Forget vampires and werewolves; Judge Daniel Kelly knows there's nothing sexier than a scantily clad cave troll.
Our review of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Blu-Ray), published December 7th, 2010, is also available.
It all begins…with a choice.
In 2008 Twilight was released, adapted from a popular series of books, and quickly becoming a filmic phenomenon amongst teenage girls. The first movie turned a tidy profit at the box-office and catapulted Robert Pattinson from the status of unknown actor to world renowned sex symbol overnight. The opening chapter in this saga was a fairly dry affair, not necessarily horrible, but of interest only to the core fanbase. In 2009, the initial sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon arrived in theatres, to larger financial gain but even harsher reviews. New Moon was an atrocious picture, badly acted, dramatically inert, and bloated beyond rational comprehension. So upon approaching the third slice of this world, my expectations were not high. The only possible redeeming feature I could see with The Twilight Saga: Eclipse was the presence of director David Slade, a brave and skilled filmmaker with a knack for palm sweating tension. Thankfully Slade turns Eclipse into easily the most tolerable entry yet, rendering the film a surprisingly watchable effort. I'm not saying Eclipse is great (hell, it just about qualifies as passable), but in terms of what we've had to endure before, it's a veritable oasis of cinematic pleasure.
Facts of the Case
Eclipse opens in Seattle, taking the action briefly away from the town of Forks. A band of vampires are abducting humans, their intentions murky yet inherently disturbing. Leading the charge is Riley Biers (Xavier Samuel, The Loved Ones), a vampire who was until recently an average kid leading a moderate life. Back in Forks, Bella (Kristen Stewart, Panic Room) is contemplating a proposal of marriage from her bloodsucking boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson, Remember Me), although despite being desperately in love she can't commit for a variety of reasons. Firstly her werewolf buddy Jacob (Taylor Lautner, Twilight) remains devoted to her and unsettled by Edward, and secondly it quickly becomes apparent that the sinister happenings in Seattle may be the beginnings of a major threat against her life. It appears that the vengeful Victoria (a newly cast and utterly wasted Bryce Dallas Howard, Spider-Man 3) is using Riley to create an army of newborn vampires, so she might finally finish both Edward and Bella in one fell swoop.
David Slade has both the visual artistry and sheer balls to make Eclipse a decent movie, flushing the film with surprisingly decent action, sustained levels of PG-13 horror, and a few welcome self-referential gags. Eclipse also avoids becoming bogged down in the same pathetically sullen lovesickness that effectively killed New Moon, Slade leaning away from that sort of unwarranted masturbatory fan service as regularly as possible. There are still plenty of faults here, and at over two hours it's still too long; but Eclipse is actually a relatively bearable event picture, and that's not something I thought I would be saying six months ago.
Kristen Stewart still irritates as Bella, the actress now squarely becoming one of the most annoying A-list screen presences in Hollywood. Whilst the rest of the cast seem content to relinquish the downbeat whinging of New Moon (including Pattinson), Stewart sticks firmly on that note, moping through the picture with the same unfettered determination that she has in the previous two efforts. The actress also refuses to animate the character beyond perfunctory human movement, leaving the leading lady a cold and largely unappealing screen presence. Pattinson, who was okay in part one but disastrously bad in the second, makes amends here, delivering his most rounded and likable turn yet. It's hardly Oscar caliber acting, but the young British star emotes with more range and commitment here, occasionally switching up his trademark intensity for a softer comic touch. As a couple Edward and Bella remain oddly perfect for each other, although in Eclipse Stewart is definitely brooding more heavily than her handsome co-star. Lautner is just about adequate (he was the best of the trio in New Moon, but Pattinson clips him here), recovering from some early stutters to deliver an acceptable continuance of the Jacob character. In many ways Jacob's story arc is the most intriguing, his devotion to Bella only equaled by his disappointment and disgust at not being allowed to be with her. This subplot culminates with a kiss that sets the love triangle dynamic on fire toward the film's finish, and makes promises that the relationships at the heart of this franchise are about to become a little more involving.
Xavier Samuel does a fine job as the snarling Riley, until the final showdown that is, during which his performance crumbles for no apparent reason. Dallas Howard is spectacularly underused as Victoria, the series still refusing to give the audience any real reason as to why we should fear this villainous character. However Nikki Reed (Thirteen) deserves props, the talented actress given a little extra wiggle room as one of Edward's numerous siblings here, as a consequence delivering a sturdy monologue with conviction and a dark blend of humor.
Slade keeps Eclipse loaded with momentum for the most part, the pacing is still a little off, but on the whole there is more energy here than in the other two installments combined. The action is shot creatively and with a deliberately kinetic feel, even if dodgy CGI occasionally sullies the overall effect. The climactic battle is stacked with some cool Vampire vs. Werewolf carnage, Slade finding inventive ways to add a hard edge to these fights without compromising the family friendly certificate. Eclipse actually boasts several decapitations and neck snaps, the film maintaining a bone crunching vibe without dousing the frame in blood. The cinematography looks great, and the filmmaker even punctuates the movie with atmospheric character building flashbacks to give the picture a more memorable design. Every improvement over the other films appears to stem from Slade's participation, his visceral and intelligent touch granting this tired formula a new lease of life.
Melissa Rosenberg's screenplay is still very much a case of placing tab A into slot B, following the same repetitive beats of the previous adventures. The theme of celibacy raises its head more obviously in Eclipse, but the other familiar facets remain present at the same tedious pitch. There are also still a few instances of pretentious romanticizing, probably just to sate the teenage girls who hunger for this guff. For instance the film opens with a ponderous and dull exchange between Edward and Bella that almost seems akin in tone to a scene from a Shakespearean love story, without the clever and inspired dialogue of course. These moments tend to drag Eclipse down a notch, without them it would be a stronger beast.
On a final note, Eclipse also actually attempts to make the central monsters a little bit scary, some of the scenes in Seattle delightfully reminiscent of Slade's previous film, the gory and entertaining vampire flick 30 Days of Night. There's finally some pillaging and bloodletting to be done, the director pitching these sly moments in dark and rainy alleyways. It's not exactly original or terrifying filmmaking, but it gives this series a little extra kick, and showcases that it finally has a director who understands how this story should be told; with a bit of bite.
Summit has released Eclipse on a healthy two-disc special edition DVD, with enough extras to keep fans happy. There are two commentaries here, one with Pattinson and Stewart, the other featuring novelist Stephenie Meyer and producer Wyck Godfrey. The latter is definitely the only one worth a listen, as Pattinson and Stewart's track is a mess of incomprehensible giggles and irksome in jokes. Meyer and Godfrey at least discuss the filmmaking process in semi-articulate terms, Meyer indeed offering some interesting conversation concerning the adapting process from book to motion picture. The set also includes an hour and a half making of divided into six separate parts, something that fans will surely relish. It features too many floating heads and too much unwarranted back slapping, but there are moments in which it musters some moderate insight, and some of the onset footage is quite engaging. Its hefty runtime also allows it to cover the different faces in the cast and crew quite thoroughly, even though what's being said about individuals is hugely repetitive. A selection of deleted scenes are also featured (again if you're not a fan you won't care), as are other trinkets like photo galleries and music videos. It's a pretty great package if you dig the movie, and I guess that's what really matters when it come to rating bonus content. After all if you deplore Twilight I'm surprised you're even reading this review, let alone curious about special features on the DVD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I should point out that whilst I hated New Moon, I don't outright loathe the Twilight saga on every conceivable level; I even found a few things to admire in the original 2008 effort. If you despise this franchise for simply being what it is, and view it as the rape of modern popular culture, Eclipse probably won't change your mind. Only folks open-minded toward this stuff are likely to note any of the improvements made here.
As a love story I still don't think the Twilight films are anything special, but as a fun blockbuster Eclipse provides a palatable enough experience. Summit has for the most part shown great respect toward the fans with this commendable DVD release.
Not Guilty. I'm as shocked as you are.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Summit Entertainment
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