of awe.
Repeat viewing seems a sure thing since there is a long wait until the release of “Breaking Dawn - Part I” on Nov. 18, 2011.
The premium-priced IMAX Experience version is available exclusively in Johnson County at AMC Studio 30.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"