Friday, November 18, 2011

The "Twilight" Challenge: Part 5 - The Journey Ends Under a Dark, Malevolent "Eclipse"

The greatest journey of our time comes to an end!  This Friday, the latest film in the Twilight Saga “Breaking Dawn (Part 1),” hits theatres, and to “celebrate,” we’re spending this week examining the Twilight franchise in depth with my epic five-part investigation of the series: “The Twilight Challenge.”  Originally published on YourHub in June 2010, it’s been revised, expanded, and updated for 2011.  It chronicles my findings as I journey into the dark fathoms of this series, with reviews, analysis, and more!

Today the Challenge concludes with chapter seven, my review of the third “Twilight” movie, Eclipse, and the Epilogue, where I report my general findings from this crazy challenge!  !  You can read Part One of “The Twilight Challenge” here, Part Two here, Part Three here, and Part Four here.  

Read “The Twilight Challenge: Part 5” after the jump….

 Chapter Seven:
Waning Crescent
In which I discover that Twilight preaches a total rejection of humanity while suffering through the third film, “Eclipse”

The first scene of “Eclipse” depicts Bella and Edward lying in a field of flowers together, making out and discussing their future.  Edward wants to get married, and Bella wants Edward to turn her into a vampire.

The last scene of “Eclipse” depicts Bella and Edward lying in a field of flowers together, making out and discussing their future, which involves a wedding and a vampiric transformation. 

As you can see, this film features a dynamic narrative where the characters grow and change in big, dramatic ways.

Sarcasm aside, there’s really no arguing the fact that “Eclipse” is a worthless movie in every possible definition of the word.  Within the world of The Twilight Saga, it doesn’t move the plot forward one iota, and as a piece of filmmaking, it isn’t memorable.  Many aspects of the production are technically more impressive than “New Moon,” but where Chris Weitz was able to cover many narrative sins in his film, making it easy to focus on the craftsmanship rather than…well, everything else, incoming director David Slade can’t accomplish the same hat trick.  The “story,” such as it is, is impossible to ignore this time around, and this may be the cheapest excuse for a plot I’ve ever seen.  It’s sort of like Anakin Skywalker’s failed love speech about the sand on Tatooine stretched out to two whole hours.  Only worse.

Apart from some trivial distractions regarding an army of vampires that only exist to give the movie a semblance of momentum, the story revolves around the biggest decision Bella Swan will ever make: will she devote her life to being with Edward, and therefore let herself be transformed into a soulless vampire, or will she choose to love Jacob, her werewolf pal.  Notice that there’s no third option that involves college, getting a job, or any other adult responsibilities.  No, in the world of Twilight, the most important thing for a young woman is to get herself a hot, strong man who can do all the work for them. 

But I digress.  Bella’s choice is the focus of the movie, and as it starts, it seems she’s perfectly content with her original plan of marrying Edward, getting turned into a vampire, and spending eternity hunting small, defenseless animals and drinking their blood for sustenance.  Then, over the course of “Eclipse,” Bella is presented with alternatives, such as Jacob, who continually points out why Edward and the life he represents are wrong for her.  In an early scene, Bella goes to visit her mother in Florida, and they reminisce about time spent together when Bella was a young girl.  Her mother wishes nothing more than for Bella to one day have a similar experience, growing old with a family by her side.  In other words, a normal, fulfilling human life.  If Bella chooses Edward, she can never have this.

That’s not the only damning evidence presented against Edward as the film progresses: over and over again, characters enter the film to warn Bella of the choice she is about to make, some with elaborate, creepy flashback sequences to offer.  Hell, Bella even hears testimony from a vampire who wishes she would have died rather than become a demon.  When other characters aren’t warning Bella, Edward’s actions certainly are.  Early on, he disables Bella’s truck so she can’t go visit Jacob, ostensibly because Edward thinks Jacob is dangerous (he isn’t), but in reality because he’s a jealous loony.  The overall impression Bella gets is this: life with Edward means abandoning her family and friends, watching as they all die mortal deaths while she lives forever.  It means giving up her soul and banishing all warmth from her body, doomed to feel cold and icy for eternity.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it means spending an infinite amount of time with a man who is jealous, obsessive, demanding, and possessive of her. 

The message of the film is this: life with Edward would be a nightmare.

I have to give the film credit: for 95 percent of its runtime, “Eclipse” is thematically consistent, a cautionary tale about the dangers of letting hormonal, teenage impulses drive major life decisions.   

This makes “Eclipse” one of the stranger films I have ever seen, as it is the rare story where the protagonist rejects the message of the movie.  In the end, Bella ignores everything she’s learned on this adventure and decides definitively to marry Edward and become a vampire. 


In addition to meaning that the protagonist literally learned NOTHING in a two-hour-plus movie, it’s also a horrible, sick, and disturbing message to be spreading in a successful, mainstream motion picture.  I’ve already argued against the rampant sexism and backwards morals in this series, but “Eclipse” takes things to a whole new level.  The entire film boils down to a conversation between three characters: Bella, Edward, and Jacob.  Edward argues for the virtues of demonic nature, Jacob fights for the values of humanity, while Bella serves, in theory anyway, as a proxy to the audience.  Bella’s choice, ultimately, is in favor of demonic nature.  “Eclipse” – and by extension the franchise itself – preaches a total rejection of humanity, whether the film is aware of that or not, and that’s not okay in my book.

Don’t believe me?  Think my words are too radical?  I’ll prove it to you (albeit in a long and roundabout way, so bear with me): In the last scene of the movie, Bella justifies her decision to become a vampire by giving a speech about her “true” nature.  She explains that, ever since she was little, she’s never felt “normal” in the world, as though she’s been “stumbling” through life like a klutz.  Humanity hasn’t worked for her, she doesn’t belong here, and thus, she thinks being a vampire is in line with her nature.

Did I mention I hate…oh, never mind…

What Bella describes is nothing more than growing up.  Any person who claims to have made it from birth to adulthood without feeling out of place, alone, or abnormal at some point on the road is a big fat liar.  Part of the experience of being human is social awkwardness, a direct result of experimentation, of trying to find out where we, as people, fit in the world.  The journey to adulthood is a tough one, a maze filled with many dead ends and only a few clear paths.  Making friends, discovering likes and dislikes, dating, discerning one’s talents…it’s all hard.  Growing up is the hardest thing we have to do in this world.  But it’s worth it.  Once one reaches maturation, one knows that the trek was worthwhile.

What Bella complains about at the end of “Eclipse” is the process of growing up, of making her way through adolescence.  Everyone complains about that journey; venting one’s feelings is healthy.  Bella’s coping device, however, is anything but.  Instead of completing her maturation, growing up and finding a place in humanity where she can feel normal and safe, she chooses to become a vampire, a process that will freeze her in time as an eighteen-year-old.  It means that she will forever be an adolescent, but since she’s a vampire, she’ll never have to face the problems teenagers must work their way through.  She’ll never have to grow up and face reality.  She’ll never have to be human.

The Future Face of Bella Swan
The message of “Eclipse,” therefore, is that instead of growing up, adolescent girls should reject their own humanity.  That is garbage, and it angers me to no end.  Look at how J.K. Rowling tackles similar subject matter in Harry Potter series: in that story, Harry is given plenty of reasons to give up on humanity, far more than Bella.  His parents are killed, his friends murdered, his mentors slaughtered, and he can’t even play a Quidditch game without losing all the bones in his arm.  Harry’s life sucks, and yet he perseveres, grows up, and constantly champions the virtues of humanity, even while Voldemort, a far more powerful wizard, argues for the darkness. 

Were Bella a witch, she would side with Voldemort.  
As terrible and thematically disturbing as “New Moon” was, “Eclipse” is even worse, and I feel really bad for the filmmakers.  It’s not surprising that David Slade and company couldn’t wring anything of value out of this material.  As I said above, “Eclipse” is just as well made as “New Moon,” if not better.  The camera work is well done, apart from some questionable shaky-cam shots, and Slade stages some action sequences that, while pedestrian, are nevertheless fun and exhilarating.  The climactic battle between Edward and the evil vampire Victoria is actually a wonderfully assembled set piece, though far from compelling since we don’t care about either character.  Howard Shore’s musical score adds a much-needed layer of class to the movie, managing to inject real emotions into half-baked, poorly acted scenes, even if said music sounds recycled from “The Lord of the Rings.”

The acting, so drastically improved in “New Moon,” takes a step back here.  Kristen Stewart is fairly dreadful as Bella; the lack of presence that defined her ‘acting’ in the first film returns, and she continue to indulge her annoying habit of avoiding the eye-line of anyone she’s on-screen with.  As for Robert Pattinson, I really wish someone would tell him that that mumbling the entirety of his dialogue and moving his eyebrows sensually does not count as acting.  Taylor Lautner isn’t great as Jacob, but he once again acts circles around Stewart and Pattinson.  The rest of the cast ranges from decent to impressive, with Ashley Greene once again stealing the show away from the stars as Alice, Edward’s adoptive sister and the only main character in the Twilight-verse who seems to emote realistically or interestingly.

“Eclipse” is a complete and utter failure; not, perhaps, a disaster on par with the first “Twilight,” but more disturbing in many ways for the messages it preaches.  I try hard not to be a judgmental prude about this sort of stuff, but when I walked out of the theatre and saw multiple groups of young girls no older than ten, I just felt sad.  Neither “Eclipse” nor any other film in The Twilight Saga should ever be shown to children young and gullible enough to think that Bella’s decisions exhibit healthy human behavior.  At the very least, I pray those parents will have a discussion with their young ones about why Bella made the wrong choice, because then “Eclipse” would at least serve as a valuable learning experience.

For now, “Eclipse” stand as the part of this franchise that moved my attitude on the series from “annoyed bemusement” to “active hostility,” preventing me from making it through this Twilight Challenge unscathed.

It earns a well-deserved D, both for "Dull" and "Detestable."

New Moon
In which I make my final determinations based on the evidence

“Eclipse” came close to breaking me, but I’m still here, and now that I’ve survived The Twilight Challenge with a healthy amount of my sanity left in tact, it’s time we return to the question that sparked this whole sordid affair: is Twilight low art, as I asserted that day in English class, or is it something more?

My answer?  No.  Twilight is not low art.  It doesn’t qualify as “art” any more than leaving muddy footprints on a dirty old doormat counts as painting.

But for the sake of argument, yes, Twilight is most certainly low art.  It’s a franchise made to appeal to the masses, not to convey any sort of meaningful message or perform a deep and resonant character study.  The book is a dull, lifeless affair, one that would function decently enough as an “airplane” read, or even entertainment on a boring weekend, but doesn’t rise ever rise above mediocrity.  In fact, it’s mostly an infuriating read due to the atrocious main character, Bella, the wild gaps in logic, and all the vampiric inaccuracies. 

The book may be aimed at the lowest common denominator, but that’s nothing compared to the 2008 film adaptation, which stands as one of the worst films I’ve ever endured.  It wasn’t just crafted lazily, but ignorantly, with a bad script, sub-par direction, perplexingly awful musical choices, and all around despicable performances.  The filmmakers obviously didn’t care about making a good movie; they knew that, due to the popularity of the books, fans would flock to the theaters en masse no matter how bad the film was.  That’s just downright disrespectful to the audience, and further cements the franchise’s status as “low art.”  The filmmakers at least put effort into “New Moon” and “Eclipse,” but to no avail; narratively, the series is a steep downward spiral.

I’ve been hating on Twilight for years now, which was unfair of me, seeing as I actually knew very little about the franchise.  Now that I’ve read the book and seen the movies, my opinion is, as I feared, far more venomous than before.  What I didn’t expect, however, was that all my ‘research’ would leave me with one lingering, unanswered question that continues to eat away at me.

Why is Twilight popular?

I just don’t get how this franchise became so mind-bogglingly big and successful. The story is stupid and simplistic, and there are far more compelling sappy romance novels on the market that fans could have flocked to.  The vampires are a joke, the characters are unlikable, the message is sexist and insulting, and the setting and action aren’t anything special or even particularly original.  The writing is stale and uninspired, and the movies don’t exactly improve on any of the flaws of the books.  I’ve combed my notes, scoured my thoughts, and pondered this question over and over again.  What element of the series is it that makes Twilight so damn popular?

I don’t have an answer, and I doubt I ever will.  The only explanation I can muster is that teenage girls all have a collective fantasy of getting cozy with the undead, but I don’t buy that explanation.  My opinion of teenage girls is higher than that. 

But while I detest and am baffled by this franchise, I don’t mind that others like it.  I’ve been a critic long enough to learn to respect other opinions, even if they don’t make sense to me, and I have plenty of friends I think very highly of who love Twilight.  Granted, I have many more friends who hate Twilight like I do, but that’s not the point.  I can make fun of this series all I want, but at the end of the day, it’s something that entertains people and makes them happy, and that can’t be all bad.

Unless, you know, people go out and start acting like Bella Swan.

Did I mention how much I hate her? 

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