Monday, July 12, 2010


Stephenie Meyers and the people producing the cinematic adaptations of her supernatural “Twilight” novels know how to stretch a good thing out. Happily, the elasticity in this interspecies romance franchise hasn’t frayed over the last two blockbuster films. The outstanding third installment, “30 Days of Night” director David Slade’s “Eclipse” (**** out of ****) literally eclipses both “Twilight” and “New Moon” with more action that either predecessor boasted. Not only do the pugnacious werewolves look more realistic, but also “Twilight” scenarist Melissa Rosenberg has intensified the competition in the three-way romance between Bella and her two jealous suitors Edward and Jacob. Indeed, Edward and Jacob have at least two substantial, well-written scenes where they analyze their behavior toward each other in light of Bella. They engage in verbal jousting matches without striking each other. Mind you, the narrative remains somewhat predictable. Bella still yearns to be a vampire, while Edward staunchly opposes her obsession. Basically, the action focuses on unfinished business. When Edward isn’t trying to dissuade Bella from becoming a vampire, Jacob struggles to convince our heroine that she really loves him. Jacob argues that nothing serious will change if she chooses him instead of Edward. Some of the narrative threads left over from “Twilight” that were partially tied up in “New Moon” are sewn up in "Eclipse." The wicked Victoria has been biding her time to exact sweet revenge on Edward for destroying her vampire lover James. Further, the Volturi lurk on the fringe of the mayhem with malice aforethought.

“Eclipse” opens in Seattle where twentysomething Forks’ native Riley Biers (Xavier Samuels of “Road Kill”) leaves a nightspot after dark during a light downpour. Without warning or provocation, an unseen assailant assaults him in a lonely alley. No matter what Riley does, the poor fellow cannot elude his attacker. Indeed, we can see little more than Riley, just a blur of something menacing him. On the docks, the mysterious aggressor slashes at Riley’s hand, and Riley winds up on his face writhing in agony. “Eclipse” gets off to a grim start, but things lighten up as the scene shifts to Forks in a remote meadow where Bella and Edward are discussing matters of the heart. Interestingly, the film concludes with them back in the same meadow as a prelude to the last “Twilight” movie “Breaking Dawn.” Meanwhile, Bella’s father, Forks County Sheriff Charlie (Billy Burke of “Jane Austen's Mafia!”), doesn’t have a clue about Edward and Bella’s relationship. He knows that they are an item, but he doesn’t know that Edward is a vampire. Basically, Charlie would prefer Bella to see somebody other than Edward and urges her to visit Jacob. Naturally, Edward abhors every second that Bella spends with Jacob. Edward assures Bella that he trusts her, but Edward puts no trust in Jacob.

Meanwhile, clairvoyant vampire Alice (Ashley Greene of “King of California”) has a vision about the turmoil in Seattle. She cannot put her finger on who is fomenting the trouble. Eventually, the Cullens learn that an army of newborn vampires is being assembled in Seattle, but they don’t know who is supervising this army. After a time, they learn that Forks’ native Riley Biers, who has been reported as missing, may be at the core of the problem. Predictably, Edward tries to shield Bella from the truth, but he doesn’t get any help from Jacob. Earlier, Edward and Bella flew to Florida so she could spend time with her mom. During their absence, the vampires fractured the treaty with the Indians. They were pursuing fleet-footed, gravity-defying, high-jumping Victoria through the forest when she hurls herself across a stream into werewolf country. Emmett Cullen (Kellan Lutz of “Accepted”) finds himself face-to-face with a snarling werewolf while Victoria gives both of them the slip. Not surprisingly, Jacob is appalled that Edward hasn’t informed Bella about the incident or that it involved red-haired Victoria. Essentially, Jacob and his tribe enter the fight when they learn that vampires may storm the county. Of course, neither the newborns nor the Volturi know anything about Jacob and his shape-shifting werewolves.

The violence in “Eclipse” is quite stylized. When the vampires attack each other, they look like they are playing a game of old-fashioned football where the goal is to batter the opponents more than score a touchdown. The fatal blows that are delivered make it look like our heroes are smashing live-action statues. Not only do the vampires refrain from baring their fangs, but also blood and gore is confined within the limits of a PG-13 rating. You’d have to be hopelessly squeamish to have nightmares as a result of the action sequences. According to Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli of “Supernova”), these ‘newborn’ vampires pose a threat because they possess greater strength than either the Cullens or any other vampire. The reason is that the newborns still have some of their own human blood swirling in their systems. The newborns live to the hilt of their existence, and they have a difficult time keeping a low profile. If you remember “New Moon,” you will remember that the law of the Volturi, the Supreme Count of Vampires, condemns any fangster who calls attention to himself individually or collectively their breed. The ‘newborns’ have lost all sense of control. Jasper Whitlock (Harpo Marx look-alike Jackson Rathbone of “S. Darko”) coaches the Cullen family about how to defeat newborns. Never let them get their hands around you, Jasper warns, and never make an obvious move.

The thing that holds this gothic melodrama together so well is the theme of change. “Eclipse” examines Bella's decision to renounce human life in favor of vampire life and the various opinions that the Cullen clan as well as Jacob offer about her dilemma. Like previous “Twilight” directors, David Slade seems to know when to let the drama dominate and the violence bristle. Nevertheless, Slade also knows when to insert humor that lightens the mood without undercutting the melodrama. Moreover, “Eclipse” provides a glimpse into the lives of Jasper and Rosalie and how they became vampires. The high school graduation speech that Jessica Stanley (Anna Kendrick of “Up In the Air”) delivers is refreshingly different. “New Moon” lenser Javier Aguirresarobe encores as director of photography, and he creates a palate of moody colors that reflect the tension and the atmosphere. He also captures the stunning pictorial beauty of the surroundings as well as the luminous cast with his widescreen compositions. In short, “Eclipse” qualifies as a grand looking movie. If you loved “Twilight” and “New Moon,” you should crave “Eclipse.”

No comments: