Monday, July 19, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Review by Matthew Rasnake

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Directed by David Slade
Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner

Perhaps you haven’t been alive the last four or five years and have missed the Twilight phenomenon, or perhaps you have been alive and only wished you missed it. Either way, there’s no denying that it is kind of a big deal that makes many a thirteen-year-old (and more than a few thirty-year-old) hearts go all fluttery.
I made the mistake toward the beginning of the Harry Potter phenomenon (I worked at a bookstore at the time) of judging the novels based on the people who were swooning over it. I had a general distrust of anything that was so universally popular--a stance that generally has not led me too far astray, but which occasionally has led me to miss some potentially fun and entertaining things.

So, when my wife borrowed the Twilight books, and I had a slow week with little to do, I figured I’d take a chance and give them a read. They’re a fairly easy read, and I had knocked them out in a couple of weeks. As novels go, they’re tolerable (sometimes barely so), but the action and fantasy elements seem like they would lend themselves well to the big screen. For the most part, the first two movies have borne this out.

For whatever reason, the first two movies left more than a little to be desired. Whether it was the flat performance of the main character, or the infinite bog of adolescent social and romantic angst, the first movie was enjoyable and moderately entertaining, but not “great.” The second movie, awash in an even thicker swamp of that same adolescent angst and longing, suffered even more, and, if not for the added interest of the werewolves, I would probably not have even considered it “good.”

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, however, is different. I’m not sure if there’s a single thing I can pinpoint which made the difference, but the whole thing certainly felt more solid and self-assured. Kristen Stewart puts in a performance that at times even approaches passionate, which is a far cry from the sleepy, flat Bella we see in the first two. Robert Pattinson was no slouch in the first two, and he maintains an easy intensity in this as well. Taylor Lautner has also managed to improve a bit, showing more confidence than the first, and more subtlety than the second. That being said, at this point, Taylor is probably the weakest link in the cast--he's the one you never quite forget is just an actor playing a part.

This movie’s scene stealer, however, was Jackson Rathbone’s Jasper Whitlock. In the novels, his back story was one of the most interesting, and I was glad it got a little screen time. The time we spend with Jasper really serves to bring a depth to the character that the previous two movies hadn’t managed.

This movie undoubtedly benefited from the fact that it was the third movie, and that the vampires, werewolves, and some of their back story are already familiar, leaving the filmmakers room to concentrate on the aspects of the film that actually interests people--the action, the Edward/Bella/Jacob love triangle, and the sexiness of the actors. I mean, story is one thing, character is another, but frankly that’s not what the Twilight phenomenon (the movies, anyway) is about.

In keeping with that, there were plenty of opportunities to make with the sexy sexy between Edward and Bella, and with the steamy steamy between Jacob and Bella. Likewise, they missed no opportunities to highlight Taylor Lautner’s buff bronzed physique, or to zoom in on Robert Pattinson’s face. Obviously, these are some handsome people we’re talking about--the ladies, of course, included.

I don’t recall being particularly struck by the cinematography in the previous movies, but I certainly was in this one. There were lots of great camera angles, abundant right-there-in-the-mix closeups, and plenty of soft-focus mood setters. What I’m saying is that in this instance, I was struck by the cinematography, which is either because it was much better, or because I was simply paying more attention to it.

It turns out that Eclipse is actually a better movie than the first two, but probably only if you’re already familiar with the characters and the world they inhabit--this is not a series you want to pick up in the middle. I can honestly say that I enjoyed it, I was entertained by it, and that the actor's performances, the direction, and the editing were good enough to actually pull me into the story and make me feel for the characters. The first two movies--especially the second--were enjoyable but not really all that good. Eclipse, however, might just be a movie I’d be willing to watch again.

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