Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski warns you not to stare directly at this Eclipse, lest you burn your retinas.
Our review of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, published December 7th, 2010, is also available.
"It all begins…with a choice."
"Choice," the advertised theme of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, is a strange word to associate with a series that is so intensely conservative in its sexual and reproductive politics. But okay: choice. This third installment is supposedly about Bella Swan, a human teenager, making the choice to become a vampire (despite the fact that she made that choice in the first movie and then again in the second). Or maybe it's about her making a choice between her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen and her werewolf admirer Jacob Black (despite the fact that she made that choice in the second movie). As you can see, the "choices" this film touts are misleading. Really, Eclipse is a more-of-the-same installment without many stand-alone themes or plots; with few exceptions, we're dealing with the same characters, the same conflicts, and the same villains that we've seen previously in The Twilight Saga. If you dig this series, that's good news. If you're among the majority of moviegoers who feel the urge to throw popcorn at the screen when Twilight trailers come on, then Eclipse isn't likely to convert you.
Facts of the Case
After reuniting with Edward (Robert Pattinson, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) following New Moon's long and silly separation, Bella (Kristen Stewart, The Runaways) resumes her campaign of begging him to turn her into a vampire—and starts a parallel campaign of begging him to have sex with her. Jacob (Taylor Lautner, My Own Worst Enemy) is totally against the first of these plans, and would be totally against the second if he knew about it. He's working his own campaign to convince Bella that she's actually in love with him, and that settling down with a werewolf like him on the Quileute reservation is going to be less disruptive to her life than settling down with a vampire like Edward.
Taking a backseat to these affairs of the heart, as usual, are some action bits among the vampires and werewolves. This time, vengeful vamp Victoria (recast as Bryce Dallas Howard, The Village) has decided to stop simply lurking around Bella's hometown of Forks, Washington and menacing her from a distance. Instead, she's raising an army of "newborn" vampires to take down the alliance of vampires and werewolves (Edward's family and Jacob's pack) who are protecting Bella.
Though Eclipse definitely has more instances of humor than previous Twilight films, perhaps the funniest moment on its Blu-Ray/DVD release comes in a making-of interview with the books' writer Stephanie Meyer. Reflecting on the choice Bella has between Edward and Jacob, Meyer asserts that it's a "fantasy love and reality love" thing. One can only assume that Edward is teenage girl "fantasy love," and he certainly qualifies in many senses: he's young and beautiful and will stay that way forever, he can read everyone's mind except yours, he's sensitive and attentive in a way that "reality" guys are not known to be, he's filthy rich, and his skin sparkles in the sunlight (which he often basks in as the two of you lie staring into each other's eyes in a meadow full of wildflowers). Hopefully, Bella doesn't have any sexual fantasies, though, since he's not willing to fulfill any of those. And also, he's a full-fledged stalker and plays an awful lot of cruel mind games.
Let's turn to Jacob, Mr. "Reality Love," in Meyer's analysis. Like most guys in "reality," he's a well-groomed hottie with insanely toned muscles who is always getting his clothes ripped off—on the rare occasions he happens to be wearing them, that is. He has a rich cultural heritage within tight-knit community that nevertheless welcomes you with open arms and lets you come to events that no other "outsider" has ever attended. He's rides a motorcycle, has a great sense of humor, and wants to spend all his time just being in your presence and doing whatever you'd most like to do. He's unfailingly nice, but can also instantly turn into a powerful werewolf anytime you need protecting. No wonder Bella doesn't want to settle for this paltry, "reality love."
Talking about the love triangle she has set up in these "fantasy love" and "reality love" terms, Stephanie Meyer highlights the utter absence of reality of any sort in her Twilight series—especially in the series' portrayal of heterosexual romance and sexuality. This is a story that's basically about an average human girl being pursued by two supernatural guys, each of whom embodies a different version of "the perfect guy" to a teenage girl mindset. Despite all the supposed danger and violence happening around this love triangle, there are almost no consequences or losses for any of the non-villains at any point in the series.
But that's what Twilight's legions of fans flock to the series for: the undiluted, totally indulgent wish fulfillment. Other (better) supernatural sagas about teenagers—Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter come to mind—give us (better) fantasy themes with more (and better) doses of reality mixed in. Twilight, by contrast, upholds the purity of its fantasy love above all else, and one can't deny the legitimate pleasures that emerge from that arrangement.
In Eclipse, the pleasures of supernatural love are certainly on display with the aforementioned lying-among-flowers scenes, lots of impassioned kisses (and not just between Bella and Edward), and several new iterations of Edward's proposal of marriage that ended New Moon. What makes the drawn-out love triangle of Twilight palatable is more the quality of the actors than the quality of the source material. Though Bella retains some annoying qualities, to be sure, in the adaptation from book to screen, Kristen Stewart does as much to salvage this character as anyone could (check out her performance in The Runaways to see what she can do with a good character). Taylor Lautner famously built up his muscles to keep his role as Jacob, but it's his low-key charm and sweetness that really sell the character. Pattinson has the toughest job, really, since he has to play two supernatural elements (vampire and telepath) and keep the creepy and psychologically abusive Edward character from seeming too…well, creepy and psychologically abusive. He doesn't fully succeed in that mission, but I was impressed with how well he pulled off Edward's little speech about why he cares so much about marriage—considering how reactionary and off-putting that whole plot is in the books.
Thankfully, the pleasures of supernatural love are joined by some supernatural violence this time around—action sequences being rather painfully rare in this series about vampires and werewolves. The army of vampires plot culminates in a big battle that's good fun, and there are also other oases of physicality among the many scenes of people talking about their feelings (to put this in perspective, I am not the kind of viewer who would usually complain about people talking about their feelings—there's just a lot of it in these films). There's a nice chase sequences among Victoria, the Cullens, and the werewolves and also some flashbacks that give us Jasper and Rosalie's vampire origin stories. These flashbacks are a nice effort to give the other Cullens some personality, rather than letting them stand around as attractive mannequins in the background.
Lastly, there is indeed some humor in Eclipse other than Meyer's unintentionally comical remark about "fantasy love and reality love." Like the nice sight gag with Bella flying Virgin airlines in New Moon, we get some self-aware jokes. Edward quips about Jacob, "Doesn't he own a shirt?" And when Jacob has to get Bella warm with his body heat in a blizzard-battered mountaintop tent (another very realistic scenario not at all based in fantasy), he tells the ice-cold Edward, "Let's face it: I am hotter than you." Billy Burke (Untraceable) as Bella's dad, Charlie, is also an actor you can count on to lighten the mood in The Twilight Saga and he carries on a delightfully awkward conversation with Bella about safe sex. With any other teenage girl he'd be way too late, but, lucky for him, his daughter is dating a prudish fellow whose sense of morality and gender roles hasn't much developed since the early twentieth century.
Summit Entertainment has released Eclipse in several versions, including double- and single-disc DVDs, a stand-alone Blu-Ray, and the single-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo that I'm reviewing here. Said combo arrives, true to its name, on a single disc: a Blu-Ray/DVD flipper disc. I'm not wild about that arrangement and would rather have a Blu-Ray disc and a DVD in one package (with cover art on each), but the technical quality here is pretty good. The Twilight Saga has always boasted nice audiovisual work with its damp forest settings and well-conceived score, and these come across nicely in the Blu-Ray version of Eclipse—more so on a visual level than in New Moon, which had a lot more indoor moping and tight close-ups that blotted out the scenery. Colors are vibrant and details look sharp (which might be a bit of a liability in the CGI wolf scenes), while the rich audio track offers up the sounds of vampire skulls cracking like shattering diamonds and buff teenage boys exploding into giant wolves. The wolf pack will give your subwoofer a workout, with their growls really emphasized in the sound mix. The one infuriating aspect of the audio is the filmmakers' decision to play about a dozen songs from its indie soundtrack for little more than five seconds each. The pacing of the music is ridiculous and feels like a ploy to sell more iTunes albums without pushing the running time much past the two hour mark.
Extras are plentiful and interesting—more so than on New Moon's Blu-Ray. Front and center are a pair of commentaries that wisely favor the stars and the books' author over one-shot director David Slade (who won't be returning for Breaking Dawn). It's probably for the best that no one on these tracks seems to be taking the story too seriously, as both are light and breezy in tone with plenty of joking around. First, we hear from Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson who, despite their penchant for mumbling, have a spirited back-and-forth about their characters amidst general goofing around. Pattinson feels bad for Edward and hates the way Bella is always running off with this shirtless other dude; Stewart points out (rightly so, in my book) that Edward is very controlling and is always on Bella's case about something. When Pattinson remarks that everyone is always questioning Bella except Edward, Stewart questions his sanity: "Except Edward? Are you kidding?!?" Pattinson also demonstrates a strange misunderstanding of what kind of series he's in by complaining about too many kissing scenes and wondering, "Why do people care if these two teenagers have sex?" On the second track, Stephanie Meyer and producer David Wyck also go with a kidding-around tone (though their kidding around is a little more annoying), and groan about the silly wigs everyone has to wear in this film. Meyer makes some good points about problematic aspects of the adaptation (why are vampires suddenly so easy to kill in the climactic battle?), but also hints at the unflattering role she perhaps takes in the making of the films: she seems to be on set constantly approving and rejecting aspects of the production and tells a story about storming off the set in protest of something that feels quite trivial.
All other extras are only available on the Blu-ray side of the disc. The six-part making-of featurette (running almost 90 minutes) goes through all phases of the production thoroughly, interviews plenty of cast and crew members, and has lots of footage from behind the scenes. It was surprising to see that the production rebuilt the full Cullen house, including the exterior and some surrounding greenery, inside a studio and did the same for the snowy mountaintop—there are some fun time-lapse shots of these being put together. Also impressive are the bits on coordinating the battle and the vampire running scenes, showing the Cullen actors doing a lot of the intense stuff themselves. I enjoyed the goofy interludes in which crew members throw grapes into the air for Taylor Lautner to catch from about 20 feet away—he's really good at it! Deleted and extended scenes probably add about seven or eight minutes of unseen content, including a nice moment between Charlie and Bella and a dull conversation between Bella and one of her school friends. A "Jump To" navigation feature lets you watch just the scenes with Jacob, or just the scenes with Edward, and so on. There are lots of options here—so many that I wondered how many fans really want a "Jump to…The Humans" option. Is anyone dying to watch just the scenes of Bella's little school friends? Finally, we get two Eclipse-themed music videos: one from Muse and the other from Metric.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are a lot of moments in Eclipse that seem kind of interesting and dramatic—until you see how they fail to pay off in the fourth and final installment, Breaking Dawn, which will be released as two films in the next couple of years. To stay spoiler free, I'll wait to point out those flaws until my next review of The Twilight Saga.
Though I know the Twihards have strong feelings about each big-screen adaptation, this reluctant follower doesn't see too much difference in quality among the three films. This one has a little more action, a little more humor, and a little less moping than the last film, so it gets a slight edge.
A more damning comparison than New Moon vs. Eclipse is one that puts the Eclipse Blu-ray and DVD release in the wider context of December 2010 entertainment. The day before I wrote this review, I went for a second time to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I in the theater. The back-to-back viewing of these two series just highlights what J.K. Rowling does so much better than Stephanie Meyer. Rowling writes about large-scale heroism and sacrifice rather than super-powered folks only defending their own loved ones, her female characters have a heck of a lot more agency and intelligence, and, frankly, she's the only one of this pair who can write well.
So I guess my advice for the obsessed Twilight fans is the same advice that good parents try to give daughters like Bella who have boyfriends like Edward: I know this seems like true love and you can't imagine anything better, but keep your options open. There are better guys/series out there.
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