The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is an astoundingly bad movie. It is badly written (the plot is paper-thin, the characters are empty shells, the mythos surrounding everything is simply baffling), badly acted (the only emotions anyone seems capable of are “angsty” and “smouldering”), badly directed (why in the world does a movie in which almost nothing ever happens last two hours?), and badly designed (the final half hour takes place on a “snowy mountaintop” set so outrageously unrealistic it makes some Star Trek alien worlds look like home). In other words, it is a B-movie. But, unlike your average B-movie, this thing made $300 million in the US alone. That means, unaccountably, that millions of people not only saw this film, but many of them saw it twice.
Even more confusing is the fact that, according to RottenTomatoes.com (which produces an aggregate of film reviews), roughly 50 percent of the critics they surveyed gave it a positive notice. This might simply confirm the cynical supposition that roughly 50 percent of all critics are mindless windbags with no actual interest in film, and no motivation beyond the paycheck at the end of their week’s work, but, let’s hope not. I’d prefer to be charitable, and conclude instead that I don’t, perhaps can’t, ever understand Twilight and its appeal.
Yet many people proclaim this series to be a brilliant bit of sub-textural playfulness about gender and race and sexuality and queer theory and all manner of identity concerns. Which is the kind of thing that I tend to gravitate towards. So, what gives?
Well, there’s certainly no question that you can toss theory at this thing and it’ll stick, but is that enough? Though the whole vampire/human dichotomy is always interesting to us academic folks, and though this particular approach to the old trope happens to (kind of, sort of) relate to very hip and now ideas about identity construction and performativity, the question that we should be asking is: are the movies themselves clever, or is it rather that they just give us a nice lob across the plate that we can each hit with the ole theory bat? In other words, it seems clear to me that these movies are not actually trying to be clever – we are trying to make them seem clever. This isn’t art; it’s commerce. If it were art, then the films would a) be halfway entertaining for anyone outside of the target audience and b) make at least the slightest effort to offer any narrative sense.
Here is a two-hour movie, the third in a now seven-hour series, in which there are a variety of characters who still don’t have any substance, motivation, or intensity. The big bad ‘guy’, Victoria, is almost completely defined by the fact that she has red hair. Otherwise, who the heck is she, and why is she here? Why is everyone so afraid of her? (I know what you’re saying: Edward killed her boyfriend, so now she wants to kill Bella. So that’s itl? Strictly revenge? That’s not a lot to go on, character-development-wise.) If she were that dangerous, wouldn’t it be helpful for us, the audience, if the film demonstrated this by, I don’t know, having her do something scary sometime so we believe that she is an actual threat? Just having characters moan about how she’s a “bad vampire” is not enough to make us concerned for anyone’s safety. (And when she shows up and turns out to be completely ineffectual, it sort of puts the lie to the whole “we should care about the plot here” thing, you know? The final battle sequence is amazingly one-sided and threat-free.)
So, what is even going on in this film? A group of “newborn” vampires – this is supposedly the most dangerous kind – is calling themselves an “army” even though there are like a couple dozen of them, tops, and they are under the spell of Victoria the red haired vampire (somehow) and they are all interested in murdering Bella (the impressively uncharismatic Kristin Stewart) because they are all really upset (why?) about how Edward once killed Victoria’s hubby.
Meanwhile, Edward (a vampire with a heart of gold) is in love with Bella (for some reason) and she is in love with him back (really, really, really, a lot, OK?) but her old best friend Jacob (a werewolf with a heart of gold) is also completely in love with Bella (which actually makes a bit more sense, since they have been friends since childhood so there’s history) and she sure does like him, but can’t seem to convince him that she’d rather be with Edward. So, there’s this love triangle. But, all suspense surrounding this love triangle is, of course, AWOL since really it’s just a love story with this third wheel (and one that is alternately hairless and furry) tagging along, trying to spoil the party. At one point, Jacob even forces himself on Bella, and then apologises a lot. It’s uncomfortable, in a rapey sort of way.
Speaking of sex: there isn’t any here. None. The occasional kiss is all these kids ever get up to. Also: turns out, vampire bites = sex. Since one of the other confusing and underexplained plot issues here surrounds Bella making the decision to become a vampire in order to marry Edward, the one clear metaphor underlying everything is that becoming a vampire is the same as losing your virginity. Cool, huh? The lesson here is that when you lose your v-card it’s a parallel experience to losing your soul. Good lesson for the kids.
This ponderous double-disc DVD collection comes with a raft of extras, all of which point to the deep significance and cultural resonance of this series, these stories, and these characters. Most exciting to many fans will no doubt be the feature-length commentary track by Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart that they did, apparently, while in two different sound booths in two different parts of the country. You can, like, hear them long-distance-dating. Enjoy!