Evan Benton, Staff Writer

Last Friday, in the wee hours of the morning, hundreds of thousands of people around the country attended the midnight showing of New Moon, the adaptation of the second book in the wildly popular Twilight series, pulling in a record single day box-office record of almost $73 million in only 4,024 theaters.

Filmgoers were mostly made up of women of the teen, tween and questionably older variety, but also included men, made up of dutiful boyfriends, gay men and those humble few of the “just there for the experience” variety. I was part of the latter. (Promise.)

The Twilight series is now a bona fide saga, like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars before it. This was obvious at first glance around the theater.

Preteen girls proudly holding up “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” signs, black-cloaked vampiresses with muted-yellow contact lenses and fangs, catty soccer moms arguing over whose seat is whose while their children stand wide-eyed and confused – this is what happens with saga sequels.

True fans know no courtesy, show no shame, and hold nothing back. The crowded cinema seethed with tension and hummed with anticipation. Some passed the time until midnight by wondering aloud about the rumored off-screen romances among the film’s young stars. Others dutifully highlighted lines in their worn, dog-eared copies of Stephanie Meyer’s novel.

When the film began, with the unveiling of a bright moon in the dark night sky, Twilight fans and their curious acquaintances fell silent.

Bella and Edward, still in high school in northern Washington state, are in love. The slight hiccup in this romance is the fact that Edward is a vampire, part of a “family” of seven called the Cullens.

Edward goes day-to-day suppressing the constant instinctual want to suck her blood because of his love for her, but just can’t take it anymore, breaking her heart as he leaves her to cope with months of crippling depression and night terrors. In his absence, she rekindles her friendship with Jacob, a younger boy who’s had a crush on her from day one.

Conveniently, Jacob has also become ridiculously ripped since the last film, and spends most of the film with his shirt off, to the delight of the theater’s mostly female membership. But like her relationship with Edward, as soon as Bella begins to fall for Jacob, he pushes her away.
But he had his reasons. Edward was a bloodthirsty vampire; Jacob’s a werewolf with anger problems. This makes for a pretty extraordinary love triangle when Edward comes back into the picture.

Especially given the knowledge, if you’ve watched Underworld, that werewolves and vampires have hated each other for millennia.

Showing love through the film lens is a tough thing to do. New Moon’s predecessor tried in nauseating fashion, dedicating half of its time to long dialogue-free bouts of Edward and Bella staring at each other for hours.

With that out of the way, New Moon can be full of the drama that comes from break-ups, new flames and raging teen hormones, with the always-popular gothic/horror backdrop as a setting.

The star of the movie is undoubtedly young Jacob, played by 17-year-old Taylor Lautner, who causes the film to sway to the churnings of his own testosterone.

Lautner reputedly was told that his role as Jacob was in jeopardy if he couldn’t meet the physical conditions that the novel dictates, but Lautner responded by gaining nearly 30 pounds of muscle and stealing the show from just about everyone, and it shows, especially with a rigorously waxed chest.

Surprised sighs and uncomfortably sexual moans would gush from the audience whenever he was on screen, especially in the first topless scene, when he takes his entire shirt off to wipe the blood from Bella’s brow. Yes, that actually happened.

Lautner said to critics that his one hope is that New Moon makes him into a genuine actor and not just a body. To him I say good luck with that. I congratulate anyone whose body is sculpted better than a Greek model, who can make women worldwide wheeze with primal lust – but you can’t escape something like that. I would just accept it if I were him.

New Moon was a fun, angst-driven movie that was many, many times more appealing than its predecessor. New characters, werewolf and vampire, and new and interesting plotlines reveal themselves throughout the movie’s length, and director Chris Weitz combines the drama of the book with attractive faces and surprisingly exciting action. It ends with the knowledge that the next film will hold much more drama: The Cullens honoring Bella’s request to make her a vampire, an unavoidable war in the Pacific Northwest between vampires and werewolves, and Edward’s want to do the one thing every good vampire teen should do before consummating his love – get married.

Having not read a single page of the “Twilight” series and judging this as a film and only a film, I can honestly say, maybe with a tinge of embarrassment, that I’ll most likely be there for the release of the next adaptation, Eclipse, slated to sink its teeth into audiences June 2010. That was not an easy thing to admit.