Sunday, December 5, 2010

CHOICES, CONSEQUENCES AND THE VAMPIRE GIRL: a review of "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse"

Based upon the novel by Stephenie Meyer
Screenplay Written by Melissa Rosenberg
Directed by David Slade
** 1/2 (two and a half stars)

Dear readers, I am certain that you will not believe what I am about to announce to you. “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” the third installment of the film adaptations of Stephenie Meyers blockbuster novel series, is not only a massive improvement over Director Chris Weitz’s shockingly dreadful adaptation of “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” (2009), the series’ second installment. It is also and easily the best of the film versions thus far. Now before any of you think that I have become a convert and will pledge my allegiance to either “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob,” don’t hold your collective breaths. My praise, while true, is about a hair above faint as this series, as a whole, is just not designed to meet my particular sensibilities. In particular, there is the matter of the film’s love triangle, which has only continued to grow even more wearisome and torpid at the exact point when it should be accelerating, deepening and broadening in romantic scope and passion. It is difficult to become emotionally invested in a love story when the actors at the center are collectively unable to bring it to wrenching heights in any way, thus hurting the film and keeping the romance as painfully trite and ridiculous as ever. But somehow, someway, "Eclipse" did not speed off of the tracks entirely as I was astonishingly entertained from time to time.

Tension and trouble are mounting in Forks, WA as Bella Swan (again played by Kristen Stewart) approaches her high school graduation. Reunited with her star-crossed vampire love Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) after the events of their separation in “New Moon,” Bella is surprised with a marriage proposal. However, all is not blissful in Bella’s world as she is still being pursued by the ferociously vengeful vampire Victoria (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard), who holds her responsible for the death of her true love in the first film. Additionally, a new series of murders have gripped Seattle, placing the authorities in a fevered search for the killer but, the entire Cullen family suspects the creation of a reckless (and extremely hungry) sect of newborn vampires. Amidst all of the supernatural turmoil, lie the affairs of the heart as Bella is placed squarely in the middle of a love triangle as she is forced to choose between Edward and face her true feelings for Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the perpetually shirtless teen werewolf.

“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” has been extremely fortunate to enlist the directorial hand of David Slade, most known for a bleak Alaskan set vampire thriller “30 Days Of Night” (2007). Slade is easily the strongest director of this series to date and he gives this third installment its most accomplished visual presentation with a slick, silver sheen always suggesting the constant chilly rainfall of the Pacific Northwest. Slade also allows the series to have its first real pangs of haunted house fear as sadistic vampires await unsuspecting victims deep within the shadows. This is also the first film in the series for me that has been able to plunge more successfully within its primary themes of love and romance as several characters surrounding the love triangle explore the choices, consequences and real emotional disorder that arrives once the reality of love eclipses the fantasy. But, most unfortunately, there is that aforementioned love triangle to not only deal with but to struggle to endure.

As I have stated in both of my previous reviews for “Twilight” and “New Moon,” I have not read Stephenie Meyer’s series and I do not plan to. To be fair to the original source material, I can only give the benefit of the doubt as to its romantic power which continues to have an impressive stronghold over millions upon millions of readers. That said, whatever may be working on the page continues to refuse to work for me on the screen for two gigantic reasons.

The first is the simple fact that the movie grinds, I mean grinds, to a halt whenever it shifts its focus to the love story as Pattinson, Lautner and especially Stewart are tremendously weak actors who are unable to convince, for even one moment, that they understand the emotional mine fields of first love, unrequited love, sexual desires and pressure, and rejection. Lautner is all huffing and puffing and acting solely through his abs while Pattinson remains chilly, distant and acts solely through his tilted head, hairstyle and pasty makeup.

As with “New Moon,” the greatest and weakest link of the series is the character of Bella Swan as played by Kristen Stewart. The character of Bella Swan is a wish fulfillment fantasy gone amok as, once again, everyone’s lives in the entire movie revolves, in some way, around Bella’s existence. Everyone is worrying about Bella, concerned about Bella, fighting for or over her. Or they are envious of her and even if they detest her, Bella is the solitary thought consuming their passion and venom. Even an inter species war between vampires and the tenuous formation of a truce between a sect of vampires and werewolves is due to Bella. And when it is all said and done, she's not worth it as Bella remains an unappreciative, selfish, narcissistic, self-absorbed brat who always wants what she can’t have and doesn’t want what she can have.

Near the end of the film when Bella explains to Edward that this stage of their romantic experience was not about her choosing between him and Jacob but about choosing what kind of a person she wants to be upon her personal road of self-discovery, I vehemently guffawed, “HOGWASH!!” Bella is too egocentric to even ponder a road to enlightenment and she uses the two boys as emotional/sexual playthings, loving every moment they threaten to tear each other apart over her. She’s just sickening and I cannot understand what her appeal is beyond the first film.

Again, I have to give a certain benefit of the doubt to the novel as whatever virtuous qualities Bella Swan may possess within the books is just completely not served in any discernible way by Kristen Stewart, who again shows that she is just incapable of carrying an entire movie on her shoulders. Believe me, dear readers, I am not attempting to be irresponsibly mean or clever to a sinister degree. but, I’m sorry, it is a terrible, terrible performance. Stewart creates no empathy as she carries one, singular expression upon her face and voices every situation with the same bored, flat, falsely superior monotone. She has no range of emotions. No subtlety. No sense of dynamics and no layers. Frankly, Edward and Jacob should do themselves considerable favors and leave her behind for two other young women who can suit their needs more successfully.

It’s too late now, but I could not help but to wonder if someone else in the role would make her spring to life as a heroine to root for. Like Emma Stone, perhaps. Or even the sharp Anna Kendrick, who appears in the series once again as Bella’s classmate and school valedictorian, Jessica. Kendrick arrives in, I believe, only two scenes within this installment and when she does appear, the movie sparks to life. She is someone I could believe these two boys would fall all over themselves to fight and risk their lives for as she conveys type of quick wit, intelligence, perceptiveness, and sexual charisma that Bella needs and that Stewart just is not providing at all.

Yet, Ms. Kendrick remains upon the periphery of the film’s main event and surprisingly, it was exactly the events on the periphery that attracted me to this storyline in ways the two previous chapters had not. As I stated earlier, “Eclipse” gives ample time for characters to demonstrate the deeper truths of love to Bella as she single-mindedly marches towards her desired destiny to become a vampire and leave all that she has ever known behind forever. In addition to Jacob, who proclaims that she would never have to change for him, and a fireside werewolf history lesson describing the sacrifices of love, we are given darker, tormented and highly engaging back stories to two members of Edward’s clan. We are shown Jasper’s (Jackson Rathbone) Civil War set transformation and most compelling is Rosalie’s (Nikki Reed) violently tragic downfall and unrepentant revenge after her transformation into vampire. Both of their back stories are more interesting than any one moment seen between Bella, Edward and Jacob so much so that I would have rather seen a film featuring the evolution of Rosalie instead.

The third time around the “Twilight” world also revealed a deeper interest in Bella’s Father, the reticent police officer Charlie Swan (Billy Burke). He often reminds me of a younger Tom Skerritt, the strong, silent type who houses an impenetrable and sorrowful melancholy hinted at in the previous two chapters but explored a tad more in “Eclipse.” Charlie is the embodiment of love gone wrong (due to his failed marriage to Bella's Mother), love tested (in regards to his impetuously inconsiderate daughter) and love faithfully steadfast. Each and every time he appeared on screen, I wanted to know more of his inner world and secret hurts, again preferring a film about him than the three dishrags we are strapped against.

Additionally, I have to give special mention to Bryce Dallas Howard, who also provides the film with a sexual energy the three leads lack and the CGI heavy battles between werewolves and a newborn vampire army gives the film an adventurous and exciting kick in the pants.

Before I close this review, i would like to engage you with a little tale.

This summer, when "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" was released in theaters, I was accosted upon my school playground by a gaggle of grade school girls excitedly asking me if I was a member of either "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob"! After wondering just why oh why did they ask me, the only male teacher in a sea of female teachers this very question, I began to joke with this one 9 year old girl in particular about the upcoming conclusion to the series. She expressed with uncontained fervor that she could not wait for the final instalment, "Breaking Dawn," to hit theaters. I asked her if she wanted to know what happened and of course, she squealed, YES!!!" So, I patiently explained to her that Bella, finally tiring of all of the vampire drama with Edward decides to break up with him and the story concludes as she takes up a new relationship with the high school janitor.

"She does what?!" she asked with a blank stare.

"Yes, she takes up with the school janitor," I deadpanned.

"But, aren't janitors all old and stuff?" she asked, completely confused.

"Well..if you really look at Edward, he's really over 100 years old and the janitor is actually about 22, so at least Bella is a bit closer to her own age. With him, she enjoys the quiet life after all of this adventure and that's how the story ends."

The girl walked away from me silently and in utter disbelief. Do not worry, dear readers, as her posse immediately assured her that I was pulling her leg and they immediately spent much of the summer proclaiming their undying love for Edward or Jacob or for both.

Look, I will be the first to acknowledge that I am looking at this film with more of a critical eye than necessary as that anecdote explains exactly who these movies and stories are made for. But, again, Meyer's novels and these three films have tapped into something within viewers of all ages and because of that, I do think it is more than fair to look a little deeper at what is being served.

At the core, "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" is the story of a bizarre and painful love triangle which fails due to the thinness of the actors asked to play a variety of emotions they are not able to deliver. But thanks to David Slade, who not only tries his best to keep the action and events moving at a higher intensity, he thankfully grounds the story with weightier material and surrounds the central trio with a tale that reveals, for the first time, the realities of love.

A revelation this series desperately needs as it heads into its final laps.


  1. Thanks, always an entertaining read. Two and a half stars? I'll be sure to see it on DVD.

  2. I thought two and a half stars (meaning that it was OK--not terrible, not great either)was fair. That's what I remember giving the first film--I gave it a pass. But, "New Moon"---good gracious!! I think I remember giving that one star!