Jul 13, 2010

Film Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

For reference, here are my reviews of Twilight and New Moon

DIR: David Slade
CAST: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner,
Ashley Greene, Jackson Rathbone, Bryce Dallas Howard

I’ve never seen a franchise so uneventful as this. Three films in, with two yet to come, Twilight remains stuck in neutral, with this instalment – if such a thing is even possible – advancing the story less than New Moon did. Okay, to give credit where it’s due, some things actually happen in this film which is a legitimate step up from the completely event free second film (which, for at least 100 of its 130 minutes, was exclusively about moping) but none of it matters. There are no stakes, there is no threat, there is no loss. Not one of the characters changes or matures; none of their decisions has any consequence.

That would be fine if Eclipse were just benignly dull (well, not fine, but I wouldn’t really care), but it’s not. Even more so than the first two films this is an offensive – and deeply worrying – movie, which rams a genuinely disturbing political agenda and seriously regressive attitudes down the throats of its largely teenage audience.

For those who’ve forgotten, at the start of Eclipse Bella Swan (Stewart) has managed to get her 109-year-old vampire boyfriend Edward (Pattinson) to agree to turn her into a vampire after she graduates from high school. However, local werewolf Jacob (Lautner) is doing his best to throw a spanner in the works of their relationship by repeatedly declaring his love for an uninterested Bella. Meanwhile, Victoria (Howard) is raising an army of newborn vampires to finally exact revenge for the killing of her mate James way back in the first film, which means that Forks’ vampires and werewolves must team up to protect Bella.

That all sounds pretty exciting doesn’t it? A love triangle; warring vampires and werewolves. Unfortunately it’s all wrapped up in a truly hideous screenplay and some of the worst character writing I’ve ever seen. Bella Swan is an awful, awful character. That’s a huge problem for the franchise, because she’s the point of identification, indeed the role model, for many of the series female teenage fans. I can’t begin to tell you how much that disturbs me. Bella’s just a hideous person. She’s selfish to the very core, so bound up in her youthful passion for Edward that she’s willing to abandon everything else in her life. Eclipse makes it clear that in order to be with Edward, Bella will have to stop seeing her family after she’s changed (it’s never really established why this is, aside from the fact they might find it strange that she doesn’t age, nor why they couldn’t simply tell Bella’s parents what Edward really is). Bella’s a little non-specifically and unconvincingly sad about this, but seems basically fine with it.

It’s also a problem that Bella has, outside of her frankly psychotic obsession with Edward, no personality whatsoever, because as ever we’re supposed to believe that this one girl is so completely amazing that not only are Edward and Jacob both head over heels for her, but everyone else also loves her, so much that her being in danger can unite warring clans of vampires and werewolves. All this for a girl whose primary expression is one of mildly pained confusion and who seems to have had her personality surgically removed. I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. The real problem, though, with presenting Bella as a role model is in the way she handles her relationships to Edward and Jacob, especially Jacob. Most of the time she’s a tease, playing on her knowledge of his feeling for her, and then acting all hurt when he tries (again, unconvincingly) to express them. Conclusion; as well as being an airhead, an erotomaniac and having all the personality of a shoe, Bella’s a real bitch. Yep, she’s a prize alright.

That said, Bella’s the least of this film’s numerous problems. Much more of an issue is Jacob. Rapey, that was the word that just kept coming to mind about Jacob’s relationship to Bella in this film. Here Jacob’s either a total moron or a championship level prick (it’s hard to tell which), but his impression that when he kisses Bella the word "NO” and a punch in the face essentially mean that she’s being coy, and playing hard to get definitely makes him one of those two things. But wait, it gets worse, because here’s the message for teenage boys… if when you kiss a girl she says no and smacks you in the face it means she’s playing hard to get. In a spectacularly misjudged series of moments it becomes clear that Jacob’s leering, rapey, gaze has impressed Bella. I mean, I knew this series had fucked up sexual politics, but that’s almost impressive, or would be, were it not so damn disturbing.

Edward, of course, is the series’ mouthpiece for abstinence, and that really comes to the fore in this instalment with his proposal to Bella. What’s, again perhaps unintentionally, disturbing about it is the way he essentially bribes Bella. He says that he won’t turn her into a vampire until they are married, and they can’t have sex before she’s a vampire, because he’ll bite her and kill her. The implied message (I say implied, I mean shouted) being; remember kids, sex before marriage kills. I don’t really understand how this Bella/Edward relationship is seen as romantic, because when you take even a cursory look at it what you see is two people selfishly hanging on to one another, to the detriment of both their families (remember, Bella is so special that she’s vampire crack) and treating each other in a away that could easily be described as abusive.

We’re almost 1000 words into this review, so I suppose I can’t really put off talking about the film any longer. It is, as you have probably heard, the least worst of the series to date, but don’t get too excited. It may not be the worst film of the year (point of fact, it’s not the worst film I saw yesterday), but that doesn’t mean that it’s anything less than catastrophically awful. Eclipse comes off better by comparison largely because New Moon was so paralysingly, mindbendingly, dull that David Slade could have filmed paint drying for two hours and it would have seemed dynamic by comparison. To his credit, Slade pulls out one memorable shot (it’s in the trailer; the newborn army rising out of a river), which is one more than the franchise has had to this point and he handles the action (which does take up a little more screentime, perhaps ten whole minutes, this time out) with far more assurance than either Catherine Hardwicke or Chris Weitz did. Also on the compensatory side there’s the ever-wonderful Anna Kendrick, who manages to take the awful, on the nose, graduation speech her character gives and bring life to it and, for a brief blessed moment, to the film as well.

That, sadly, is the extent of the good news. Eclipse is an abysmal film, from the writing on down, everything about is at best uninspired and at frequent worst outright offensively poor. David Slade, after an auspicious start with Hard Candy, has embarked on a downward curve, from the overrated 30 Days of Night to the miserable depths of Eclipse. He can’t inject any fire or inspiration in the film. His shot selection and editing choices are bland and schematic, and his handling of the actors is an embarrassment. Okay, the central trio were hewn rather than cast, whittled from Ash (Stewart), Oak (Lautner) and Balsa (Pattinson), but around them there are talented actors. The newcomer is Bryce Dallas Howard; a fine and genuinely interesting actress, well cast to replace Rachel Lefevre) as Victoria. Sadly Howard is awful in the role, she has perhaps six lines, all of which she delivers in the bland, breathy, tones that all Twilight cast members bar Anna Kendrick and Billy Burke (still sardonic as Bella’s dad) seem contractually shackled to, but that’s not the worst of it. Howard’s fight with Pattinson ought to be the film’s visceral and emotional climax; instead it’s the comic highlight. I DARE you to keep a straight face when Bryce Dallas Howard is snarling down the camera, she’s a fine actress, but she’s as convincingly feral as a Care Bear.

It should have stopped being a surprise, but it seems that with every film the trio of Stewart, Pattinson and Lautner find new depths of inexpressiveness to which they can sink. Pattinson is probably worst. He still looks as though he’s about to throw up the entire time, which is really unhelpful when he’s proposing to Bella (and unfair, Stewart’s no great Hollywood beauty, but you should be able to look at her and hold on to your lunch). Aside from nausea, Pattinson displays no expression. Do vampires have emotions? From Pattison’s turn you’d think not, and that neuters the entire film. Passion, which is allegedly what Bella and Edward have, is visceral. We should be able to see it, to feel it in his every reaction. From Pattisnon we get not devotion but disinterest.

Captain Shirtless… sorry… Taylor Lautner is at least trying to act this time out, rather than simply letting his (still very impressive) abs do the work. On the downside, when he tries to express emotion he does so in a voice that sounds like it’s being squeezed out him under difficult circumstances, as if he’s into the tenth minute of trying to move an especially stubborn turd, and frankly, sounding constipated isn’t really conducive to a romantic tone.

Stewart has also made some progress, in that this time she doesn’t seem afraid of the camera as she clearly was during New Moon. That, sadly, is the only improvement in her work. Those hoping to add to the Kristen Stewart Expression Count™ will be disappointed, as we remain stuck at ‘Huh?’ and ‘Can’t act, blinking’, both of which come with an option on biting her lower lip. She and Pattinson lack any sort of chemistry (a surprise, given their poorly hidden real life relationship) and their love scenes look like first rehearsals between actors who met ten minutes ago and already sort of dislike each other. Even though the love story here is worrying at best it would be nice if we could believe in it, even for just a few frames.

The rest of the cast bland their way through the film, some (notably Jackson Rathbone and the clearly too good for this Ashley Grene) have the decency to look, from time to time, like they want to fire their agents, but otherwise they just seem resigned to ploughing through this shit again. And it is shit, once again Melissa Rosenberg (who wrote for the extremely literate Six Feet Under) treats Stephenie Meyer’s sub-adolescent sparkly wank dream as though it were great art, preserving much of the barely literate dribble in the books word for word. The result is like listening to an audiobook, read by a near comatose cast, illustrated with hasty sketches by an amateur artist. And remember, this is the ‘best’ Twilight film.

Eclipse is one of the many reasons that I think mainstream American cinema is going down the pan, because this slapdash rubbish with its appalling screenplay, wooden performances, uninspired direction, awful special effects and disturbing take on sexual politics is being eaten up by the masses. In America this celluloid excretion had the second largest opening day of all time (behind – sigh – New Moon). It’s this that gives Hollywood the excuse, that tells them, don’t worry, you don’t have to try, just drive the rubbish truck up to cinemas each week and empty it out into projection rooms, we don’t need wheat, we’ll eat the chaff up and ask for seconds. Eclipse and its ilk make me depressed about both the present and future of cinema, so please do yourself, me and the world at large a favour and skip this movie even though, yes, it’s better than the first two.

1 comment:

  1. laughed all the way thru the above reading, but twilight the original was the best. lots of feeling there and chemistry between bella and edward. new moon and eclipse were shit. cant help wondering what melissa rosenberg will do to breaking dawn. hope she doesnt destroy it. howard was a big casting mistake, should have kept lefebre. better yet, should have kept hardwicke.