It all starts... with a choice -
- again to turn a formerly political blog into a movie review one: yes, Eclipse is out, yes, I saw it at its opening at midnight a couple of nights ago, yes, I saw it again alone yesterday, and yes, I'm going to talk about it herein.
First let me say that Roger Ebert is a big whiner. His review, which I saw described elsewhere as having "richly" detailed the plot of the entire Twilight series, was full of - let's call it "baloney": it was so rife with misstatements and chortling over his and his audience's sophistication (of course as contrasted with the Twilight girls' silly naivete) that it was hard for me to read seriously.
Because that, I think, is where you have to start with these movies: in order to do justice to the experience of those same Twilight girls, of whom I represent a piece of the upper end of the bell curve, the movies have to be in earnest. There's plenty of room for teenage repartee, but the object of the game is suspension of disbelief - Bella really is, for some reason, the target of deadly supernatural forces; she really is the love of Edward's, um, existence; she really does have to choose between Edward's overprotective, jealous, but very sincere adoration and Jacob's more normal plane of devotion.
Or, as the Eclipse screenplay makes clear to the relief of moms of tweens and romantic teens everywhere, she has to choose between who she ought to (implied: "wishes she could") be and who she is. Finally, an attempt to explain why she sticks with the vampire! Melissa Whosis (sorry, I don't google before my first cup of coffee), who wrote the screenplay, either on her own or by direction gives Bella one speech in which she explains that since discovering that the vampires' "world" exists, she's been more comfortable, more self-actualized if you will, whenever she's been in or interacting with that world than she ever was while "literally stumbling through [her] life." Great move! I've been Team Edward all along, but - more on this point later - it's awfully nice to have a reason for it beyond, "He's smokin'!" (Especially since young Taylor Lautner has now just about achieved parity in that regard, much as it oogs me out to admit it.)
All righty then: this is the best of the Twilight franchise. Partly that distinction was handed to it on a platter, because of the books, Eclipse is also the best - most "happening" plot, best character interactions, best theme to move it along. But it's also an earned distinction, as the secondary characters have a chance in Eclipse to do something - one scene in which Jasper tells the story of his bloody life before becoming a Cullen finally gives Jackson Rathbone something worthwhile to say, and he and Ashley Greene/Alice have a nice little moment at its end, for instance. Rosalie finally gets a backstory for why she's so darn mad all the time (that's in the book, but Nikki Reed does a good job with it). The Lesser Wolves, for lack of a better term, get to strut a little of their stuff, albeit mostly silently, hanging onto their endearing teen-boy goofiness where it makes sense but going alert, wary, and all business when they're around vampires.
And Jacob and Edward? Well, I've always given Robert Pattinson credit for being a better actor than his pretty face allows him to be for many critics. The big challenge for him in these movies is indeed to overcome that face: can we feel sympathy for him in spite of the fact (yes, fact) that Jacob really is the better choice by pretty much any light? And Taylor Lautner - can he be believable as the underdog love-interest? Can he generate enough romantic chemistry with Bella (they had plenty of buddy-buddy chemistry in New Moon) to make their climactic kiss make sense?
A scene in which Jacob and Edward actually talk with one another, awkward in the book because it has to take place as Bella, the narrator, drifts in and out of sleep (lots of references to "what a strange dream I'm having, all this whispering," etc.), works better in the movie because the movie is able to suspend its already less determined first-person-ness temporarily and have that conversation while Bella's actually out like a light. Edward's very reluctant resignation to the necessity of Jacob's keeping Bella warm is clear; Jacob's smug satisfaction in that role is just as clear. Each of them moves from belligerence to a tentative understanding, even acceptance, of one another's importance to Bella, while in Edward's case never ceding his primacy, and in Jacob's case never ending his rivalry. Edward is smoother, more measured in his emotions, either because of his much longer life (or whatever) or because Robert Pattinson's just that way; who knows? Jacob lapses back into uncertain-sixteen-year-old as he asks how Edward felt when he thought he'd lost Bella forever back in the New Moon days; it was a credible moment. In other words, the boys did good.
As for their interactions with Bella now. Edward has fewer "Twilight" moments now, in which he seems to be orbiting Bella, anticipating her, weirdly cautious with her - I'm thinking of the scene in Twilight when he helps her off with her jacket the first time she visits his family, when she's just trying to shrug it off and he's getting in the way trying to take it, touching her while trying not to touch her too much; that little bit was a nice illustration of the dual differences of era and species between them. Instead, Edward finally acts mostly human with Bella in Eclipse - true, the most perfectly devoted (and chaste) beau a high school senior ever had in her most fevered dreams, but at least not strange. They're very sweet together.
Jacob and Bella? Trickier. Jacob, appropriately, seems to feel time flying by, all through the film; he rushes everything he says and does with Bella. There's the sense that he'd have better luck with Bella if he took more time with her, and that he knows it, too. His desperation is pretty palpable. His first, unwelcome kiss got lots of squees from the girls (I restrained myself, cognizant that better was on the way); the second, which he approached with a small smile that I thought was just about the perfect balance between joy and triumph, got more, followed by that sighing silence that meant, "OK, now I understand that 'Team Jacob' thing." Also very sweet. Taylor Lautner had some heavy lifting to do in this role, in this film - as heavy as this genre gets, anyway; I thought he carried it off well.
As for the cinematography: we were back to the Twilight blues in many places, cold sharp drama, but overall effectively used; the special effects were, I thought, graceful and not too intrusive, so that's a big plus. There was a LOT less sparkling, such that when it did occur, its subtlety was a subtext rather than a "Hey! Look at me sparkling!" moment.
So now is the time in Sprockets when I diss the critics. Their problem, most of 'em, is that they insist on reviewing these movies as if they stand alone, not just separate from one another but separate from the canon of the four books. I use "canon" here advisedly, not just with regard to the details of the books' world, but also with regard to the attitude of those who read and enjoy them. I've never deluded myself that these books are lit'rature - they're an escape into the world teenage girls like me (I'm still well in touch with that girl I used to be) wished existed. Not a world of vampires and werewolves, although as long as we're making a world, why not make it an interesting one? But a world in which those things that seemed absolutely vital, or absolutely clear, or absolutely unbearable, to my absolutist thirteen-to-nineteen-year-old self, really were that absolute. A world in which my first love really was the love of my life, in which his leaving me felt like my death, in which every decision I made felt as if it had lifelong consequences. It's adolescence in its purest form, and when it's examined from a position of adult judgment and experience (I won't call it "wisdom" since I don't give a lot of movie critics credit for that), it looks jejune.
My church just put on Our Town. At one point in the second act, "Love and Marriage," the Stage Manager urges the audience to remember what young love was like, to put themselves into that faraway place in order to appreciate the scene to come. That attitude is what the Twilight series, books or movies, also requires: a willingness to forget what you've learned over time, to ignore the constant pull of popular culture to be more and more cynical, and simply to open oneself to a kind of distilled, self-perceived purity that doesn't actually exist in ground truth. I can do that. I don't often get the chance, which is why I've enjoyed these books and movies so much.