TWIHARD Part IV - Total Eclipse Of The Heart

Eclipse poster

As a companion piece to The Black Dog Podcast Twihard marathon (episodes #62 to #64), I too took up the challenge to watch all three Twilight movies...

So then, while I had gone into New Moon feeling fairly positive, after that dragging, and to be honest, fairly tedious flick, it was with a heavy heart that I slapped Eclipse into the player. And after New Moon the various claims bandied around that the franchise improves with each instalment did not so much as ring hollow but sounded like the cracking chimes of doom.

Nor did I gain much comfort from knowing that in the director’s chair this time around was David Slade. Yes he’d made a big splash with his debut Hard Candy and followed it up with 30 Days of Night, one of the better vampire films to emerge in recent years. Just as I could understand why Hardwicke seemed as a safe pair of hands to bring Stephenie Meyer’s novel to the screen, in giving the reins of Eclipse to Slade it seemed like Summit Entertainment were keen to have a director onboard with a proven track record for handling horror, something that this franchise dealing with creatures of the night had been oddly lacking so far.

But then on the other hand, I had been impressed by previous flicks by Catherine Hardwicke, but we all know how well Twilight turned out, and while I’d still defend that movie as not being as bad as it’s made out to be, it still falls far short of Lords of Dogtown. Would the same fate befall Mr Slade’s entry in the Twilight Saga?

Most troubling of all though was that that this instalment of the saga of Bella and Edward rocked up to the theatres less than six months after its predecessor. Now that’s one hell of a production schedule for an el cheapo Z-grade slasher sequel never mind a healthily budgeted blockbuster franchise. And while I could appreciate that shooting had begun a little before the release of New Moon, the fact it still seems like this sequel appeared awfully fast. Were Paramount and Summit rush releasing these films because they feared that their target audience would be growing up faster than they could make them? It certainly looks that way which doesn’t foster much hope for the quality of Eclipse or indeed the supposed deep reverence for the source material that their publicity department bangs on about at every given opportunity. Because if they are rushing these films to market before the bubble bursts, either it shows a contempt for their core audience or a lack of belief in the merits of Meyer’s novels. And in the spirit of compare and contrast, it should be noted that Warners Bros. have no such worries about Harry Potter – they have frequently delayed releases and many of the children that comprised audience for their first adaptation are now old enough to have kids of their own. So whichever way you cut it, it doesn’t reflect well.

Further signs of this production being the product of undue haste arise when one consults the cast list. Recurring villain Victoria in this outing is played by Bryce Dallas Howard as apparently Rachelle Lefevre, who had played the role in the first movies, was unable to sign on due to alleged scheduling difficulties. I say “alleged”, because Ms. Lefevre was none to pleased by the decision. As she notes here, there was an overlap of ten days between her commitments, but for a supporting character to be unavailable for just over a week in a three month shoot surely wouldn’t be that much of a problem. Well, unless you are Summit Entertainment who apparently thinks that the entire fanbase is going to disintegrate into dust overnight… Deep respect for the source material and its fans my eye!

If you recast your series’ villain just to rush your property into the theatres, then it’s fairly clear that you see this as a fad, a bubble that is going to imminently pop, and furthermore you think your audience is too vapid to care about the casting change. Whether you love or loathe the Twilight saga, if you’ve ever been a fan of anything this sort of needlessly hasty recasting seems to signify a shoddy attitude towards the material.

Although in all fairness, the upside of this cynically swift production meant that Chris Weitz was replaced with David Slade. Indeed after the plodding endurance test that was New Moon, if Weitz was back in the director’s chair for this third outing I may well have abandoned this entire review project. And thankfully Slade is a vast improvement on his predecessors.

To begin with, this is easily the best looking Twilight movie so far. After Hardwicke’s too blue opening feature, Weitz’s too golden sequel, Slade finally gets the colour balance just right, cooking up the Baby Bear porridge of chromatic scales. The locations of Eclipse looks believably overcast enough for vampires to thrive but there’s enough incidental colour to avoid the overly washed out look to irritated many in the first movie.

>Secondly Slade is equally at home with both the emotional and action content, unlike Hardwicke who had the dramatic chops but couldn’t seem to handle the SFX sequences or Weitz who could grasp neither. Here we have a movie that, at last gets closer to the right balance, doing justice to both the romantic and the horror tropes. Obviously he has an advantage here with the particular novel he is bringing to the screen, which sees the storyline picking up its pace. But even so, any director worth their salt should be able to inject some dynamism into the most low-key of scenes.

But for all the flourishes and flair Slade brings to the Twilight table, Eclipse still isn’t as satisfying as a film as it should be. While Slade pulls out all the stops, the script sadly still tends to stroll where it should be loping. Now this is a problem all three movies have had and one which can be firmly laid at the door to Melissa Rosenberg who drafted all three screenplays. While I appreciate the effort to remain faithful to the source material, there are clearly pacing problems with the versions up there on the screen. Now I’ve not read Meyer’s original novels and therefore I can’t comment on their structural qualities, but I do wonder whether some creative editing was needed to bring these books to the screen; some reshuffling of the timelines akin to what Peter Jackson did with Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers in particular.

Admittedly Eclipse doesn’t dawdle across the screen as like an empty headed clothes horse like New Moon did but it doesn’t feel as quite as exciting as a movie about vampire and werewolves should be, nor does the love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob crackle with all the emotional energy it should. And in fairness to Slade, I think a large factor in not quite exploiting the potential for action and drama in this chapter is that he is coming in at the third instalment and his style simply doesn’t match the preceding films. And more to the point, the thrust of the narrative has been completely lost as each movie has had a different look, tone and directorial approach and these differences prevent the story line building up any head of steam. When the first two entries in the franchise had both missed their marks, it’s near impossible for any director, no matter how talented, to deliver a rousing third part as the foundations for ramping up the action just aren’t solid enough. Eclipse may be the best house constructed for the Twilight saga so far but unfortunately it’s been built upon shifting sands.

Now throughout this marathon I’ve argued that, contrary to popular opinion, Twilight having a romantic focus, or even that its vampires sparkle, isn’t the problem. And I would still assert that all three films are nowhere as bad as they are painted in certain vociferous quarters. And although admittedly the mediocrity of New Moon comes close to the realm of truly awful film-making, I’d still argue that both Twilight and Eclipse have their merits. But the trouble is they don’t match up – Hardwicke’s film looks and feels like an indie offering whereas Slade delivers a movie with all the traits of a typical fantasy blockbuster.

And I don’t necessarily blame either director for this – ironically for a paranormal romance series, the trouble with the Twilight saga is the heartless way Summit and Paramount have constructed the franchise, cynically rushing them out to milk the faithful and chopping and changing the approach at every turn. Admittedly in the history of genre cinema, we’ve seen various franchises mutate in different ways between instalments but usually this is due to the makers tacking on sequel after sequel without any plan of where the overall story is going.

However in the case of Twilight, all the sequels were already there as novels, and so to deliver three movies that are so inconsistent in their tone and focus smacks of laziness if not outright contempt in their attitude to bringing Meyer’s novels to the screen. And even if the haters are right and the novels are badly written bobbins, the concepts could still be made into a rewarding and enthralling film saga.

However Summit seemingly care little for consistency and their approach to adapting Meyer’s series of novels reminds me of an inept vampire hunter jabbing away at a fresh disinterred corpse and managing to hammer the stake in anywhere but the heart, resulting a bloody mess full of holes. Frankly this story deserves better, and furthermore I sincerely believe that the fans of the Twilight saga deserve better too.

Earlier parts of this saga can be found here I , II and III. And don’t forget, you can hear The Black Dog podcast marathon that inspired these articles here

JIM MOON, 15th April 2011