With each addition to the Twilight series, it becomes clearer that one movie condensing all four Stephenie Meyers books would be the most painless way to tell this repetitive story. Kind of like snatching off a Band-Aid, rather than tugging it slowly.
But the producers of The Twilight Saga - a haughty title for this material - aren't interested in the story they're milking for more than it's worth. They're even making five flicks, although Meyers penned only four books. Each new release is money in the bank, forked over by blind-faith fans raring to stoke their hormones with a bare-chested hunk, a sensitive guy and their supernatural sock hop romance of a wishy-washy chick.
Why try hard when Twihards line up for anything Jacob, Edward and Bella?
I honestly thought Eclipse would be different, after New Moon showed stirrings of cinematic life. Vampires and werewolves were finally getting busy doing what monsters do. Bella (Kristen Stewart) had reasons for her chronically glum expressions. Edward (Robert Pattinson) took his pallid puppy act somewhere else for most of the movie. Things were looking up.
Eclipse leaves the sputtering story arc in idle, with only an uneasy truce between the vampire and werewolf clans amounting to anything new. For once, new characters added to mimic creativity mean something; an army of "Newborns," freshly minted vampires with uncontrollable bloodlust. They're enlisted by Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) to get revenge on Edward for something that may have happened in an earlier flick but didn't register.
Here's an example of how lame Eclipse can be: Edward's clan insists the Newborns can be defeated only after sterner training than the wolf pack has ever endured. The "regimen" turns out to be lining up like Red Rover teams and running into each other, like every Twilight movie before. At least they don't have to learn cheesy tree scampering.
Here are two examples of how misguided Eclipse can be: We get flashbacks showing how Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed) became vampires, as if it matters by now. Jasper was a Civil War officer with only a uniform confirming that since a battle scene would be too much trouble. Rosalie was gang-raped by her fiance and his friends but still tells Bella she wishes for her mortal life back.
The examples of clunky dialogue with performances to match are countless.
At times, there are winking reassurances that the folks behind The Twilight Saga don't take this stuff as seriously as their fans. I enjoyed Edward's dismissal of perpetually half-naked Jacob ("Doesn't he own a shirt?") and their nose-to-nose spat over Bella during a camping trip. The inside of a tent hasn't seen that much heat since Brokeback Mountain.
Not that it changes anything about Twilight hysteria, and perhaps it shouldn't. But I'd hate to think that Teams Bella, Edward and Jacob truly believe this is fine cinematic storytelling. They can hate the haters now if they wish. Someday they'll look back and realize they've been had.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.
* * *
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Director: David Slade
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Xavier Samuel, Billy Burke, Jackson Rathbone, Peter Facinelli, Dakota Fanning, Anna Kendrick, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz
Screenplay: Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyers
Rating: PG-13; violence, sensuality
Running time: 124 min.