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Entries in Twilight Saga/Eclipse [2010] (1)

Thursday
Jul012010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)

Team Victoria

Last night, I had the best surprise birthday party ever. There were no blindfolds involved, and no one jumped out from behind the couch to sing.

My wife and I had a party of two.

A Twilight party.

She gave me a birthday card from the first movie, complete with a Pouty Edward sticker insert. As a present, I finally got New Moon on blu-ray (the director’s commentary should be amazing). And because I was told I could do anything I wanted for My Special Day, we headed out to Old Orchard Mall and saw The Twilight Saga: Eclipse on opening night.

It was the perfect audience, too. We were surrounded by giddy girls—ages pre-teen through past-the-age-of-knowing-better—most of whom refused to stop whispering, chatting, or texting during the film. During the passionate kissing scenes, loud whoops and cheers erupted, culminating in enthusiastic applause at the end credits. Oh, and there was a fussy baby at the show, too.

“Ian, we don’t care about your birthday! Get to the movie!”

Fair enough. You caught me sloppily trying to pad this review. But I have my reasons.

If you’ve sat through the previous two-hundred-and-fifty-two minutes of the Twilight series in anticipation of the action-packed, high-stakes drama of the third book…well, you’re in for about twenty minutes of new, good material; the rest is everything you’ve seen before, acted slightly better.

For the uninitiated, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) lives in the nowhere town of Forks, Washington with her Wacky Sitcom Dad (Billy Burke). Bella is caught in a love triangle between vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Complicating the relationship is a feud between the mythical species, which must be kept hidden from a family of ancient vampire police called The Volturi.

At the end of the original Twilight, Edward killed the head of a bloodsucker posse named James; James’ girlfriend, Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) vowed revenge and proceeded to spend the next movie-and-a-half literally running away from vampires and werewolves.

Realizing, I guess, that their audience might catch on to the fact that her three main characters have done nothing for two books/movies except whine, pout, and glisten, author Stephanie Meyer and co-screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg decide to inject an actual plot into Eclipse. Victoria returns with an army of newborn vampires from Seattle, whose ranks are apparently the most dangerous vampires one might encounter (likely ‘cause they’re jacked-up on caffeine and Grunge).

Normally, this would set the stage for a thrilling revenge picture; but, no, Eclipse is still part of the Twilight franchise—meaning that audiences should leave their hopes for seeing a real movie far, far behind.

The film’s best new story elements get eclipsed by the recurring drone of love pronouncements. We get glimpses of the origins of Edward’s vampire family (most hilarious is that of Jackson Rathbone’s Jasper, who develops a dodgy Southern accent when talking about his time in the Civil War; for two movies, this character was a feral mute, and now he’s a dinner-theatre General Custer).

There’s also Victoria’s army, led by a kid named Riley Biers (Xavier Samuel). The movie frequently cuts from Forks to Seattle, and we’re meant to see Riley recruiting and training vampires; but each scene looks like it was filmed in the same dingy parking lot, with extras from Rent performing scenes from Cats.

Had Eclipse made better use of its two-hours-plus run-time, we might have learned about why Riley is devoted to Victoria way before the five-minute burst of expository dialogue in the climax. As it stands, the big showdown happens in a wide open field and on a nearby mountaintop on the same afternoon. The evil vampires all show up at the exact same time and have a big rumble with the good vamps and their reluctant werewolf allies. There’s no tension or question about who will prevail—just a long fight scene reminiscent of The Outsiders.

In fairness to director David Slade, Eclipse has one hell of a climax. The earlier action scenes don’t work very well. One of the drawbacks of modern special effects is that moviemakers can now make actors do, literally, anything. So when I watch a pack of vampires chase a leaping, blurry Victoria through the woods, it has the same effect on me as playing Super Mario Brothers did when I was eleven: they’re all just cartoon characters whose actions are incapable of eliciting an emotional response. The big battle in Eclipse, however, is pretty cool.

For a PG-13 movie, I was surprised by the amount of decapitating and arm-ripping, and Slade makes great use of staging and practical stunt-work (or so it seemed), giving the battle the illusion of consequence. It also helps that when Twilight vampires die, their bodies turn to diamonds—making every fatal chomp and limb cut look like a liquid nitrogen accident.

Oddly enough, my biggest problem with Eclipse is that, as a movie, it is the strongest of the trilogy. The first film was so laughably bad—with its atrocious acting, basement-grade special effects, and relentless Teen Vogue posing—that it became an instant Bad Movie Party classic. The second film was all about Jacob not wearing a shirt and sulking in the rain, which spawned a million drinking games. Eclipse looks better; its actors are fighting through the shitty, repetitive dialogue to deliver something like actual performances (Stewart has even cut back on her Respiratory-Infection-Method-Acting; though she still does that squishy-brow thing before delivering lines, as if the words hurt journeying from brain to mouth).

These movies are trash written for pre-pubescent girls; lonely, middle-aged women; and people in between who don’t know what good storytelling is (don’t think you’re off the hook, Harry Potter fans). The fact that the production quality is improving just means that the franchise’s base flaws are becoming more obvious and less tolerable. Watching sixteen scenes of hot teenagers professing their love through bad poetry is awesome, if the movie is all-around bad; watching the same sixteen scenes interspersed with decent and sometimes exciting scenes is squirmy torture.

So, for my money, Eclipse is not the best of the Twilight saga; that honor goes to New Moon—which has its furry feet firmly planted on either side of the cheese/not-bad border. If you’re in doubt, please consider the end of Eclipse: Victoria and Riley are dead; the Volturi have returned to their palace in Italy; Edward and Bella are engaged. Perfect end to a trilogy, right? Nope, we still have TWO MORE MOVIES LEFT TO GO.

The only way I’m likely to make it through parts four and five is to buy tickets to the midnight screenings; being locked in an auditorium with genuine Twi-hards, I imagine, is like being a war correspondent. And that’s where I am with this franchise: seeking bizarre thrills that the movies themselves can no longer provide.

All in all, though, it was a great evening.

We got home and passed out in the middle of The George Lopez Show, as he wrapped up an interview with Kristen Stewart. We watched the perfect storm of an awkward interviewee clashing with a comedian who apparently dropped “Talk Show Hosting 101” in order to take “Ethnic Comedy for Easy Audiences” as an elective (with a minor in “Advanced ‘Oh No He Di’n’t’”).

At the end of the segment, Lopez surprised his multi-millionaire guest starlet with a set of golf clubs.

Stewart looked confused and kind of flattered, much like me at the end of the best birthday ever.