Monday, July 5, 2010

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse ** ½
Directed by:
David Slade.
Written By: Melissa Rosenberg based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer.
Starring: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black), Xavier Samuel (Riley), Bryce Dallas Howard (Victoria), Anna Kendrick (Jessica), Jackson Rathbone (Jasper Hale), Ashley Greene (Alice Cullen), Sarah Clarke (Renee), Peter Facinelli (Dr. Carlisle Cullen), Elizabeth Reaser (Esme Cullen), Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen), Nikki Reed (Rosalie Hale), Billy Burke (Charlie Swan).

Perhaps after reading all four books, and now which three movies, this series has simply worn me down. Eclipse is far and away the best movie of the series so far. That isn’t to say that the movie is good – it really isn’t – but the things that bothered me in the first two movies – Robert Pattinson staring off into space, and never seeming to speak normally, Taylor Laughter’s wooden acting and a storyline that seems to take forever to get nowhere – didn’t really bother me very much this time. No doubt they are still there in the movie, but this time they didn’t distract me as much. Perhaps all the credit is due to David Slade – the third director this series has had so far – who managed to give the movie a darker look and feel than the other two movies, and also seemed to drain away much of the cheesiness and overdramatic speeches that killed the first two films. Don’t get me wrong, this still isn’t a very good movie despite what your teenage daughter tells you – but it isn’t half bad either.

By now the story behind this series is well known to anyone who could possibly care, so I’ll just offer a quick recap. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is a human girl who lives with her father (Billy Burke) in a small town in the Northwest. In the first movie, she met and fell in love with Edward (Robert Pattinson) – only to have him reveal that he is a vampire – but a good one, meaning he doesn’t kill humans. In the second film, New Moon, Edward decides to leave to try and protect Bella, and let her live a human life. She seeks comfort in her friend Jacob (Taylor Laughter), from the local Native tribe, only to have him reveal that he is a werewolf. But Edward cannot stay away, and when he comes back, she has a decision to make (undoubtedly you’ve seen girls walking around in Team Edward and Team Jacob shirts). That’s the first two films. In this one, Bella is with Edward, who has agreed to turn her into a vampire as well – angering Jacob, who vows to fight for her until the end. Also back is Victoria (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard), still pissed because Edward killed her mate in the first movie (see what I mean about the plot taking forever to go anywhere), and the Volturri – a kind of vampire royalty we met in the second movie, who is tracking a new coven on vampires who are wrecking havoc in Seattle. Much to their mutual dislike, Edward’s vampire coven and Jacob’s wolf pack have to band together to fight off these new vampires.

But the plot really is secondary in a movie like this. For all the vampires and werewolves in this series, there is remarkably little action. Afterall, the books were all told from Bella’s point of view, so when Edward is out hunting wild game, and Jacob is on the prowl, we’re stuck with Bella in her bedroom whining. This time, they promise a big showdown between the teamed up Cullens and werewolves, and the pack of newborn vampires, and at least the movie delivers on this promise – eventually. But mainly the movie is about Bella wanting Edward to turn her into a vampire and have sex with her – not necessarily in that order – and Jacob fruitlessly fighting to save Bella from making a mistake – at least as he views it.

I have documented my problems with the series in detail before, and they haven’t really changed. I have no idea what Bella sees in Edward – as he is essentially an ice cold, rock hard corpse who is always such a downer. He says he loves her, but we never really feel it. Perhaps it’s because Robert Pattinson’s performance seems so distant and restrained – and the fact that he can’t really act doesn’t help either. I never really understood why Jacob hung around either – Bella is essentially cruel to him and rubs his face in her “love” of Edward, but still wants him to be there whenever she needs him. Laughtner doesn’t add much except his body to the role of Jacob in the movies – he is an even worse actor than Pattinson really. Of the three main actors, only Kristen Stewart is really any good – she tries her best to make Bella into a real teenage girl struggling with her emotions, but sometimes you just want to slap her and tell her to quit whining so much.

But, I have to admit I actually kind of liked parts of Eclipse. Director David Slade, who made Hard Candy about a very different type of teenage girl, and 30 Days of Night, about a very different type of vampire, doesn’t seem all that interested in these three characters and their whining. It’s still there of course, but it’s more muted. He also seems to breathe some life into these characters as well – even giving them a few moments of lightheartedness and humor (my favorite is when Edward asks of Jacob “Does he own a shirt?” and pretty much every line that Billy Burke as Bella’s father utters). The visual look of the film is also much darker, and for the first time, the villains in the films actually seem deadly and dangerous. Slade’s direction is at its best when it’s not concentrating on the main love triangle, but on the threats to their safety.

I have to admit that I am not the target audience for the movie, just like I wasn’t the target audience for the books either. Teenage girls went wild for the books, and have made the movies huge hits. They love them beyond all reason. Good for them. For me however, the Twlight series has never really risen above the level of a curiosity piece. It’s getting better as it continues, but I still wonder what they hell these teenage girls see in these characters that make them go so crazy. But then, if I understood teenage girls, I would have spent my high school years single.

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