Friday, July 09, 2010

More of the (dramatic pause) same with 'Eclipse'

It was only last November that we got the previous installment of the “Twilight Saga.” In the time since the first film came out in 2008, “Twilight” has become a bona fide worldwide phenomenon that polarizes people in a big way. People love or hate these books and movies with a passion that smolders brighter than any of the actual characters in the story.

In “Eclipse” we get more of the love triangle of human Bella (Kristen Stewart), vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). There is also the vengeful Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) who wants to kill Edward and Bella for killing her beau in the first film.

To complete her mission, Victoria builds an army of newborn vampires who in the early stages of vampire-hood are stronger and faster then older vampires. The book acted like it was a mystery that Victoria was behind the army. The film smartly does not.

So, what exactly is the appeal of this series? The elements of the story are not in themselves bad. The love triangle is one of the most time-honored story traditions and can be a great source of both drama and comedy. It is easy to see why young female readers and viewers would want to project themselves onto Bella since she is desired, even coveted, by not one, but two hunky supernatural men.

The execution of this romantic conundrum is all wrong though. It is all about brooding glares, pregnant pauses and drawn out proclamations. Only one scene of quiet confrontation between Jacob and Edward in a tent during a blizzard feels authentic. The dialogue for once has some wit and substance. It is immediately undermined by the following scene which features an eye-rollingly overwrought plot development.

The three main characters speak in grandiose absolutes about their feelings. This does capture what it is to be a teen since at that age everything seems so definite and permanent. But anyone who has spent any time with a pouty teenager knows it is no picnic. With “Eclipse” you get to spend two hours with three particularly whiny teens, one of whom is supposedly a 100-year-old vampire, who really should know better by now.

It is hard to see why either Edward or Jacob would fall for Bella. She has no discernible personality of her own. Her whole existence is defined by the two men in her life. Edward isn't any better on the personality front though. In “New Moon,” at least Jacob had some playfulness, but once he wolfed out he became just as bland as the other two.

It is a bad sign when the secondary characters are more interesting than the main ones. The movie, as with the book, shows the back stories of Jacob's wolf tribe and a couple of Edward's family members. This is far more compelling than anything in the main plot line. A whole movie should be dedicated to the character of Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), who we learn was a Civil War general who was turned into a vampire and trained other young vampires for a turf war.

Billy Burke continues to provide much needed comic relief as Bella's father. Anna Kendrick, as one of Bella's friends, gives a valedictorian speech that has more energy than any of the three overly intense leads display. You want to know more about her. Instead you are stuck with Bella having to decide between Edward and Jacob and whether to stay human or vamp out.

The “Twilight” series has always been an allegory for abstinence, with Edward resisting the temptation to bite Bella even though she wants it bad. “Eclipse” takes it one step further, with Edward refusing to turn Bella until they get married. If you miss the subtext, they literalize it for you: They can't have sex until they are married either.

Which leads to one of Bella's more ludicrous hang ups. Bella doesn't want to get married because she is afraid of what people will think. Really? This character is willing to give up her humanity, but when it comes to marriage that's the sticking point?

What's good about this film? The book was written from Bella's point of view, but screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg wisely allows us to see things from outside her perspective, which allows us to get glimpses of the building of the vampire army. There are some truly exciting action scenes sprinkled throughout the film building to a vampire versus werewolf battle that is admittedly pretty cool.

Director David Slade directs the battle scenes well, but there just isn't enough of them, certainly not enough to warrant the price of admission.

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