In Defense of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (and the series in general)
I wasn’t going to write a review of this movie, mostly because the focus of this site is Oscar-winning and/or nominated films and contenders, but I got several requests to do a proper review. I also wanted to write on the movie because I’ve noticed that a lot of the reviewers for this chapter, as well as the previous two, have had a negative bias whether they realize it or not (Richard Roeper, this time around, however said he liked the film and was entertained). This pre-disposition is something I don’t understand at all, as part of being a reviewer is to try to stand back and approach a film objectively. That being said, I have read the books and seen all the films, and although I realize that the writing in the books is less than stellar, there is something about them that I just love. What I think it is, is that they are entertaining. They are a form of escapism, and whether they are written well or no, they are enjoyable. Same goes for the films. They are made to ENTERTAIN, not to enlighten, enrich or inspire us. Fans of the film series already know this. The books never claimed, nor tried to be, Pulitzer Prize quality and the films never tried to be Oscar worthy. What they did was entertain and from the sheer amount of money they’ve made, clearly they have done just that.
Now, the first film had a really low-budget, $37 mil, and a kind of kooky director in Catherine Hardwicke. It also had the unfortunate task of setting up the story as well as containing perhaps the most inane part of the story – the early courtship of Bella and Edward. I think the film suffered from a combination of poor screenplay and a bad fit with the director. The pacing is off and most of the performances, Billy Burke’s Charlie being one of the few exceptions, feel stilted. Regardless the film made over $400 mil at the world-wide box office and made its stars overnight sensations. The second film was based on the weakest of the first three books (I’m not even going to get into how bizarre and different the fourth books is from all the others). However, this time they had a bigger budget, $50 mil, and got to utilize one of the three young actors who really has some talent a lot more – Taylor Lautner. His performance stole the second film for sure. The soundtrack was miles better than the one from the previous film and all around the production value increased. Chris Weitz tried his best, but the film suffered a bit from how being at times insanely melodramatic and at other times chock full of action, but really that’s how the book goes too. What works in a book doesn’t always work on film and that ended up being a bit of a problem, although everything included in the film was necessary for the plot of the entire series to move forward. Regardless of its problems, it grossed over $700 mil at the world-wide box office.
Which brings me to the third film in the series, which opened at midnight on June 30th and took in over $68 mil in its first 24 hours. I definitely feel not only is it the best film in the series, it is the best adaptation from the original source material. This time I think Summit finally found a director who was a perfect fit in David Slade. His previous films, Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night, were edgy and full of great performances. And while Eclipse is not edgy in comparison to those films, it is in comparison to the previous films in the series. It’s violent and dark in all the right places. But also, being a romance at its core, the scenes involving the love triangle are dealt with subtly and actually feel natural and tender for the first time in the series. Slade also managed to get good performances out of his entire cast, something both previous directors were unable to do.
One thing about Bella that most non-fans don’t think fans know – she is an idiot, more so in the books than in the films. One thing I have to say about all three films is that they managed to make Bella way less annoying than she was in the books. There’s only a little of her inane narration in the films, as opposed to hundreds and hundreds of pages in the books. I think what a lot of what fans like about the books has nothing to do with its ridiculous heroine, but rather the impossibly romantic situation in which she finds herself. It’s about escapism and whether you like the heroine or no, you can appreciate the situation. It’s a romantic fantasy in the middle of the fantasy world of vampires and werewolves, which adds a little danger. And let’s face it, what’s better than romance with a little danger?
I don’t think Kristen Stewart was the best choice for this role, but we’re stuck with her at this point. And at least with this last film she’s finally bearable. Although, I think that had a lot to do with the fact that this film barely focused on her character at all. However, when she was on the screen, her performance was much improved from the previous films and I think that had a lot do with the changing of directors.
I really did not like Pattinson as Edward in the previous films, aside from maybe that scene in the first film with the Ray-Bans and everyone staring at them in the parking lot, but in Eclipse I do. He never once irritated me, even though his lines were just as ridiculous as they had been in the previous films. This I definitely attribute to Slade. Clearly he was able to find a way to coax better line deliveries and a little bit of actual acting out of his star. I particularly enjoyed the scene wherein Edward talks about how if he had met Bella in the era he was from, he’d have courted her properly. It was touching and completely believable.
Taylor Lautner was completely underused in the first film and stole the show in the second film, but in Eclipse he really came into his own. I read one review that said he had the elusive “it factor” and I completely agree. He has major screen presence and charm. He manages to make his fantastical story line completely believable. Also there is way more chemistry in his scenes with Stewart than Pattinson’s with the actress. His passion is far more believable and feels so much more real. He also has great comic timing (something he also showcased earlier this year on Saturday Night Live). His little quips of sarcasm and wry humor are delivered perfectly. I think of the series’ three main stars he has the most promise to someday be a great star in his own right.
Billy Burke’s Charlie has been my favorite thing in the series since the very first film. In the books Charlie is nothing, he’s there solely so that Bella has a reason to come to Forks and a place to live while there. In the films, however, he is much more. At times he adds bits of much needed humor and at other times he is tender and sincere. His love for his daughter is palpable, as is his regret over his previous role, or lack there of, in her life. I’m not sure how much of this improvement in the character is thanks to Melissa Rosenberg’s screenplays or Burke’s own interpretation of the character. Regardless, Burke’s performance as Charlie is strong in all three films, proving that the performance is his own.
I still think it is odd to change actresses for the role of Victoria when Eclipse is the last in the series with the character. However, Bryce Dallas Howard slips into the role just fine. I don’t have much more to say about her performance, but I thought it was worth noting that the change in actresses didn’t hinder the film in any way.
Newcomer Xavier Samuel was perfectly wicked as villainous rogue vampire Riley. To be honest, I barely remember this character from the book, so I can’t do much of a comparison. But as a new addition to the story, he’s wonderful. It’s with this story line that Slade’s previous work in horror really gets to shine. His Seattle is dark and harrowing and the mania involved with the newborn vampires feels like something out of The Lost Boys.
I was really glad the films finally got to the backgrounds of Rosalie and especially of Jasper. He was always one of my favorites from the books, but in the first film the only Cullen, other than Edward, the audiences got to know anything about was Carlisle. In the second we got a little bit more of Alice, although her whole back-story is in the first book and I think is probably going to be completely dropped from the films. Jasper and actor Jackson Rathbone were really underused in the first two films and here in Eclipse we get to see so much more about him and he finally gets to be as awesome as the fans already knew he was.
Lastly, I wanted to say how much I love evil Dakota Fanning. I think Fanning is a wonderful actress in everything she does. I also love evil characters when they’re done well, and she does evil really well. I must say I also loved Michael Sheen in New Moon and look forward to more of him in Breaking Dawn.
Speaking of Breaking Dawn, I still have no idea how they are going to make that book into a film, or films rather. I think it’s a wise decision to split it into two films, as the book is huge. But while I was reading it, all I could think about was how unfilmable the whole thing was. Bill Condon is a great director, so maybe he can make it work. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Posted on July 1, 2010, in Review and tagged Bill Condon, Billy Burke, Bryce Dallas Howard, Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz, Dakota Fanning, David Slade, Jackson Rathbone, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Rosenberg, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Twilight, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Twilight Saga: New Moon, Xavier Samuel. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.