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“Eclipse” easily the best “Twilight” film, for what that’s worth

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com:The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (**1/2 out of 4)
Some interesting parallels exist between the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” film franchises.

Of course, both started as beloved, and best-selling, literary series that dabbled in the supernatural or the occult. Movie adaptations were inevitable, and each series retained its acting core as they transitioned from page to screen. Also the film franchises have retained the same screenwriter (Melissa Rosenberg for “Twilight,” Steve Kloves for most “Potter” films) while substituting directors at regular intervals.

The main difference between the series, so far as I’m concerned, is that the “Potter” films have been joyous, harrowing, emotionally stimulating, character-driven, special-effects-laden masterpieces, while the “Twilight” movies, to date, have sucked. Hard. Catherine Hardwicke’s original, humdrum teen romance was as dreary as its Pacific Northwest setting, as colorless as the pale-skinned Cullen clan, and as stiff as a corpse. Chris Weitz took over for “New Moon” and breathed some life into Stephenie Meyer’s prose — which remains far too reliant on schoolgirl gushings and pained, chaste vows of vampiric celibacy — but still delivered a largely unwatchable product.

So forget Team Edward and screw Team Jacob. I’m throwing my weight behind Team David Slade. The latest director to join the “Twilight” fold, Slade taps into past experiences with both undead creatures (“30 Days of Night”) and horny teens (“Hard Candy”) to lend “Eclipse” a mature bite that has been missing from Meyer’s cinematic soap opera. This is the first “Twilight” installment to feel like a legitimate movie, and not the visualization of a smitten teen girl’s diary pages. Undoubtedly, it is the best film in the series, though that’s the equivalent of declaring Moe to be the sharpest Stooge.

“Twilight” fans will have to help me here. Was “Eclipse” the better of Meyer’s books? Did Slade simply luck into a meatier plot? Or did he actively choose to simmer the overwrought teen drama, tone down the laughable “Dungeons and Dragons” antics of the Abercrombie-fierce Volturi, and crank up the terrifying threat of raven-haired Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her newly recruited vampire weapon, Riley Biers (Xavier Samuel)? For once, there’s something more at stake in the “Twilight” universe than the fragile bond between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), and “Eclipse” benefits from the increased dramatic tensions.

That’s not to say our emo love triangle takes a back seat, as many of you who’ve read the book already know. Jacob spends most of “Eclipse” trying to convince Bella to abandon Team Edward, though she remains committed to marrying the age-old vamp so that he can “change” her once she’s graduated. Edward, meanwhile, swears he’ll do what’s best for Bella, confessing — in a surprisingly effective tent confrontation — that he has considered whether Jacob is a better option for his true love.

Sacrifice seems to be the overriding theme of “Eclipse.” Meyer’s one-note characters contemplate the consequences of their decisions, and bear the emotional burdens of their forfeitures. Slade emphasizes the eternity of a vampire’s life by illustrating, in detailed historic flashback, how key Cullen characters Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed) were “changed” against their will. Later, in a well-edited scene, Bella absorbs classmate Jessica’s (Anna Kendrick) valedictorian speech about not deciding one’s future at such a young age. Doubt continues to creep in whenever shirtless Jacob — and his promise of an alternate, human life — is around. The irony of “Eclipse” is that, according to “Twilight” legend, Lautner had to lobby hard for the role of Jacob after producers feared he couldn’t carry the inevitable maturations of the pivotal character. That’s a joke. From an acting standpoint, Lautner’s the strongest of the bunch.

But Edward makes his case, as well, and diehards will swoon once Pattinson and Stewart argue over the virtues of her unblemished soul and an engagement ring is exchanged. Slade has to pander to his Teen Beat ticket purchasers, so there’s just enough strained, adolescent romance to keep crowds hooked. Yet even here, the director can’t resist paralleling Bella and Edward’s nobly honest bond with the deceitful partnership forged between Victoria and Riley, who is being manipulated for vengeful purposes. That we’re even able to point to such a clever analogy demonstrates how the self-proclaimed “Twilight” saga has grown leaps and bounds since launching in 2008. Having seen what a legitimate horror director like Slade can bring to the franchise, I’m convinced Bill Condon is the absolute wrong choice to helm the two-part “Breaking Dawn.” But I can honestly say that after “Eclipse,” I’m interested to see how this story concludes. Bring on vampire baby Renesmee!

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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  • June 29, 2010 | Permalink |

    Obviously, the thousand upon thousands of fans feel differently, so may you think your a little close minded? If this movie sucked so bad, we as the fans wouldn’t get thrilled to see it, not because “hot guys” or whatever, but because of the excitement and the beautiful love story. Don’t be rude, because I guarantee for every “REVIEW” you post like this, there are thousands of fan that would squish your ideas like an ant. A movie is about making someone happy and entertained, mission accomplished for many people, isn’t that enough?

  • June 29, 2010 | Permalink |

    But, but, but … I actually gave it a positive grade! Why the hate?

  • June 29, 2010 | Permalink |

    I’ve read the books. And despite a weak heroine and too much teenage melodrama, I liked the books. But the first movie was bad, and the second was worse than bad: it was positively, mind-numbingly boring.

    Couldn’t you have given this a worse review? Why, why did you have to tell me it was better than “New Moon”? Could you not just have left well enough alone so I didn’t have to contemplate seeing one of these eye and ear sores again? >;)

  • September 15, 2010 | Permalink |

    twilight books and movies deal only with love, love and more love……harry potter series deals with everything that surrounds a teen’s life, all mixed with some magic, and wizardry…..though i feel film adaptations of harry potter could hav been better……twilight films are as slow, and dumb as the books….but the actors chosen to portray the characters in twilight are better than the ones chosen in harry potter….

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