Jun 30 2010 5:21pm

Eclipse: The Decline and Fall of the Twilight Empire

Last night was the release of Eclipse, the third movie in the Twilight franchise. Theaters were packed; Team Edward/Jacob loyalties ran high; anticipatory squeals filled the air.

The movie that unfolded wasn’t worth any of it.

This has gone beyond cinematic “worth” in the context of inscrutable teen tastes, or a shift in the zeitgeist, or any of the other trends that set their intended audience alight while mystifying everyone outside their demographic. This is about a two-hour movie that has to pull its bookend voiceover into the film to explain plot points it never shows, as the camera pans over a lengthy establishing shot of a forest.

...More than once.

The trend is distinct. Twilight will never be mistaken for a classic (it’s a decent teen flick and a terrible vampire movie), but for all its flaws it’s actually a movie; it has a cinematic vocabulary and a story with a beginning, middle, and end. New Moon was less coherent (though mercifully less blue), more a collection of filmed scenes from the book than a movie in its own right, and it killed time between halfhearted dialogue and CGI fight scenes by blasting its soundtrack as loudly as possible. But Eclipse, which has arguably the most movie-friendly source material of all four books, somehow manages to be the least cohesive, most awkwardly-assembled installment yet.

Why the decline?

First, to better understand the downward slide this franchise has taken, know that a character who has been speaking a regionless accent for two and a half films has a flashback to his time in the Confederate army, and carries the Texas drawl forward with him for the rest of the movie. This is the kind of decision which several people have to sign off on. It is the kind of decision which requires on-set maintenance. Eclipse is the kind of movie in which this decision makes it to the final cut.

With that general quality control in mind, let’s look at some likely factors for the slide.

The first and foremost reasoning is that truly spectacular adaptations of bad literature are rare, and so the movies can only be expected to be as good as the source material. That actually gets the movies a pass on nearly everything (the vacuous and off-putting Bella from the films still somehow manages to top the version in the books). This helps explain why Twilight worked where it did, since it had the initial tension between its romantic leads. It also explains a lot of the problems with New Moon; when your primary romantic lead drops off the scene for 400 pages and your secondary lead had less than a dozen lines in the last movie, good luck carrying that narrative tension. (Also, here is a vampire bureaucracy. You’re welcome.)

However, of all four movies, Eclipse is working with something closest to a real plot: the vengeful Victoria creates an army of newborn vampires (better, stronger, faster than they were before!) to pick off the Cullens; the overseeing Volturi are forced to get involved, which puts human Bella in danger; the werewolf pack and the Cullens face off; and Jacob and Edward both make their claims on Bella’s heart as the final battle barrels down on them.

And yet, with all this cross-antagonism and potential intrigue, the movie flounders as soon as Edward and Bella appear onscreen, and makes little attempt to carry any further tension. (There are several lengthy scenes of characters talking about how they will eventually have to make a decision. Adventure!)

Eclipse does have its almost-accidental moment of real fun, when a grinning Jasper leads a werewolf training session on how to beat the crap out of a vampire, and uses various family members as crash test dummies to demonstrate techniques. Like Twilight’s vampire baseball, or New Moon’s werewolf pursuit of Victoria, the scene transcends the plodding plot and becomes, for a moment, a movie about the thrill of being supernatural. (And, like the scenes in its predecessors, that moment does not last long.)

Those oddly-synchronous moments aside, the disparate list of directors who have helmed these outings are part of the quality problem. Even in the Harry Potter films, which have each made an attempt to be a standalone and engaging piece of cinema, the final product varies wildly by director, and that was with a list of directors who were picked with apparent deliberation, after the scope of the phenomenon was known.

Catherine Hardwicke probably remains the best choice that could have been made for Twilight. Having already made a claustrophobic teen movie or two, she knew her material, and at the time of filming the book had not quite caught fire; everyone involved was ostensibly making a cult movie based on a YA book. (We all know how that turned out.) Chris Weitz, director of the floptacular Golden Compass, was reportedly brought in at the last minute after Hardwicke and Summit couldn’t agree on a production schedule for New Moon, which might help explain the slapdash effects. But David Slade is the man behind the intense 30 Days of Night and the even more intense Hard Candy; with that resume it seems bizarre that we ended up with a movie as milquetoast as Eclipse.

But the most likely answer to the series’ decline, and a sad truth in any case, is that it no longer matters to anyone involved how bad the movies are. The core audience is so wide and so devoted that questions of quality simply don’t apply. If you are seeing a Twilight movie in all sincerity, then you want to see a list of your favorite scenes brought to life on the screen, and the franchise’s only goal now is to provide them. Those who come looking for craftsmanship, or even coherence, will starve.

The good news is that if you are seeing a Twilight movie to mock it, you’ll feast every time.

Genevieve Valentine went to the midnight show to track how devoted the fans are after three years. Two people walked out. She still cannot believe that happened. She talks about the Twilight franchise and other disasters on her blog.

Sean Fagan
1. sef
You can't believe two people walked out, or you can't believe that only two people walked out?
james loyd
2. gaijin
"There are several lengthy scenes of characters talking about how they will eventually have to make a decision. Adventure!"

I haven't read the books or seen the movies, but to be fair the above describes a large percentage of 18th and 19th century novels. Only in some of those it isn't just lengthy scenes, it's the main plot line.
Jon Evans
3. rezendi
truly spectacular adaptations of bad literature are rare

Hmm. Picking a few from the IMDB top 100: The Godfather? Jaws? Fight Club? Dr. Strangelove? Forrest Gump? The Treasure of the Sierra Madre? I'd argue they're actually surprisingly common.
Christopher Byler
4. Christopher Byler
(Also, here is a vampire bureaucracy. You’re welcome.)

ISTM that a vampire bureaucracy could actually be a pretty cool idea, if you focus on it and make it focal to what else is going on in the story. (Some of the great bureaucrats from Byzantium and Mandarin China could make comebacks... long-lived characters can be fun that way.)

Somehow, I doubt Meyer and/or the film make it nearly that interesting.
5. Freelancer

Most likely she couldn't believe that two people went to a midnight showing who weren't already so devoted to the saga that they'd consider walking out.

Reviewers are going to get to feast like this more and more in the near future. There will be franchise upon franchise of teen supernatural series' for some time to come. And articles such as this will be as close as I ever get to them.
Ellen B. Wright
6. ellenw
The good news is that if you are seeing a Twilight movie to mock it, you'll feast every time.

Oh goody.
YouDont NeedToKnow
7. necrosage2005
I can't belive that people are still into these dumb emopires (emotional vampires)! Ann Rice's crap was bad enough, but these Pixies actually SPARKLE! How can anybody actually even LIKE any of Meyer's trash? Let me sum up the plot for everybody: an undead emopire that is a few hundred years old is either too dumb to graduate HIGH SCHOOL or just enjoys preying on CHILDREN, falls in love with a minor and then has a love triangle with a werepuppy. So, Ed is committing pedophelia, (not so) Bella is doing necrophilia (Ed) and has an interest in bestiality (Jake). Meanwhile, in real life, all of the "adult" women drooling over Taylor Lautner should, themselves, be going to prison. He just turned 18 on February 11 since he was born in 1992.

Wow, what sipmly awesome books. I can't belive that more people were upset over Harry Potter than these! At least Potter was written better.

If you want to read good vampire books about EVIL vamps, read the Necoscope series by Brian Lumley. He has been compared to Bram Stoker more than once.
j p
8. sps49
gaijin @2-

Much of the British SF I've seen is similar.

necrosage2005 @7-

Prison? Really? Biological attraction has a start date, and it is 18? No wonder Cali's "Megan's Law" site has so many red squares.

Lol @ praying vampires.
Mike Conley
9. NomadUK
So, Ed is committing pedophelia all of the "adult" women drooling over Taylor Lautner should, themselves, be going to prison. He just turned 18 on

Can people please give this stuff a rest?
Christopher Byler
10. a-j
It sounds like the problem might be that the film makers listen too much to the fervent fans who just want animated scenes of what they've read. If the makers of the early Bond films had stuck so closely to the originals, I doubt if they would still be being made now (which begs the question that their continued production is a good thing and assumes that the franchise will survive the current problems). Instead the makers decided from the beginning to adapt and adopt the source material to film and so here we are. Result, us Bond fans have both the books and the films and thems that don't like the films still have the books and vice versa. Perhaps Hollywood needs to stand up to the fans.
eva culajay
11. emct912
I for one enjoy the books and have read them multiple times. I also enjoy the movies to just as so much see the characters come alive. I will however not spend a week in front of a theater for a premier in a tent just to go see it! I will not go to the lengths as to making posters for Pattinson to BITE ME either. The fact is that these crazed fans had taken it to far is just another phase. So I sit back and wait, still enjoying the twilight saga to myself.
Rachel Hyland
12. RachelHyland
I agree that the Volturi stuff was badly underplayed and ill-explained to the uninitiated, and I, too, was struck by Jasper's new accent. But, upon reflection, I don't think too much can be made of him being suddenly come over all Texan.

In fairness to the Committee of Twilight Purity who abruptly realised they'd missed this important detail from the novels when it came time for Jasper's backstory, he really hasn't had all that much to say in the previous movies, and therefore his accent could easily have been missed. It could also be argued (by, uh, y'know, someone who cares about such things. Ahem.) that he is now more comfortable with Bella and no longer feels the need to conceal his background.

Alternatively, perhaps the rise of the newborns brought back memories of his past and he slipped back into old speech patterns as as result. He certainly sounded the most Texan when he was drilling the vampires in battle techniques (which I have to agree was the best sequence in the film), and therefore it makes some sense for his old accent to return as he goes back into soldier mode.

No, I haven't spent WAY too much time thinking about this...
j p
13. sps49
a-j @10-

The first Bond movie, Dr. No, was as close to the book as a movie has ever been. The result was good enough to get the suits on board for more movies.

The early movies varied from pretty close to veering off in a different direction after beginning with the book material (i.e., Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever).

Later movies would just use the novel's title (The Man with the Golden Gun) and get more and more unrealistic until the franchise almost collapsed under the weight of crap. The Timothy Dalton movies were a first try at simplification, and the reboot with Daniel Craig was promoted as such.

Um, excuse me, back to the Twilight stuff...

Uh, movie adaptations of good books are usually better the closer to the source material they are!
YouDont NeedToKnow
16. necrosage2005
@8. sps49

Biological attraction has a start date, and it is 18?

You sound like someone that should be investigated by Dateline. I've seen 45 and 50 year old women lusting after this child when he was 16 and 17. If the situation were reversed, as it was with the Olsen twins, tell me that having a 50 year old man counting down the days to the day that they turned 18 didn't creep you out just a little. I was and so were many others.

@9. NomadUK

Can people please give this stuff a rest?

Why should we? Its a bad story written badly.
Mike Conley
17. NomadUK
You sound like someone that should be investigated by Dateline.

I think that tell us just about everything we need to know.
Eugene Myers
18. ecmyers
Two people walked out. She still cannot believe that happened.

Maybe they were so excited by the half-naked man wrestling, they needed some alone time.
Ellie Angel
19. Ellie_Angel
Twilight is lame. Eventually, it will be lame to admit liking it. Exhibit A: James Cameron's Titanic.

To be fair, I liked Titanic the first time I saw it. The dialogue's cheese didn't jump off the screen and beat me about the head and shoulders the way Meyer's clunkers do. Kate and Leo had real chemistry. (Actual sex! Sweet God.) And while bashing Cameron is nearly as popular, the man knows how to make a film.

I am more interested in why rezendi thinks Fight Club was a bad movie. I disagree. I think it's the one time (maybe one of two?) when Brad Pitt actually acted.
Rachel Hyland
20. RachelHyland
Ellie_Angel @ 19

Yeah, um... I still like Titanic.

Moving on.

Perhaps the other time Brad Pitt acted was 12 Monkeys? Though I'd put in a bid for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Se7en, True Romance and Interview with the Vampire. Oh, and Kalifornia.

Not sure what he was doing in Meet Joe Black (aside from looking awesome in Armani) but it surely wasn't acting.
YouDont NeedToKnow
21. necrosage2005
@17. NomadUK

Yep, you're sick in the head. I hear that they may actually have meds for people like you.
Christopher Byler
22. TPK
I just can't force myself to go see this thing.

Then again, I believe the Twilight series subtly encourages young girls to be attracted to sexual predators, so I'm not exactly unbiased.
Christopher Byler
23. julianmarble
It's nice to visit this kind of blogs that discussing science fiction, fantasy and more interesting stuff. There are more examples of science. Actually, I love watch this movie.

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