June 30, 2010

Twilight: Eclipse

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Twilight: Eclipse

ROMANCE/HORROR:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-06-30

Running Length:

2:04

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Sexual Content, Violence)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Bryce Dallas Howard, Xavier Samuel

Director:

David Slade

Screenplay:

Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer

Cinematography:

Javier Aguirresarobe

Music:

Howard Shore

U.S. Distributor:

Summit Entertainment

Subtitles:

none


Note: An argument can be made that this review contains spoilers for Eclipse. For those who have read the book, there is no spoilage. For those who have watched the trailer, there is no spoilage. For those who don't fit into either of those categories, the question of whether or not there is spoilage is probably irrelevant. Nevertheless, you have been warned.

It has taken three movies for me to realize that the Twilight series is not about vampires and werewolves, at least not in the traditional sense. Lycanthropes and the undead are not inherently sexy unless one is into bestiality or necrophilia. What Stephanie Meyer accomplished with her bestselling books and what has been carried over and amplified in the movies is to give human form to those dark sexual desires that lurk in every subconscious. These movies are essentially Harlequin romances with a gothic tinge, and attributing them with any motive beyond the resolution of romantic triangles and the intermingling of bodily fluids will inevitably lead to disappointment. Eclipse, like its predecessors, Twilight and New Moon, is "horror" in its safest form. Much as "rape fantasies" rarely involve rape in all of its violence and degradation, so The Twilight Saga has taken the vile spawn of darkness and evil and allowed them to sparkle in the light. These are neutered echoes of the dark terrors of old, and the storyline that contains them is more sudsy than even Dark Shadows.

Following in the wake of the often unintentionally comedic New Moon, Eclipse is a breath of crypt air. The movie is still incredibly silly but in a more boisterous way, like a comic book come to life. It's no longer just about Robert Pattinson's moodiness or Taylor Lautner's pecs. This time around, the angst has been amped up, there's some danger and action, and sex permeates every frame. Stephanie Meyer has said Eclipse is about the virtues of chastity. That may have been her intention but, especially when taking this material into the visual realm, any attempt to pretend this isn't all about sex is foolish. Eclipse is all about getting the juices flowing, plain and simple.

The primary storyline of Eclipse unfolds against the ongoing backdrop of the drawn-out love triangle involving the self-absorbed human teenager Bella (Kristen Stewart), the soulful vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson), and the hunky werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Bella wants to get into Edward's pants, Edward is playing hard to get, and Jacob walks around half naked in a vain attempt to attract Bella's attention (when he's not in bad CGI wolf form, that is). The two alpha males do a lot of preening and posturing until they have a heart-to-heart in a tent during the middle of a cold night. At that point, one wonders if they're going to opt for a threesome. The film's insistence of dwelling on Bella's "choice" (Edward or Jacob) is a time-waster since it's evident from the start who's going to be the winner; Bella's refusal to cut the loser free makes her come across as an unsympathetic tease. Which she is.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing. The red-haired vampiress from the first movie, Victoria (originally played by Rachelle Lefevre, who is replaced here by Bryce Dallas Howard), is back with revenge on her mind. She wants to wipe out Bella and the Cullens. To that end, she has assembled an army of "newborn" vampires, headed by her dupe and new lover, Riley (Xavier Samuel). The werewolves and vampires must make a truce to face off against Victoria's force and keep Bella safe. As all this is transpiring, the vampires' ruling council, the Volturi, sit on the sidelines and watch, their motives inscrutable and their involvement unclear.

The director of Eclipse is David Slade (not to be confused with David Spade), who is making his second vampire-themed film. The first, 30 Days of Nights, featured a breed of more feral bloodsuckers. Here, he has toned things down considerably, but the Eclipse vampires are still more vicious than the ones we met in Twilight and New Moon. There's more action in this outing than in the previous two combined and, while that provides a much-needed injection of energy, Slade spoils things by opting for the shaky-cam, swish-pan, quick cut form of action that renders things indecipherable until the battle is over. Maybe that's the only way to hide the bad special effects. At least Eclipse isn't in 3D.

The actors deliver performances in line with what we have come to expect. Kristin Stewart, an actress who shows amazing range and ability when not playing Bella, continues to do her best imitation of a cardboard cutout here. She looks bored. Robert Pattinson, whose headlining turn in Remember Me did nothing to elevate his acting credibility, is still trying to perfect his James Dean impersonation. Taylor Lautner, who spends about 50% of the film without a shirt (there's even a joke about it), reaffirms the impression that his future is in underwear modeling. Perhaps the strangest casting choice is Bryce Dallas Howard, who was brought aboard because the producers wanted someone better known than Rachelle Lefevre to play the "key role" of Victoria. As it turns out, the villainess has few appearances and fewer lines, which makes one wonder why the swap was needed. Finally, Stewart's Runaways co-star, Dakota Fanning, has a cameo (with screen time about equal to that of her appearance in New Moon) that is a little creepy, although perhaps not for the right reasons.

All the negatives that percolate to the surface while discussing Eclipse will be irrelevancies at best and nuisances at worst for the Twilight faithful, who will largely be satisfied with the way Slade has adapted the third book in the four volume cycle. It builds on the mythos rather than diminishing it. It remains true to the source material, varying only when necessary to make things more cinematic. The dialogue, which sounds like the pseudo-philosophical drivel of a shallow mind attempting to think deep thoughts, is true to Meyer's wordplay. And it keeps the focus squarely on the Bella/Edward/Jacob interaction, which is where the fans want it. Those who have not been infected by the Twilight virus before Eclipse are unlikely to become converts as a result of seeing this. But there is an upside for the guys dragged by their girlfriends to see this; the overflow of estrogen in the theater is likely to put more than one female in a "receptive" mood. See what I mean: Twilight really is all about sex - both the metaphors in the PG-13 material on screen and the more X-rated stuff that may happen after.

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