The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Bella and Edward need to get a room already in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

Let's just cut to the chase: the Twilight saga isn't intended for me. I'm a grown man, obviously not in a position to relate to Stephenie Meyer's teen romance. For this reason, I've observed the film adaptations of her novels with a mixture of amusement and ambivalence. It would probably be more of the former and less of the latter if not for the constant proclamations by ardent fans that it's the Greatest Thing Ever. (Not to mention those super-creepy “Twi-Moms.”) So now we're up to the third film, Eclipse, which brings in Hard Candy director David Slade to take over the production. I love the fact that the man who made a film about a teen girl overtaking and torturing a sexual predator is now helming a Twilight flick. There's an idea I can get behind.

In this installment, the evil Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over for Rachelle Lefevre) has formed a vampire army to hunt and kill Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart). Bella's vamp boyfriend, Edward (Robert Pattinson), organizes an army of his own to fend Victoria off. He enlists his own family, of course, but also a local clan of werewolves. Doing this means that he has to temporarily join forces with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a rival suitor for Bella's affections.

We also get some back story on several of the characters, finding out how Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed) became vampires. The werewolf clan's history is also explored in a little more detail.

I won't waste any more time describing plot, because if you've read the books, you already know what happens, and if you haven't, it's not likely that you really care all that much. The real question here is whether or not Eclipse is any good. To the legions of devoted fans, it hardly matters; they'll get exactly what they want from it. (Say what you will, the series knows its audience.) To outsiders, there's a certain perverse fascination I've noticed. People who wouldn't necessarily pay to see a Twilight picture are nevertheless curious what non Twi-hards think.

I'll start by saying a few good things. The acting has improved considerably. Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner evolve their characters nicely and are visibly more comfortable in their roles. Robert Pattinson and Jackson Rathbone tie for Most Improved Performers. Neither will give Robert DeNiro a run for his money in the acting department, but they don't seem as awkward on screen as they did in the first two installments. I also like the scenes that provide background on the characters; finally, some things in this tale are starting to make sense. And, as always, the alt-rock soundtrack is first rate.

I must also give credit to David Slade for bringing a bit of edge to the picture. He establishes a strong visual style (something that was sorely missing from New Moon), coupled with a solid pace. Best of all, he handles the action scenes with skill. In the last half hour, there is a war between Victoria's army and the Cullen/werewolf army that has great special effects and terrific fighting. For a little while, I got really absorbed in what was going on, because the saga suddenly came to life. Slade was a good choice of director; he brings tension to the more action-oriented parts of the tale.

Having said all these nice things, I must be honest and report that Eclipse is still too mopey and self-serious for my taste. The Edward/Bella/Jacob love triangle has never felt authentic. That problem is compounded here by the plot's insistence on keeping it going, even when it feels forced. There are many scenes in which a shirtless Jacob shows up and is required to cuddle with Bella, “for her protection.” Each time, she lovingly strokes his chest. It becomes comical after a while. Yes, the screenplay tries to be self-referential - “Doesn't he have a shirt?” Edward asks at one point – but there's still no denying that the triangle doesn't seem natural. We all know that Bella really loves Edward, so the scenes that try to force her into Jacob's arms come across as manipulative.

While there's less of Bella's infernal swooning this time around, enough of it remains to wear down the non-fanatics. This romantic triangle is so artificially intense that it kept me emotionally at a distance. I know that Stephenie Meyer was trying to sell teen girls a story of Eternal Love and Deep Passion, but we're dealing with a heroine who's in love with both a werewolf and a vampire. Couldn't all of the characters lighten up just a little? Must every small detail seem like life or death to them?

I enjoyed Eclipse about as much as someone outside the target audience can, but that still isn't enough to merit an outright recommendation. It's certainly the best of the three movies so far. It's also made for a very specific audience, which I do not fit into. This is the third installment, and if I'm not buying the romance at the center of the saga by this point, I probably never will.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality. The running time is 2 hours and 4 minutes.