Whilst I like a good fantasy yarn, I am not in the target demographic for teenage vampire movies. Confession over, stick with this to the end…
I read Stephanie Meyer’s first Twighlight novel and found it flat, one-dimensional and poorly written, much like the first Twilight movie. Catherine Hardwicke’s direction was lacklustre, the dialog risible, the special effects clunky, the photography murky, dull and cheap, the pan-stick vampire make-up straight out of circus school….
Kristen Stewart (Bella) was colorless and just plain irritating, while Robert Pattinson (Edward) seemed entirely at a loss what to do (that’s the actor, not the character). Neither teenager nor century-old vampire, his performance was all contact lenses, man-eating eye-brows and hair-styling with nothing at it’s center. I didn’t find much to like in it, or the rest of the movie, unlike the millions of teenage girls around the world. Even the action sequences at the end are lacking. The Cullen clan of vampires lack substance and credibility (only Ashley Greene’s Alice really shines).
New Moon, however, came as a revelation. Perjoratively dubbed “Bella’s year of moping” I found it gained the emotional and narrative depth its’ predecessor lacked. Stewart and Pattinson had grown into their roles, perhaps with the benefit of Chris Weitz’ direction. It’s a more dynamic and empowered Bella Swan and we appreciate her several dilemmas. Edward finally carried the weight of his years. Delivery of better-edited dialog by all the characters hit the right notes. Moreover the movie looked fantastic, both locations and effects sequences, with skillfully executed camera moves around the wire work and computer graphics.
New Moon gave us some extra treats. First a foreign excursion to Italy for the cast, with some truly nasty villains. Michael Sheen gave us a truly creepy, Bram-Stoker-esque Volturi master (shades of Kenneth Williams, Tony Blair and David Frost not-withstanding), assisted by a grown-up Dakota Fanning as ice-maiden and sadist-in-chief.
Second; were-wolves. Big, fast, fierce and dangerous. These photo-realistic animations, somewhat improbably the size of a horse, carried their full weight in real landscapes, had expressive faces with some emotional range and matched the vampires threat-for-threat. If only pretty-boy Taylor Lautner could do more than chest-acting (not that it ever stopped Burt Lancaster). New Moon‘s main struggle is filling that difficult middle section of a trilogy (of four movies, I know), but for my money it raises the bar on the teenage vampire oevre.
Eclipse moves into the third act with some serious peril to heighten its’ romantic triangle; Bella torn between vampires and were-wolves and the threat of war breaking out; old enemy Victoria building an vampire ‘army’ (all two dozen of them!) and the threats of the Voltori hanging over from part two. With David Slade in the chair this time, this is a much more energised action-adventure, main-stream commercial movie in a recognisable, stylised Hollywood package.
Bryce Dallas-Howard brings some acting respectability to principal vampire villain Victoria.
We get more back-stories of the Cullen clan, who, to this point were largely high-fashion clothes-horses. Bella’s choice seemingly made, she never finds a way to let poor Jacob were-wolf down with any finality, no matter how many times the love-sick young cub comes back. The final action is well handled in the twin battles of the Cullens and were-wolves against the New-Born vampire army and in Edward against Victoria. It’s left to the fourth film, due soon, to resolve Bella’s choice, to join the undead or not. It’s not the last we’ve seen of the Voltori, either.
So none of the three movies is life-changing cinema (adolescent girls, please take note), but there are far worse ways to spend your pop-corn hours. RC