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I didn't hate this movie.
I know that's a hell of a way to start a review, but the truth is, I really expected to. In fact, I kind of wanted to dislike it. Sometimes we pre-decide whether we like something, and we don't want to admit it to ourselves. Case in point: once I argued with a woman whether a certain piece qualified as horror. I think it was THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. She postulated it wasn't horror while I maintained the position that it was an archetypical horror piece. This went back and forth for some time, until I finally said, "What's your reasoning for it not being horror?"
Wait for it.
Her response? "Because I hate horror, but I like this."
Well, you can't argue with that.
But SILENCE is still horror. Look for its review elsewhere on this site if you don't believe me. QED.
My point is that my opponent had made her decision about horror before seeing everything the genre had to offer. I'd made my decision about the TWILIGHT series in much the same way, being a staunch member of the "Vampires Burn" crowd.
So I get dragged to see ECLIPSE (that's my story, and I'm sticking with it), and just a few minutes into the movie, I'm interested.
Now let me state here, for the record, that I can talk about the TWILIGHT books from a position of absolutely no authority. Haven't read them at all.
But Eclipse has a good plot; you don't need to know the rest of the story to get this. Whatever is missing, the characters fill you in – and this is hard to do well in dialogue. ECLIPSE pulls it off. I assume you know the basic story. Bella cannot decide between vampire love Edward and werewolf suitor Jacob. Edward and Bella have been forced to decide that Bella will become a vampire by a definite date by the ruling body of vampires headed by child vamp Jane (Dakota Fanning: CORALINE, PUSH).
The movie begins with a young man being hunted on a dark, wet night. He is chased, and finally attacked and turned. The scene then moves to Bella (Kristen Stewart: TWILIGHT, NEW MOON) and Edward (Robert Pattinson: TWILIGHT, NEW MOON) talking in a field of flowers. Edward is heavily made up so he doesn't sparkle (much), and they are discussing the future. Bella will be turned shortly after graduation. Edward doesn't want her turned and he doesn't want to do the job himself, because people lose so much when they exchange their humanity for immortality and bloodlust. He remembers all too well, but will turn her if he can't change her mind.
When she gets home, her father (Billy Burke: KOMODO, ALONG CAME A SPIDER, FRACTURE) expresses his interest in having her spend more time with Jacob (Taylor Lautner: SHADOW FURY, NEW MOON), who is "going through a rough time." He's made it clear he dislikes Edward, and wants to have Bella spend more time with other friends. She agrees, and leaves several messages.
In the meantime, Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard: TERMINATOR: SALVATION, LADY IN THE WATER) appears, a redheaded vampire who wants nothing more than to see Bella dead because Edward killed her mate and she wants him to feel what she feels. She runs through the territory belonging to the Cullens, Edward's vampire clan. They chase her and nearly catch her, but she escapes to werewolf territory, and the wolves warn the vampires away, apparently unaware of Victoria's presence.
Rumors of "something big" have been looming in Seattle, and we later discover that someone is raising an army of superstrong "newborn" vampires to invade Cullen territory. Almost against their will, Edward and the Cullens and Jacob and the werewolves agree to work together to get rid of them – since Bella seems to be at the heart of the threat and both Edward and Jacob love her.
The two groups work together to prepare against the threat, which comes to a head just at the time that the Edward and Jacob come to a confrontation and must decide where their primary loyalties lie, to the group or to Bella herself.
There are a few flashbacks that take away from the story as a single movie, but add to the story as a whole. We get back stories for Jasper and Maria, and it's good to see it because it has a place in the overarching story, and it explains why Jasper knows so much about newborn vamps and how Bella figures out that Victoria is behind the birth of the newborn army. Still, I felt it interrupted the forward motion of this story and I have to take points away for that. A little more on the acting in the flashback later.
The basic story holds together well, and the director, David Slade (HARD CANDY, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT), has coaxed good performances out of all the major players. I expected wooden performances and I got a pleasant surprise. I found Stewart and Lautner completely believable in this one. Although I'm afraid Pattinson didn't do quite as well. Every time I see him, I think, "Oh, it's Pattinson playing so-and-so or Pattinson as thus-and-such." I don't quite believe him in this part at all times.
I absolutely loved the werewolves. They completely embodied the phrase "bad ass." The fight scenes were riveting, and I found myself rooting for them. When I get lost in a movie, that's a good sign. Two nits with the wolves, however. First was the fact that I noticed at times – not always, but at times – that they were CGI. When your CGI shows, you need to go back to the lab.
My other problem with the wolves is that they were too big. That's right. I can always believe shapeshifters, because they're fantasy. If, and only if the body mass is roughly the same. You can't hide or produce mass from nowhere but these wolves are the size of Percherons. These two-hundred-pound boys are not going to morph into twelve-hundred-pound masses of muscle and sinew. Where does it come from? Magic, okay. But make your magic believable. That audible twang heard in the movie theater was my suspension of disbelief.
I wanted the wolves to be a little smaller. Just a bit.
Having said that, seeing one of those big beasts bite a vampire in half was really cool, and brought out the geeky little kid in me. Tradeoffs, I guess.
One last thing. As a vampire author myself, I don't understand why newborn vampires are stronger than regular vampires. They provide an explanation, but I'm just not sure I buy it: that newborns still have their original human blood for six or seven months, and that makes them better, stronger and faster. Maybe. I suppose if vamps can sparkle, they can get weaker as time goes by. It's just counter-intuitive. As long as the movies and books in the story follow the same consistency, it's okay by me, I guess. It just, once again, kicked me out of the story and I wonder why it was done that way.
Two actors that stole the show were, first, Dakota Fanning, as she does in everything she's in, adds a breath of fresh air in this movie. She is deliciously uncaring and evil and every moment she's onscreen, she makes me want to wring my hands and proclaim myself evil. Eviilll!
The second was Jackson Rathbone (PRAY FOR MORNING, TWILIGHT, S. DARKO, DREAD, HURT) as Jasper. He wasn't quite as good as Dakota, but he projected a "cool" I would have liked to have emulated at his age. I loved the actor's work here and the character's backstory.
In summary: points for hiring a horror director to direct this horror movie, and for hiring some awesome actors to play supporting characters. I have to take away points for lengthy – if interesting – flashbacks.
Skeptics and guys: this is the strongest entry in the series so far, and there are moments for you as well as for your girlfriends. The balance between action and romance works for this movie, and It's okay for you to go and actually enjoy it.
So I'm not completely lost to (cue dark music) the TWILIGHT SAGA. There's little danger of my becoming a Twihard any time soon. But I'm now semi-fluent in Twispeak and can talk to my niece, who loves the series the way I love Star Trek. And that's okay.
So four shriek girls, and that's high praise from me.
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