Thursday 20 January 2011

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)

Thursday 20 January 2011

David Slade, the director who filmed a castration for the unflinching Hard Candy, places his own testicles in the vice of studio commercialism here, forever staining his filmography by involving himself with The Twilight Saga. The good news is this overblown franchise does improve with each release, so maybe the fifth and final movie won't leave me curled up in a gibbering ball with my brain turned to slush.

Continuing six months after the events of New Moon, melancholic Bella (Kristen Stewart) has taken to lolling around in sunny fields with twinkly vampire beau Edward (Robert Pattinson), desperate for him to turn her into one of the undead, if only so she can lose her virginity to him without the fear of physical injury. He likes it rough, does the sullen Cullen. It's always the quiet ones.

I have to lie here 16-hours a day for perfect "bedhead"
But while Edward's won the heart of misery guts Bella, he's unsure condemning her to life as a vampire is the right thing to do -- possibly because the poor girl's pasty enough as it is, or maybe because an eternity of mutual moping is a big turn-off. Added to this, Bella is still conflicted about her feelings for strapping wolfboy Jacob (Taylor Lautner), whom she's been avoiding for months, before feeling compelled to reacquaint herself with his cobbled abs. Knowing werewolves exude copious body heat, Jacob's stomach must feel like hot stones in a pillow case, whereas Edward's tummy must be like a slab of cold gammon.

The plot, which would struggle to fill 20-minutes without the film's heavy use of flashbacks and love triangle posturing, concerns tongue-twisting vampire villain Victoria (Christina Hendricks Bryce Dallas Howard) amassing an army of "newborn" vamps to defeat the Cullens, with the help of a Forks native called Riley (Xavier Samuel) she's turned into her bloodsucking toyboy. As newborn vamps are extremely strong and dangerous, the Cullens decide to form an alliance with the local wolf pack, defending their town and Bella from redhead Victoria and her adolescent mercenaries from Seattle. (Incidentally, I've never understood why peaceful, vegetarian vampires can't get along with peaceful, spiritual werewolves. Surely they're ideal neighbours? "E-bon-y and i-vo-ry, live together in perfect har-mon-y...")

Eclipse isn't a skid mark on the towel of cinema like its predecessors, but it's still resolutely average and languorous. What helps is that Slade's a gifted director capable of delivering some half-decent action sequences (albeit with a whiff of Narnia thanks to those silly wolves), and there are a few character moments that actually work. Notably, a scene where Edward's forced to allow love rival Jacob to sleep alongside Bella in their mountainside tent, knowing Jacob's acute body heat will prevent his girlfriend dying of hypothermia. A scene that plays out very nicely because Lautner and Pattinson both get a chance to act, and the antagonism between their characters develops a speck of depth as they reach a mutual understanding. It's the first time they've been treated as anything other than paranormal alpha males using Bella for a game of sexual tug o' war.

The auditionees for Homoerotic Baywatch
I find that the Twilight movies are, outside of themselves, an oddly interesting talking point. Bella's a role model for schoolgirls, yet she's a character wholly defined by her need for a relationship with boys -- so do older girls find her lack of independence and narrow interests a turn-off? As a man, Bella evokes loathing from me, because she's a girl leading two men on, and that naturally makes me dislike her. And yet I realize that if the genders were reversed, and Twilight was about a despondent teenage boy having to decide between a sexy vampiress and she-wolf, that wouldn't seem half as bad. It's an example of the "slut versus stud" argument, which is undoubtedly very unfair. So maybe men should accept this saga is speaking to a fantasy they can't connect with. But that still doesn't excuse the atrocious underwriting of Bella, who has no hobbies outside of... well, dreary voice-overs and riding pillion on the back of motorbikes.

Overall, Eclipse is the best of a bad bunch, thanks to watchable action beats, more realism to its asinine love-triangle, better acting from the lead triptych, slicker special-effects, some entertaining origin flashbacks, and its ability to inspire debate between Twilight supporters and detractors. The plot is merely a flimsy cobweb holding a collection of moments together, and the core of these movies is insipid piffle aimed at 12-year-old girls, but it's clearly working its magic on the impressionable demographic it's aimed at.

DIRECTOR: David Slade
WRITER: Melissa Rosenberg (based on the book by Stephenie Meyer)
CAST: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Dakota Fanning, Ashley Greene, Elizabeth Reaser, Jackson Rathbone, Kellan Lutz, Nikki Reed, Sarah Chalke, Anna Kendrick & Michael Welch
RUNNING TIME: 124 mins. BUDGET: $68 million