Thursday, September 30, 2010

Doing More Than Just Encouraging Fans, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Delivers!

The Good: Decent acting, character development, special effects, Sense that story is going somewhere, DVD/Blu-Ray bonus features
The Bad: A lot feels very familiar.
The Basics: The next installment in The Twilight Saga, Eclipse progresses the stories and relationships from the earlier films and is entertaining for viewers from teenagers up.

Series’ become tougher and tougher for non-fans the longer the series persists. Those who are not embedded in a phenomenon tend to be looking for something that builds on the prior installments while still giving viewers something that feels new, if not entirely familiar. So, for example, with Twilight (click here for review!) the pressure on filmmakers was to please fans and get an audience who had not read any of the books intrigued in the story and characters. With New Moon (click here for review!) the pressure was to retain the audience and not simply repeat the teen melodrama aspects and allow the audience to feel like the story was actually going somewhere. They largely succeeded. With Eclipse, the third installment in the Twilight Saga, the stakes are raised, especially for those who are not already glued to the series.

For that audience, the fear has to be that Eclipse will simply be a repetition of the two prior installments and will be more teen melodrama than anything else. After all, in The Twilight Saga, there is a romance to vampires and werewolves and much of Kristen Stewart’s acting involves alternately looking moon-eyed and falling down. With Eclipse, the formula is broken and the film fearlessly illustrates what it only implied in New Moon, that most vampires are actually angry and quite evil. While New Moon had the carnage off-screen, Eclipse illustrates it and the conflict becomes more than just a teenage “I love him,” “no, I love the other guy,” “no, I love the first guy more” story. And it is bound to be well-received by the fans. It was well-received by this non-fan.

Bella Swan and Edward Cullen have made it through their Senior year of high school and as their relationship is deepening, Bella is applying to colleges. They realize they have slightly different views on both marriage and Bella being turned into a vampire, their own conflicts are enhanced by Charlie wanting Bella to spend more time with Jacob than with Edward. But in nearby Seattle, Washington, there have been killings which Jacob knows are the work of vampires. Bella, despite Edward’s dislike of Jacob, continues to visit Jacob and Jacob’s werewolf clan moves to deal with the vampires, while Jacob becomes more protective of his best friend. When Edward and the Cullens are given proof that the problems in Seattle are the works of vampires, Alice sees the menace coming to Forks and the Cullens are forced to flee.

With an army of vampires descending upon Forks, Bella, Edward and Jacob flee in order to protect Bella as she appears to be the target of the rage of the vampires. With the newborn attack imminent, the Cullen family joins forces with the werewolves in order to prevent the slaughter of humans and the exposure of both supernatural communities.

The nicest thing about Eclipse is that while the characters seem largely the same in the film, the plot has an almost constant sense of movement and the film feels like it is going somewhere. And where it goes is worth the wait. The key to who is behind the army of vampires and why makes perfect sense and the emotional resonance carries back to the final scene of Twilight, which works for those who have seen the prior installments. For those who have not seen Twilight, the motivations for Victoria are repeated enough so that she seems like a reasonable villain. Newbie viewers are more likely to be lost by the appearance of Jane and the Volturi than Victoria and her arc.

On the subject of Victoria, Bryce Dallas Howard steps into the role beautifully and while fans might miss Rachel Lefevre, Howard does a good job of playing Victoria as both harsh and wounded. In fact, I didn’t even notice the recasting until the credits, that is how flawlessly Howard assumes the looks and mannerisms of Victoria as characterized by Lefevre.

On the character front, Eclipse does a decent job of progressing Bella, Edward and Jacob, though it narrowly misses recreating the sense of watching the same ridiculous love triangle in the prior film. The movie works in this regard because it leaves the characters with a much more firm sense of who each of the principles are and what direction they are headed in. Bella manages to swoon more for Edward and the resulting decisions she makes feel much more organic than simply having to choose between the two lead hunks. The result is that Eclipse replays better than New Moon for those who are not looking at the series for the teenage romance aspect.

As far as performances go, Ashley Greene continues to steal her scenes as Alice Cullen, the vampire who is able to see the future (except when it is most useful). Fortunately, her vision is explained and explored more in this movie, as is Jasper’s twitchiness. Jackson Rathbone has played Jasper as twitchy and dark and in Eclipse he is given the chance to steal a scene or two for more than just chill factor. He portrays Jasper in a more adult fashion and when Jasper begins to take a leadership role in the planning of the combat, it is Rathbone’s performance which sells it.

The leading men do what they have done before, so there are no surprises from Robert Pattinson (Edward), Taylor Lautner (Jacob), Billy Burke (Charlie, Bella’s father) or Peter Facinelli (Carlisle Cullen). Facinelli deserves a special note in that his role as the Cullen patriarch is given more importance in Eclipse and Facinelli makes good use of the screentime. His trick is to both provide a level of consistency and to make quiet scenes where Carlisle provides deeply human wisdom seem inhuman and Facinelli nails it.

Kristen Stewart continues to do a decent job of balancing Bella’s role as damsel in distress and normal teenage girl. In Eclipse, the role is a bit more physical for her and she seems up to the task. Waifish girls everywhere have a new role model in Stewart’s Swan and she plays off Pattinson well, so at the very least the film portrays a very real sense of sexual chemistry.

Finally, while New Moon had some morph effects which were not ideal (notably with werewolf transformations), Eclipse has the kinks worked out. The special effects are amazing – especially the new effect that gets around blood and gore related to werewolves slaughtering vampires! - and adult audiences are likely only to be disappointed in that they do not go far enough. The climactic battle has startlingly little blood for a conflict of its magnitude and those looking at this for an adult sense of realism are likely to be a little let down. The lack of blood is actually well portrayed and the fracturing of limbs is pretty awesome!

But those looking for something new to swoon about in Forks, Washington, where vampires and werewolves are real and they are all interested in teenagers, Eclipse is something to rave about.

And there is more to rave about with the two-disc DVD and Blu-Ray presentation of the film. There, Eclipse is loaded with two commentary tracks as well as a small number of deleted scenes which flesh out key moments of the movie. There is also another six-part featurette on the making of Eclipse, which fits with prior Twilight Saga DVD releases. As well, there are music videos for songs featured in the movie and on the Eclipse soundtrack. In other words, there is plenty to enjoy!

For other Twilight Saga merchandise or works, please check out my reviews of:
Twilight trading cards
The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner (novella) By Stephanie Meyer
“Edward And Bella” Hallmark Ornament


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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