Starring Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson
My rating: ★★1/2 stars
Weaknesses in screenplay and direction stymie success of third movie in Twilight Saga, but stunning visuals, well-choreographed action, and a renewed focus on the Cullens elevate it.
Eclipse displays many of the same problems that its predecessor, New Moon, did—uneven direction, awkwardness in the emotion-driven scenes, some inept dialogue, too much Jacob Black—but what makes it better is the return of Edward and the rest of the Cullens to the forefront of the story. There’s still too much Jacob Black in the source material to allow for a completely successful movie, but the reemergence of more interesting characters to prominence helps greatly.
The film works best in moments. The flashbacks that reveal the origin stories of Edward’s siblings Rosalie and Jasper are highlights. Nikki Reed and Jackson Rathbone are never better in the franchise.
Furthermore, the fight scenes and visual moments are stunning. The aerial shots of the North Shore Mountains are some of the most beautiful mountain shots put to film. The image of the army of newborn vampires rising up out of Puget Sound is hauntingly classic. The fight choreography, direction, and editing make the scenes exciting while never losing track of what is going on, as too many recent battle scenes do. The fight theme, by Howard Shore, is particularly effective.
But the film never comes together in any kind of coherent whole. The major plots—of Bella preparing to become a vampire, of Edward trying to talk her out of it, of Bella confronting her feelings toward Jacob, of Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, a successful recast from Rachelle LeFevre) creating a vampire army to destroy Bella in retaliation for Edward’s killing of her mate—none of these has much resonance. It’s more a collection of scenes, some of which work, some of which fail miserably.
A curious thing happens in a scene near the beginning of the movie. Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her mother (Sarah Clarke) have been having a discussion about Bella’s love life, with dialogue lifted practically verbatim from the pages of Stephenie Meyer’s source novel. Then, the scene changes. Bella’s mother gives her a gift of a quilt. This part is entirely new, not appearing in the source novel, and the characters seem to come to life, as if only freed from the restrictions of the source novel can they finally breathe. The screenplay takes few risks in deviating from the source material, and some of the film’s best scenes (the flashbacks) are taken directly from the novel. However, one has to wonder if the film would have been improved by greater deviation from the source material.
That’s not to say that all the film’s departures from the novel are improvements. One addition to the film is painfully dull and hackneyed. A movie and TV moratorium should be placed on high school valedictory addresses that comment unsubtly on the main narrative and its themes. Nothing in Jessica’s speech adds to viewers’ understanding of the film, nor does it have anything interesting to add about the concept of choice that pervades the narrative. Furthermore, it’s about as entertaining as being hit on the head with a hammer. It’s such a failure that not even Anna Kendrick, one of the series’ more reliable actors, can do anything to elevate it above cinematic train wreck. I have to wonder why Jessica was the one the filmmakers chose to give the speech, which does not appear in the original novel. Jessica has never been presented as more than an average student, and, in the novels at least, the Cullens are presented as academic stars. Were the filmmakers contractually obligated to give Kendrick a certain number of lines? Were they trying to capitalize on her recent Oscar nomination?
While I believe critics of Robert Pattinson’s and Kristen Stewart’s performances have generally been too harsh—neither of them are that bad and, together, they’re very effective—Stewart gives an oddly lifeless performance in this film. Perhaps, she was overworked. Perhaps, she did not respond well to the new director, David Slade. But something was off this time around.
Unfortunately, a new director has not improved Taylor Lautner’s performance. He still provides more than his share of cringe-worthy moments. In one scene, taken directly from the novel, Jacob visits Bella and Edward at school to check on Bella’s biotic status. In the novel, other students give Jacob a wide berth, and Bella realizes that it’s because Jacob looks “dangerous.” Now, Lautner does not have Jacob’s 6’7″, 250+ pound physique to work with, but his attempts to look menacing are, sadly, laughable.
Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and director David Slade must take the lion’s share of the blame for the film’s shortcomings. The screenplay, like those of the rest of the series, seems like a draft. It lacks polish. Too many lines and scenes just don’t work. The overall structure lacks tightness. Slade’s direction is uneven. Like his predecessor, Chris Weitz, he shows a deft hand with the action scenes but leaves us with a sense of discomfort with the intimate, emotional ones. However, the next film in the series, Breaking Dawn, Part 1, will show what a difference a good director can make.