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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse


Oh, just hit it already. 

As virginity parables go, The Twilight Saga is probably two steps below The Virgin Suicides and about three steps above your average PAX special, putting it smack in the middle of a smoldering "ehhh." To the series' credit, however, the films have steadily taken leaps forward in quality since the firing of Catherine Hardwicke after the near tragedy of the first film. For those of you who have seen Red Riding Hood or Thirteen, imagine what Eclipse would look like if directed by her. Now imagine what Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince would look like if directed by Chris Columbus. See my point?

David Slade isn't a household name. He's a name known among cinephiles, certainly. Perhaps, because of this film, he'll be a name known among teenage girls. Actually, no, I don't wish that kind of attention on him. Regardless of his notability, he appears to be a director with a lot of people to impress. There are moments in Eclipse where you can almost hear him thinking "yes. yesss. YESSSS." during the editing process. Most great movies have scenes that flow so easily, you can almost picture the director stepping back and letting the magic happen on its own, maybe reaching for a silent fist bump from the key grip next to him. David Slade strikes me as the kind of director who "woo hoo's" and high five the next few people he sees. He's talented, but a little boisterous at times. Yes, boisterous. In a film where 50% of the dialogue is mumbled and broken, and there are long stretches of scenes in fields, and because this film isn't Bright Star, there are actually boisterous attempts at directing. I enjoyed Eclipse quite a bit, though. I'll be the first to admit it.

And here's why.

Brutality. Where the first two films took their time and acquainted us with the love Mexican-standoff between Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson), and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and the will they or won't they motif that saddles the films to near dime-store paperback quality (which is a little ironic), this film genuinely sinks its teeth (!) into the brewing war. Victoria, now played by the brilliant Bryce Dallas Howard, has been assembling an army to avenge the murder of her mate Jake at the hands of the Cullen clan. But, to be fair, Jake had it coming. If it weren't for the fact that he tried to kill Edward's mate Bella, his pony-tail certainly called for some sort of violent backlash. In short, they whipped his hair back and forth.

The film opens with a silently impressive attack scene, in which the army's assembly begins. Victoria, faster than all hell, 'kills' a loner by the name of Riley. She bites him, convinces him that he's her ain true love, and further convinces him to raise an army of vampires for her. A domino effect which has a disastrous effect. Actually, no, not that disastrous - as the Vulturi (the coven of vampires akin to royalty in the Cullen universe) know exactly what's going on and allow it to happen anyway, responding with only an "oops!" attitude when they're found out.

Preparing for the battle, we find out more about the Cullen clan and how most of them were turned. Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) was a civil war soldier in Texas who went through a similar ordeal to the one presented in the film. Thus, he's the go-to vamp to train everyone to defeat the newborns. Vampires, apparently, are never stronger than in their first months of transformation, while both vampire and human blood courses through their veins. Logically, you'd think that might slow them down, but we need a movie. So, never mind. Vampires and werewolves find a way to live in harmony during this oncoming slaughter, fighting side by side to protect Bella. And she's literally the only reason why. Vampires and werewolves are natural enemies and since Bella's the reason for all this, and has both a vampire and a werewolf fighting for her attention, ... I have a hard time typing most of this with a straight face.

The only reason that I've come to enjoy these films as much as I have, and I'm being honest here, is because of the performances. Kristen Stewart, outside of this series, has proven herself to be a credible actress. If you haven't seen Speak or The Cake Eaters, you're missing out. And even Robert Pattinson has genuine talent. Water for Elephants and Remember Me are proof enough of that. The two leads are gifted in their more strongly-scripted moments. Taylor Lautner... well... yeah. And thankfully, the screenplay had figured out its pacing early enough to keep even the sleepy boyfriends interested, breaking the love story up with an actual story, and some brilliantly staged choreography in the fight scenes.

If it weren't for the weird inclusion that vampires are apparently breakable like ceramic figurines, it might be easier to swallow. But, of course, as violent as this film is, if they were breakable like actual people, we'd have a serious R rating on our hands. And even then, most likely not, as it's not like there's anyone having sex.