The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

August 4, 2010

Having seen the first two Twilight films, I figured despite their horrendous nature I might as well see it out as we’re so close to the end.  Unfortunately Hollywood has decided to capitalize on the phenomenon, I mean, give the final book and all its nuance what it really deserves by splitting it into two films, so it turns out I’m just past the halfway point.  With Eclipse we have, yet again, a new director in David Slade, the not untalented man behind the suspenseful two person drama Hard Candy and the perfectly reason vampire-action flick 30 Days of Night.  Faint praise it might be, but it is the best of series so far, though not by much and it still doesn’t approach anything resembling ‘passable.’

Slade’s influence can be felt in the opening sequence involving a fairly atmospheric vampire attack in Seattle.  It’s cold, wet, and genuinely dark, and uses the surroundings to play up the fear.  That’s about the best scene in the film, however, and even it is dampened by the perplexingly quick and simple method required to turn someone into a vampire.  Bryce Dallas Howard has stepped into the shoes of Victoria, the redheaded evil vamp whose boyfriend was torn apart in the first film.  She’s building an army of supposedly dangerous newborns to take down the Cullens and wreak revenge on the blank, useless Bella (Kristen Stewart, of course).  They know its coming, and they know they can’t fight them alone, so they form an alliance with the wolves to protect the soggy little minx, despite the fact that nobody has clued into the fact that she’s dull, pathetic, and not even worth a light bruising much less a life.  But no, two men are aggressively crushing on her, so everybody must band together to protect the most insipid and pointless love triangle in the history of bad literature.

As a basic, nuts and bolts premise, there is an opportunity for tension, drama, and excitement here.  The impending doom and scraggly band of outnumbered summoning the courage to face a dangerous foe in an almost hopeless battle should be interesting, but alas, there’s that damn love story at the heart of it all.  It’s difficult to know who to blame for all of this, other than Slade or presumably the notes he got from the producers asking for more lingering shots on our young hot stars gazing meaningfully and thoughtlessly into each other’s eyes.  Never mind writing a believable relationship that we can get invested in, much less a third party (Jacob played by Taylor Lautner) that would give us any sense whatsoever that Bella might choose him.  No, this is romance as envisioned and envied by idiots who have never understood anything other than the fantastical vision passed down in so many bad romance novels and bland romantic dramas, and even then having to ignore any hint of subtlety or pathos that might be inherent within.  So Bella and Edward (Robert Pattinson) sit in a picturesque field of flowers, lying together, or sit in her bed at night, lying together, or fumbling around in awkward teenage sexuality only to abandon it and just lie together in the bed he got for her.  Meanwhile Jacob has become aggressively obsessed with the notion that Bella is actually in love with him, despite the fact there has heretofore been absolutely no hint whatsoever she fancies him at all.  Undeterred by the lack of signals (and perhaps we shouldn’t blame him, for she has not the personality to give off such signs), he becomes a mopey, abusive stalker.  And it works.  I suppose if she doesn’t seem to have the ability to actually love anyone, it makes sense that she thinks she might be love two people.  Such grindingly dull character arcs pay off in what has to be the best scene of the series so far.  Ripped from internet slash fiction, Bella is in the freezing cold and Jacob has to warm her with his body heat, for Edward’s as cold as he looks.  Confined to a small tent, Edward and Jacob have the chance to talk and show some degree of mutual understanding, the first inkling that anybody in these films actually have social capabilities that resemble reality.  It’s let down by bad writing and, bless him, Lautner’s best attempt at smarmy kidding, but it’s something.

The downside of that scene is that it means we don’t get very much of this big battle that everyone’s been dreading.  Indeed, the unholy alliance between undead and inbred dispatches these supposedly fearsome newborns with such ease as to suggest they are, like our two male leads, making a big deal out of absolutely nothing.  The fight between Victoria and Edward is slightly more exciting, but not so much that we stop wondering why the hell when vampires die they break apart like the T-1000 emerging from liquid nitrogen.  I know I know.  This is all explained in the books and if you’ve read them you’d probably understand and so on and so forth.  But I haven’t read the books, and I simply won’t.  The first fifty pages of Twilight was all my brain could muster.  So appalling was the writing that I wonder how brain damaged someone needs to be to accept her style as even readable, much less good.  And anyway, these aren’t the books, they’re the films, and they should be self-contained.  Throw in some cast-aside in-jokes for the fans, sure, but don’t leave out large swathes of mythology.  And if you do want to include them, don’t try to do it with cack-handed flashbacks that spell out in grinding detail what we could have figured out on our own.

Then there’s the morality.  That Edward is so dreamy and chivalrous that he won’t deflower the girls despite her best attempts because he’d old fashioned and wants to wait until they’re married.  And yet, he agrees to turn her into a vampire when they get married, thus radically altering her life-soon-to-be-unlife and leaving her stuck, soulless and hungry for blood for an eternity. Surely someone can explain to her that the gods always envy the mortals for their ability to die, and therefore truly appreciate what they have when they’re alive.  But no, despite the fact that she has a regressively stupid idea of the world and love, and shows absolutely no maturity about anything, she’s free to make her own decision.  And thus comes the final scene, apparently not from the book, where she explains that it isn’t about Edward or Jacob, but about who she wants to be versus who she’s supposed to be.  I’ve seen the vampire used as an allegory for many things, but this might be the first time it’s been about transsexualism.  It is thoroughly unconvincing and a desperate attempt to redeem the truly retrograde nature of the material.  No, it isn’t about Bella choosing to be whom she should, and it never was.  She’s always defined herself by a man, and she feels she has no intrinsic value without him.  Perhaps if she were to let go of these adolescent emotions and frustrations, she could think for herself, logically assess the situation, and maybe take some time before jumping into the coffin.  Maybe Edward or Jacob or both should just fuck her and, without that burning tension, desire, and romanticism, she could grow up.

-M

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