5 July 2010

Don't Look Directly At It- ECLIPSE Review

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. While I won't be going out of my way to spoil deliberately, there will be more SPOILERS herein than usual. it's only minor stuff, but if you don't want to see the film without knowing anything about it, don't read this review until after you've seen it. You have been warned.

If you're not caught up with the Twilight series at this stage, or my thoughts on it, you might like to go back and read my reviews of Twilight and New Moon. If you're still with me, you probably know where we stand with Eclipse. As graduation approaches for Bella Swan, she sets a date for her vampiric beau Edward to turn her into a vampire. But as a bunch of serial killings by newborn vampires reveal a sinister plot, an old enemy threatens to tear Bella and Edward's family apart.

You're here for one thing if you know my previous form on this series, and that's to see me take the piss out of this film. There are certain expectations of my reviews that are all too easy to meet in a series like this. For starters, if Bella was a codependent mess in New Moon, she's a manipulative attention whore in this one. The love triangle from New Moon, seemingly resolved when she chose Edward the vampire's sparkling over Jacob the werewolf's robust and puppy-like devotion, spills over here simply by her prolonging it.

You can bandy around epithets like "prick-tease" and sound like you hate women, but it's just a matter of hating Bella. Moreover, she's still so selfish and introspective that she can't account for any of her more normal loved ones beyond saying "I'll think of something" when asked how they'll deal with her new lifestyle. There's a scene when one of her fellow students gives a speech about kids being asked what they want to be when they grow up and saying things like "rock-star" or "princess".

Bella sits uncomfortably in that scene because it's like everyone knows that the character has just graduated from high school but she's still jumping up and down, clapping her hands and going "I wanna be a vampire and get married!" over and over. To Kristen Stewart's credit, she still hasn't been sunk by this dead weight character, but she's still slumming it in this role. Leave scripts like these to Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, who can't really make characters sympathetic either.

If this is Eclipse's biggest problem, then it doesn't bring the film down nearly as much as it did in the previous instalments. This is clearly down to a handover in direction to horror director David Slade, who ramps up the horrific elements as much as he can within the strictures of capturing the teen audience who lap this shit up. There's a palpable tension that was missing in either one of the previous Twilight films, and he finally makes a couple of moments that are dreamy rather than dreary. Hats off also to cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, for making everything look wonderful from rain-soaked city streets to snow-capped mountains, via a lot of sunlit meadows.

That last bit almost sounded positive, so I think the game is up. Bottom line is, I didn't like Eclipse, but I did think it was a much better film than I or anyone else of a sound mind had expected. It never bored me like Twilight did, and it never made me despair for humanity like New Moon. At its heart, there's still a bad story by a worse author, but Slade salvages everything he can from it to make it a more entertaining prospect than Summit has given us in the last three years. He brings tertiary characters to the fore with some interesting flashbacks that less enterprising directors might have traded up for multiple lascivious shots of Taylor Lautner's torso, and finally overcomes the hilariously bad speedy-vampire effects with a much more sensible model.

Sadly, for all of his good work, it's all too easy to believe the rumours that he was locked out of the editing suite late in production. For me, this is most obvious from the soundtrack. Record companies shift huge numbers of the soundtrack album CD and download just by virtue of the Twilight brand, but more than ever before, the selected songs are totally discordant with the action. This would benefit massively from a proper score, by a composer- you don't need John Williams, just something more tailored to the action than Florence + The Machine or Muse. The effect here is like Spielberg signing over Schindler's List to the Village People for the final sound mix.

Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner are still piss-poor actors, and the real talent like Anna Kendrick and Billy Burke are still in thankless roles, but the thrust of Eclipse is very much towards something different. The message-driven plotting of the series isn't ever going to allow sex scenes, even though fellow Kevin Smith fans would probably agree that the Chasing Amy solution would solve everyone's problems in that tent scene with the three leads. And even with Melissa Rosenberg, a scribe who actually does emoticons in her scripts, still on writing duties, the work put into this one is evident.

Is it still giving a damaging message to young women? Probably, but there's at least less of Bella being subservient to a guy who could go nuts and kill her, that unintended domestic abuse parallel that made New Moon so fucking interminable. What does get ramped up is Edward and Jacob being over-protective of Bella, at which point many of the females in the audience need to wake up and think about this. Without any allegations of being shallow, if you ever encountered this level of interference from any boyfriend in real life, you'd want to get the fuck out of that relationship. It only further reinforces Bella as a blank surrogate for female readers or viewers rather than a likable character.

Chiefly, I think I took to Eclipse because it feels like an ending. With red-headed Victoria seemingly having ran so much that she morphed into Bryce Dallas Howard, that subplot is finally brought to a conclusion. I don't need to see some of the frankly bat-shit insane stuff that happens in Stephanie Meyer's final book, and I wish they'd ended on a relative high with this one. Instead, they're proving that anything Harry Potter can do, Twilight can do worse, by splitting Breaking Dawn into two films instead of taking the chance to cut some of the crazier shit out of the 800-page book.

The problems with the so-called Twilight saga are on-going, but Eclipse manages to leave its predecessors in the shade as a much more bearable adaptation than you'd expect. If Summit had given Slade free rein and adapted the source material a little more radically, this might have been the Prisoner of Azkaban moment of the series. They didn't, so it's difficult to know who to recommend it to. It's not good enough to get skeptics to go back and endure the first two, and the fans will be going to see this one anyway. For what it is, it's a lot more ambitious than it needs to be, and there's little doubt in my mind that this will be seen as the best of the series when it finally ends.

Eclipse is showing in cinemas nationwide from July 9th.
If and when you see Eclipse, why not share your comments on the film and/or my review below? If you think a semi-positive review is justification to go back and check out the first two films, it's really not.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Mark said...

On the other hand, this film does kill people...