Friday, November 13, 2009

USA TODAY: Classic Romantic Triangle Takes Monstrous form in "New Moon"

Pretty-boy vampires? That's so the last issue of Vanity Fair.

Time for a seismic shift in the Twilight heartthrob universe as a different type of sexy beast takes over when New Moon rises in theaters Nov. 20.

The scene that seals the deal arrives about a third of the way through the second gothic romance based on author Stephenie Meyer's cash machine of a supernatural soap opera.

Distraught teen heroine Bella (Kristen Stewart) has become quite the daredevil ever since bloodsucking beau Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) decided he was no good for her and ran away. Seeking an adrenaline rush, she ends up sprawled on the side of the road and bleeding after crashing her motorbike.

To the rescue is childhood friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), the sweet Native American lad who has bulked up into a buff Adonis ever since his werewolf urges started to kick in.

When he suddenly pulls off his T-shirt to tend to Bella's wounds, beefcake is definitely served.

"Did you know you're sort of beautiful?" she asks while dizzily gazing upon him with fresh eyes.

As Lautner, 17, speaks on the phone, you can practically feel him blushing. "It's kind of awkward for me and a little embarrassing," he says of exposing his new physique, the result of packing on 30 pounds of muscle to continue playing Jacob. "But it was what was required for the character."

Where once there were two, now there are three as a love triangle begins to form between Bella and her potential monster mates. And, despite the horror-flick trappings and inherent dangers, the conflict in the Twilight saga is as classic as anything found in Jane Austen's novels.

Edward is the first love, an obsession fueled by the flames of desire and the torture of heartache when he isn't near. Jacob is the loyal buddy, the guy you're at ease with and who knows you better than anyone, who slowly evolves into something much more.

Choosing teams

It's a fantasy that many find irresistible. "We want to be fought over," says relationship expert Gilda Carle. "It makes us feel more like a prize. And a suitor wants to fight over us, so he feels he has won a prize, something not so easily gotten. In real life, triangles are horrible. But by vicariously enjoying them in books and movies, we can deal with them more appropriately."

And more competitively, too. Ever since New Moon was published in 2006, fans have been declaring themselves members of either Team Edward or Team Jacob.

Attachments have only deepened now that Edward and Jacob have been made flesh on the big screen by attractive actors. "It's been amazing to watch this group of relative unknowns now on the front of magazines on a weekly basis," says TwilightMOMs media director Kirsten Starkweather, 40, of Clovis, Calif. "A lot of people who didn't care for Jacob in the book have changed their opinion of him because of how Taylor plays him. I do think this movie will bring Jacob and Taylor to the forefront."

There are pros and cons on both sides. Edward is an immortal who looks like a brooding male model, will never age even though he's over 100 years old, dresses like a rock-star poet and whose skin sparkles in the sun. Drawbacks: A "vegan" vampire who feeds on the blood of animals, he is no fun in restaurants. And he's icy to the touch.

Jacob is a blue-collar high schooler who will stop aging as he continues to shapeshift, has animal magnetism to spare, is half-naked most of the time since his body temperature is 108.9 degrees and is a gifted mechanic. Drawbacks: He has a nasty temper that causes him to change into a raging wolf the size of a horse. And he isn't Edward.

"New Moon is really a lay-up to the triangle," says Melissa Rosenberg, the screenwriter for all the films based on the book franchise so far, including next summer's Eclipse. "Edward is the ultimate guy in Twilight, and there is a massive following for him. The challenge of New Moon is to set up the third leg of the triangle, with Jacob being strong enough competition for him. That way, Bella's choice in Eclipse is an actual dilemma. But in New Moon, it's the audience who is torn."

Pattinson, 23, the bed-headed Brit who plays Edward, jumped out early in the cover-boy sweepstakes after the first film took a nearly $400 million bite out of the worldwide box office. Jacob, a mere human then, had only a couple of scenes. But Lautner is already catching up, especially after his maybe-girlfriend, country cutie Taylor Swift, blew him a kiss and mouthed his name while hosting Saturday Night Live.

Growing charms

In New Moon, "Edward does make a stupid mistake by leaving Bella, and that allows Jacob in," says director Chris Weitz. "You can understand why Bella starts to develop feelings for him. He's the right man at a frightening time for her, and his devotion is touching. Even die-hard Edward people will understand."

Stewart, 19, certainly enjoyed the change of pace on camera. "Both of them make me feel completely different," she says of her co-stars. "Taylor is an impulsive actor, not Method at all. It's very easy to smile with him. With Rob, we both tend to worry and over-analyze everything."

As for any rivalry between the two male leads, "I think Rob enjoyed teasing Taylor about his exercise regimen," Weitz says. But Pattinson appears more than ready to share the paparazzi-propelled burden of Twilight mania. "Rob would like me to say, 'This is Taylor's film. Rob isn't in it at all.' But subtraction equals multiplication in this case. It will create more hysteria, not less."

Lautner says there is only one team when it comes to making the movies. "We all get along great and we're in this together. Rob did a terrific job of bringing Edward alive. I just hope fans believe I did the same for Jacob."

Even Twilight's creator isn't above playing favorites, however.

While she was bringing Jacob to life on the page, Meyer herself couldn't help but fall for his charms. The character initially existed in the first book as a device to explain the tense relationship between his Quileute tribe and the Cullen clan to Bella, a newcomer to Forks, Wash. He grew into a central character, however, in New Moon, and Meyer even went back and put more of him and his father in Twilight while it was in the editing stage.

As she wrote on her website: "Jacob was my first experience with a character taking over – a minor character developing such roundness and life that I couldn't keep him locked inside a tiny role. ... Even when Jacob only appeared in Chapter 6 of Twilight, he was so alive. I liked him. More than I should for such a small part."

Casting drama

Still, the werewolf has been the underdog from the start, even if Bella would have to make the sacrifice of becoming a vampire herself to stay with Edward.

"I became Team Jacob in early 2007, and back then, it wasn't as easy to find a fellow Jacobian," says Kat Johnson, 39, of Phoenix, who oversees the almost month-old "When we did find each other, we clung to one another for support, steadfast in the belief that Jacob is a better and healthier choice for Bella. There is a satisfaction that comes from rooting for the character who is up against all odds, for his victory is that much sweeter."

Adding to that feeling is how Lautner was almost dropped from the New Moon cast because Weitz, who took over for Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, didn't think he could fill out Jacob's superhuman dimensions.

"When Taylor was first cast, there were a few who wondered whether he would deliver," Johnson says. But, in the end, "he convinced us he could be the Jacob we grew to love from the book."

So much so that there was outrage when it appeared he might be replaced in New Moon. Instead, Lautner locked himself in the gym and proved his worthiness. "He completely became Jacob in that his discipline and persistence was so like Jacob."

Ultimately, the love triangle is about more than picking a team. It's about the need for a young girl to check out what else is available before she settles down.

"For me, as an adult, it would not be believable if Bella fell in love with one guy and devoted her entire eternity to him by giving up her humanity," says Lori Joffs, 35, from the Nashville area and creator of Twilight Lexicon. "It's better if she has another option and can see what a future with Jacob would be like. That way she would know she couldn't live without Edward."

Screenwriter Rosenberg agrees. "It's not just about which boy do I want. It's a lifestyle choice. With Jacob, you'd have an earthbound life, a normal life in some ways with family and children. Edward represents the ethereal, fantastical life. That makes for a strong triangle. Frankly, just choosing which boy or girl you want is a little shallow.

"For Bella, it's a matter of life or death. Literally."

Pattinson, left, is Edward; Taylor Lautner is Jacob.

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