When the first Twilight movie came out a year ago, and was such a hit that the sequels were immediately greenlighted, there was one big question on everyone's mind.
Who would play Jacob Black?
Jacob is, of course, the male protagonist in New Moon, and his character appeared briefly in Twilight. Taylor Lautner, wearing a long dark wig, played the role of Bella's Native American friend … fine. He was good. I liked him, and I thought he did the part justice. He certainly looks a lot like I'm imagined Jacob.
But in New Moon, Jacob is a lot more than a dark-skinned buddy. He has far more face time than Bella's vampire boyfriend, Edward, who leaves Bella in a misguided attempt to protect her from himself and his kind. When Bella falls apart, Jacob is there for her. He's best friend, lifeline, and the one who helps Bella in her ill-advised escapades. The relationship between these two is deep, warm, loving, and compelling.
Plus also, Jacob has gotten huge. He's developed serious muscles and grown several inches. That was the kicker … Could baby-faced Lautner pull off that? Not just the appearance, not just the acting, but the sheer physical requirements of the role?
Lautner set out to prove that he could do it. He worked out tirelessly, taking his body from a slender 16-year-old's to a Mr. Teen Universe 17-year old's. He is not extremely tall, but he matches Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward, and that's all that matters. Since, since Jacob is not the only buffet Quileute, it must be a casting director's nightmare to try to find a half-dozen 7-foot-tall muscle bound Native American actors. Six feet tall looks to have sufficed.
That was not all that Lautner did. He read the books. He studied Jacob's character, his feelings, his motivations. He worked with an acting coach to get deep inside Jacob, to understand him, and to make that understanding show on the screen.
Obviously, Taylor Lautner really, really wanted to play Jacob. So director Chris Weitz took the chance, and re-cast him in the role.
Thank you, Mr. Weitz! Something happened to Lautner between Twilight and New Moon. He attained new depths of his craft-and managed to communicate humor, angst, fear, rage, violence and tenderness vividly, all without a shirt on.
In short, 17-year-old Taylor Lautner carries this movie on his muscular shoulders.
Sure, there are other good performances. Kristen Stewart finally has some emotion to work with, so her portrait of Bella is deaf and more evocative than before. Robert Pattinson is not on screen much, and the parts that he does have are cut by the screen play, but he does a good job of depicting the terror, temptation and heartbreak Edward goes through – at least as much as he's allowed to.
I think that Weitz and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg give the Cullens short shrift for the most part, so they can spend more time on Jacob and his relationship with Bella. That's too bad, because the scenes with the vampires set up the whole rest of the movie-and are vital to understanding the sequel, Eclipse.
There was one scene with the Cullens that stands out, however. After Bella is injured at her birthday party, Carlisle, the vampire dad and doc played by Peter Facinelli, takes her away from the other vamps to stitch her up. They have a quiet and gentle conversation, in which Carlisle explains to Bella why Edward is so related to change her into a vampire. The common understanding is that vampires are damned, that they no longer have souls, and Edward refuses to rob Bella of hers. The scene cut some important stuff from the book, but the connection between Bella and Carlisle is very moving.
But when it comes to the Quileutes (and I'm just gonna give the secret away here-the young Quileute men are werewolves, okay?), The whole pack, led by Jacob (performance-wise, I mean-Jacob is not actually the Alpha) simply shines. This is where Weitz did his best work. The wolfpack actors make the most out of small supporting roles, they look hot shirtless, they're both funny and menacing, and they photograph extremely well. Both the drive to protect and the incipient violence are offered in equally believable measures.
The heart of the movie is, of course, this love-triangle of texts. Bella pines for Edward, and while we do not see much of it on screen, Edward is also falling apart without Bella. But Bella, at least, has Jacob, while Edward is utterly alone. It's no wonder, then, that when Edward thinks Bella has killed herself, he wants to follow her into oblivion.
In the meantime, while Edward is Bella's one true love, she comes to lean on Jacob more and more, and his feelings for her develop and strengthen. He knows she's wounded, but he falls in love with her, anyway. And she loves him, too, in her own damaged way. But Edward is always first in her heart, and when he needs her, she leaves Jacob and goes to him. That scene beautifully parallels the scene in the beginning of the film where Edward leaves Bella. Jacob begs Bella not to go, just as Bella begged Edward not to go. Bella leaves Jacob, anyway, just as Edward left her. And the result is heartbreak for everyone.
Along the Quileute werewolves, another exciting group of characters enters the picture in this installation. The Volturi are a group of powerful vampires who administers the laws in the vampire world. They also mete out the punishments, and Edward goes to them to ask them to kill him.
The most prominent and noticeable of the Volturi is the character Aro, the head of the group, played by Michael Sheen. He was wonderful, and somehow managed to convey delight, interest, and bloodthirst in the same expressions. For a minute I really thought he was going to eat Bella!
Dakota Fanning, as the young sadistic vampire Jane, did justice to the role. There are only so many ways an actor can convey something that's entirely mental, but her pain-inflicting red-eyed death glare did a pretty good job. She depicted the authority and confidence of someone who knows she holds all the cards and always will.
There are weaknesses in the film, of course. I wanted Edward and Bella both to suffer more. In the book, they are wrecks, though we see more of Bella's wreckage. But we did not see the depths of her destruction like we should have. I do not think that it was Stewart's fault; I think that Rosenberg was in too much of a rush to get to the werewolves and shirtless Jacob (and I guess I can not blame her …).
The makeup was much better than last time, but gorgeous Nikki Reed, playing ultra-gorgeous Rosalie, looked odd in her blonde wig – why not just dye her hair blonde? And there was not nearly enough Emmett! His line about Bella being an older woman was awesome, but he should have had more. His part, like most of the Cullens', was rushed through by the writer.
But kudos to the makeup people for how Edward appeared in the Volturi scene-except for the fact that he had gold eyes (a flat-out error-he was not eating. That was good … he should look wretched there. And I wanted more from the reunion scene and the voting scene-again, they were rushed. Rosenberg needs to learn to slow down the emotional parts. We do not read these books or watch these movies for the action or the special effects-we love them for the emotion. Let us experience it for a few minutes before you move on!
So, the final judgment on The Twilight Saga: New Moon is: Pretty Darn Good. The character and role of Jacob was the make-or-break element for this movie, and Taylor Lautner rose to the occasion beautifully. He really made the movie work.
The movie was not without its problems, but what would we talk about on the discussion boards if it was perfect? I mean, beside Taylor's abs …