Thursday, July 1, 2010
I had to let the whole "Twilight" experience sink in a little before writing my review of “Eclipse” (opened June 30 throughout San Diego).
I was at the Edwards Mira Mesa Cinemas on June 29 and saw an ocean of moms, their daughters, and a few random males lined up for the 12:01 am screening of the latest installment in the “The Twilight Saga.” The “Twihards” were out in full force, showing their passionate attachment to Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire bodice ripper. Variety reported the following morning that midnight box office records had been set by the “Twilight” fans. Wow! Let's see what those Potter fans can muster up later this year with their next franchise entry.
On one level I appreciate and even like this wild fan devotion. As someone who loves cinema, I like to see this kind of midnight craziness because it reminds us that film-going can still be a community experience. I remember my days waiting for hours in line for the “Star Wars” movies and how much fun that was. But then I see the “Twilight” films and I scratch my head. I wonder what all the fuss is about and is there any way for me to avoid the Twilight-mania.
In case you have been living in a cave, “Twilight” is about young Bella (Kristen Stewart), who, in addition to the usual teen angst, finds herself facing the emotional hardships of falling in love with a sparkling vamp boy named Edward (Robert Pattinson). While she moons over the ancient bloodsucker (who of course is frozen as a teenager), a shape shifter/werewolf boy named Jacob (Taylor “look at my abs” Lautner) pines for her. In “Eclipse,” Bella makes her commitment to Edward more overt while at the same time acknowledging her growing feelings for Jacob. So the triangle setup in the first film just continues on. In fact, the pining and mooning and exchanging of anguished glances have been going on for three movies and there’s still another pair to go. (The final book will be divided into two movies, like “Harry Potter,” in order to maximize the franchise profits.)
In some ways the first “Twilight” film was the one I liked – wait, let me rephrase that – was the one I could tolerate the most. Despite its indie low budget and cheesy effects, at least there were things that seemed to be happening, and characters and powers were being introduced. But the two subsequent films, “New Moon” and now “Eclipse,” have been like Chinese water torture as they drip, drip, drip on and on in a kind of agonizing slow motion teen romance. I tend to dislike romantic films but usually the addition of vampires and werewolves helps to make the romance more palatable, like in the “Dracula” films. But that’s not the case here, in part because Meyer completely rewrites vampire lore.
I don’t mind messing with tradition but there needs to be some acknowledgment of that. Vampires can’t just suddenly start walking around in daylight and sparkle, nor can they suddenly be immune to crosses and garlic without someone saying, “Hey I guess Bram Stoker was wrong!” Since those genre conventions are blatantly trampled, it makes it seem like the “Twilight” creators are just operating in ignorance of everything that’s come before. So as a horror aficionado and someone with a distaste for pasty romances, the “Twilight” films offend me on two fronts.
Although “Eclipse” promises a war or at least a battle between various vampire factions, there’s not much action. Then what little action there is is downright bloodless, and that’s really weird for a vampire movie. These vampires break like stone statues when killed no no blood there. The attacks are quite or even off screen, so again the violence is sanitized. And the werewolves that join the battle don’t bleed much either, guess all that fur covers it up.
David Slade takes over the helm for this third installment, and he comes off the very violent vampire flick “30 Days of Night.” But just as he failed to instill that adaptation with any sense of tension or horror, so too does he fail in “Eclipse” to generate much excitement. Slade, whose one good film was the tense, terse thriller “Hard Candy,” can’t find his groove here. He’s not adept at the action nor can he handle the romance without generating snickers. He’s an odd choice for the franchise, which started out with indie director Catherine Hardwicke.
I had heard some early reports that this latest chapter was the best yet. I don’t see that. Sure the film is a bit glossier now, the effects are improved (but still not great), and the actors are maturing (OMG Stewart didn’t bite her lip or flip her hair once!). But in terms of storytelling and filmmaking, “Eclipse” is alternately laughable and bland. The only thing that kept me awake during the two-hour-plus movie was the guy next to me who kept ooohing and aaahing over the film – “Ah what a beautiful ring,” “Oh I hope this goes on forever.” That and the occasional squeals and screams each time Taylor Lautner took off his shirt were all that kept me alert through the film. Although I will say Edward had the best line in the film, as he looked to Jacob shirtless again, “Doesn’t he own a shirt?” Ha! That was actually funny.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (both the film and TV series) found a fun, clever way, to combine the vampire lore with teen melodrama. There was a nice balance between action, romance, angst, and comedy. Since the humor is so rare in “Eclipse” it stands out awkwardly and makes you realize how hard it is straining. As for the teen dimension, we really don’t get much of the kids in their teen environment except for an obligatory graduation scene with a very forced Valedictorian speech designed to make Bella think about the decisions she is making. Oh how subtle!
Picking on “Twilight,” though, is like taking shots at a sitting duck. Plus people are either Team Twilight or Team Anti-Twilight with little middle ground. So reviews are unlikely to change anyone’s mind. My big complaint against the franchise is the way it has casually thrown out everything ever created in vampire lore in favor of angst-ridden sparkling vamp boys who moon over human girls and make us all want to kill ourselves. Now my friend, who has read all the books, did mention that the last book goes quite dark and is unfilmable except possibly by someone like David Cronenberg. Hmm? Now that sparked my interest. However. I doubt the franchise wants to end with an R-rated horror film that will disturb and distress all the Twihards. But the last book does appear to make a drastic turn that makes it seem less appropriate for all the tween and teen girls who gush over Edward and Jacob now. So maybe it will be interesting to see how this saga wraps up. Maybe...
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality. The MPAA must have seen a different film than I did because I didn’t see evidence of anything remotely approaching “intense” action or violence or “sensuality.” May I suggest that the only way to enjoy the "Twilight" films is with the Rifftrax.
Companion viewing: “Let the Right One In,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (original feature film or TV series), “Near Dark,” “Bloody Mallory”