Which isn’t to say it was completely great, either. Like pretty much everything this summer, it falls somewhere between trash and treasure. Yet another merely mediocre movie. I’ll admit to being disappointed. I had Hopes for Eclipse. Hiring David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) to direct the third installment of the ubiquitous Twilight Saga struck me as a good decision. A promising one even, given Slade’s indie-horror roots meant he could probably get the most bang from Summit Entertainment’s notoriously cheap bucks. So I thought, If anyone can turn this franchise around, it’s gotta be David Slade. By all reports, Slade did, in fact, deliver a wildly different Twilight movie earlier this year. So different, in fact, that Summit and Twilight creator Stephenie Meyer, or She of Zero Taste, loathed it and demanded Slade re-cut, reshoot, and re-edit his film. Slade’s frequent collaborator and editor Art Jones was sacked and replaced with Twilight editor Nancy Richardson. Then came the reshoots-but-maybe-just-pickups-no-it-was-totally-reshoots just six weeks before theatrical release. That is never a good sign and had my Spidey senses tingling the same way Jonah Hex’s lack of a trailer signaled looming disaster. Except things went much better for Eclipse, because despite the post-production drama, the movie wasn’t a total loss.
I have three problems with the Twilight Saga. The first is all source material issues which Drew McWeeny from Hitfix expressed so eloquently in his review. I agree with everything he says, and will add that the sex/marriage bartering makes me deeply uneasy and emphasizes marrying for all the wrong reasons. But, for the sake of not having a 5,000+ word review, let’s just skip over my source-material issues with a blanket: I do not like or respect Twilight as works of literature. In fact, writing “Twilight” and “works of literature” in the same sentence just killed a part of my soul. Moving on.
Eclipse is an adaptation which brings already-developed fans to the movie theater. Therefore, it has a certain responsibility to these fans to be faithful to the source material (see also: problem one). On this Eclipse actually rates pretty high. The Twihards in the theater with me last night loved it. They did giggle at a couple places that weren’t meant to be funny, but at this point, it isn’t a Twilight movie if there isn’t some frontrum-inspired laughter. However, Eclipse is just as inaccessible to outsiders as ever. None of the Twilight movies have ever invited in a new audience. You HAVE to read the books for these movies to make sense, and in a huge strike against Eclipse, you have to read that money-grab of a novella by She of Zero Taste, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner in order to grasp the subtext during the confrontation between the Cullens and the Volturi at the end. And no, I will not explain who all these people are because you either know already, in which case it’s redundant, or you don’t care and have somehow successfully avoided Twilight for two years. For the record, I didn’t read Bree Tanner but I did bully a Twihard into telling me about it. I’m glad I did, otherwise all the tension at the end would have flown straight over my head. And don’t counter with the Harry Potter movies. They are very open to audiences who have not read the books. I know a lot of people who have not and will never read Harry Potter yet they enjoy the movies immensely. Perhaps they aren’t as intimately familiar with the HP universe as I am, but they can follow the movies and invest in the characters without having to read the books. A good movie adaptation should be able to stand on its own from the source material, and Eclipse, like the two previous Twilight movies, is irretrievably tied to its source.
This lies in the movie itself. Eclipse is definitely the best of the Twilight Saga movies thus far, but that’s like saying, “Well first I stepped in dogshit, then I scraped the shit off, now my shoe just smells like shit.” It’s is the slickest of the movies, and Slade’s hand-held camera work didn’t bother me like it bothered some critics. It fits the overall lo-fi style of the franchise and injects some grit into a pretty limp premise. At this point it’s a waste of time to bemoan the busted wigs, pancake-y makeup, cheap SFX (those wolves still look terrible when in motion) and cheesetastic dialogue. These things are the trademarks of the Twilight Saga as a film franchise. Accept it and move on. What bugged me about Eclipse was that there were three movies happening and the least interesting one insisted on being front and center.
The first, and centralized, movie was the story of erstwhile human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her two suitors, sparkling vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Bella professes to be so devoutly in love with Edward that she will sacrifice her humanity to be with him forever, yet somehow Jacob still tempts her (how do all men everywhere not hate Bella as the worst girlfriend ever?). Edward loves Bella so much he can never be parted from her again, except he doesn’t want to turn her into a vampire, which means one day she will die and they will be parted forever (100+ years as a bachelor has given Edward commitment issues). And Jacob loves Bella and wants her to choose him, even though his own werewolf nature may one day override his will and force him to love someone else (Jacob is a very selfish kid). This sub-movie is titled, Vampire Diaries of a Gossip Girl. It’s all very teeny and overwrought and ridiculous.
The second movie is the more engaging tale of Bella Swan, a young woman so sure of her love for a vampire that she is willing to sacrifice everything to be with him and must come to terms with leaving forever the parents she loves and giving up the ability to have a family (except not really but that’s a whole other problem for a future date). This sub-movie involves truly touching moments between Bella and her gruff dad Charlie (Billy Burke, My Boys), and her flighty mother Renee (Sarah Clarke, 24). In this movie Edward cruelly tells Bella, “After a few decades, everyone you know is dead,” as she frets about how to explain her disappearance to her dad. I would have liked more from this movie. More of Bella’s conflict, more of Edward not being perfect, and more scenes with Charlie, as Stewart and Burke remain the bright spots of the franchise.
Hands down the most interesting movie-within-a-movie was Riley’s Rampaging Army, which tells the story of an army of vampire newborns who may or may not be acting under someone else’s influence, hunting down the Cullens. This forces the Cullens to forge an uneasy truce with their enemies the werewolves and learn to fight together to defend their mutual home of Forks. This is the movie which incorporates the most interesting Cullen, ex-Confederate Jasper (Jackson Rathbone, also of The Last Airbender), and his back story as the master and destroyer of legions of newborn vampires back in his wild human-blood-drinking days. The mental matchup of Riley vs. Jasper is never explored in depth, even though the movie makes a cheap and easy stab at correlating the two in an annoying dream sequence. And the tensions between the wolves and Cullens are exploited for one scene and then promptly dropped. This storyline also has the newborn vampire leader of even newier vampires Riley, played by Australian actor Xavier Samuel. He stole the whole movie, no contest. Yes he’s cute, but more importantly he can act. When Riley snaps at a newborn, “Try not to die,” you feel all his impatience and frustration at babysitting when he’s struggling with his own rampant impulse to kill. I wanted more Riley. Every time he came on screen, there was an extra fizz that for a moment elevated Eclipse toward being a genuinely good movie. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough of Riley’s Rampaging Army and Eclipse never quite achieves the goal of actual quality.
As for the rest of it
Stewart, Burke, Samuel, and recent Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) all lend their usual grace and ability to the movie. Pattinson delivers his best performance to date, eliciting genuine laughs more than once (should he do a comedy?), and looking less constipated than ever before. Lautner, however, can’t act at all. Rathbone and Samuel did what they could with their reduced parts (they were all over the original cut), but Bryce Dallas Howard offered little as villainess vampire Victoria. She simply wasn’t in the movie enough to add much to it. Ditto for Dakota Fanning and her Volturi minions. I realize it’s part of the source material, but probably better for Eclipse the movie if the Volturi hadn’t been in it at all and we got more Riley/Victoria plotting instead (see also: problem one). The score from Howard Shore (Oscar winning composer of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) was so terrible I wanted to scratch my eyes out every time it started up. Whenever I did start to really enjoy Eclipse, the score killed it stone dead. If there were lyrics to Shore’s score they would say, “I did this for the money.”
Still, for all the bad, Eclipse isn’t terrible. The Twilight Saga continues to improve with each installment. With the final chapter, Breaking Dawn, heading into production later this year under the auspices of Academy Award winner Bill Condon (Gods & Monsters), it will only get better. No, these movies will never be for a non-Twihard audience. No, they will never win Oscars. But the fans are happy with them, and Eclipse is the most enjoyable franchise entry yet.