Twilight: Eclipse

The Twilight series marks time in Eclipse, a static, lead-swinging installment in the teenage vampire melodrama, which sees David Slade become the third director in as many films to steer Stephanie Myers’ tiresome, toothless saga to the screen.

We enter the story at the point where the last film, an even more glacially-paced and moody non-event, ended. Bella (Kirsten Stewart) and her bloodsucking beau Edward (Robert Pattinson) have been reunited, much to the chagrin of the Native American third wheel Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Confused Bella is torn between her two admirers; undead Edward, with his sparkly skin and flashing yellow eyes, and hot-blooded Jacob, who can transform into a virile, hairy werewolf on demand. As Bella hums and haws, an old threat returns in the form of redheaded outlaw vampire Victoria (Byrce Dallas Howard, replacing Rachelle Lefevre). Victoria is breeding an army of dangerous young vampires to avenge the death of her beloved at the hands of Bella and the Cullen clan.

The narrative, stretched to exhaustion across two long hours, is composed of almost nothing but flip-flops. Bella loves Edward, Bella loves Jacob. No, Edward. No, Jacob. In a rare moment of insight, Bella complains about being “frozen” in her life, unable to “move forward”. The same can be said for everyone else in this deadening parade. The geologically-timed pacing reveals tiny slivers of narrative progression, cutaways to the teenage runaways gathering for their assault and the vampires joining with their sworn enemies, the werewolves, to defeat them. There is never a moment when you think this battle might be lost, or a single strand of tension to connect this stiffly choreographed mayhem to the central story.

Bella’s notions of womanhood are so unnaturally retroactive, she might as well be mooning over Mickey Rooney in an Andy Hardy melodrama from the 1940s. Arriving at her 18th birthday, her sole ambition is to find a man who will solve all of her problems. She has found two, and must decide between them, the courtly vampire or the wild wolf. And that’s about all she has to do. There is a little chatter about exams and college but her star is set early on. Bella might be faced with a choice, but she doesn’t have any options.

Stewart’s performance is built entirely on her ability to bite her lip, flick her eyes and mope. She never relaxes, which I suppose is difficult when surrounded by fiends and monsters but she might at least be relaxed about being anxious. Stewart can act, she was good in Adventureland and great in a cameo in Into The Wild, but Bella’s character allows her nothing but fidgety stasis. It’s a vacuous kind of vacuum, too, with Bella repeating the phrase, “that’s so pretty”, to three different items presented to her over the course of the film.

Opposite her, Pattinson is consistently outperformed by his haircut. He is as wooden as a garden shed. As the elemental, shape shifting werewolf, Lautner shows he is better than either of them, particularly in scenes he shares with his family of mystical moon-howlers, but he can’t save the film on his own.

The fey sparkly theatrics are played down this time, the limp action sequences allowing for fewer emotional crescendos. The special effects work is understandably bloodless, given the 12A certificate, but the digital animation and scenic work is nowhere near as accomplished or eye-catching as work available in, say, The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, both originated almost a decade ago. This lag may be due to the filmmaker’s belief that their target audience of young teenage girls are not as visually savvy as their counterparts among the boys, but I suspect it is because it is cheaper not to bother.

Twilight has been sold on sight to a ravenous audience who don’t care that they are being short changed. Even so, the film should look and sound better than it does. The effects work is the equivalent of reasonably accomplished television and the soundtrack of bed-wetting emo rock is no substitute for an original score. The cheap look of the film is galling given that the franchise has banked considerable box-office returns and doubly so, since the pancake makeup, Weetabix wigs and wobbly CGI go some way towards disrupting the fantasy.

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