Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blu-ray Review: "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse"

I am facing a conundrum and I've begun to realize it more and more as I delve deeper into this review. Here it is: does anyone's opinion, let alone mine, even matter when it comes to anything within the realm of “The Twilight Saga”? I can pretty much guarantee that “Twilight” fans will be lining up at the stores to buy “Eclipse” on the first day that it hits shelves or will have it under their Christmas trees a few weeks from now no matter what is printed here. Even if you don't really care an iota about the Stephenie Meyers phenomenon, you are sure to know someone who does and guess what, you'll probably be buying the movie as a Christmas gift for them anyway. Guilty by association, I say. Husbands or boyfriends will be buying it for their significant others. Mothers will be buying it for themselves and their daughters. Brothers will be buying it for sisters. If you turn everything around, the statements above would still hold true. Such is the power of the “Twilight Saga” and it isn't abating anytime soon.

It is fascinating how three different vampire fictions dominating television and the movies today could be based on the very same human-vampire forbidden love angle yet still be so different in how the same myths within each fiction's universe are explained. I am of course talking about HBO's “True Blood,” WB's “The Vampire Diaries” and of course “The Twilight Saga.” All three series are based on novels with very different settings and of course, tone--some much darker than others. Take for example how sunlight and silver are harmful to vampires in both “True Blood” and “The Vampire Diaries” but in Meyers' novels, vampires sparkle instead (huh?) when exposed to sunlight and silver is never mentioned as an implement of killing the undead. In fact, “The Twilight Saga” is not only less beholden to traditional vampire myths, it also does not place much emphasis on “the how” of killing vampires but focuses on the overarching love story instead, which may help explain its immense popularity among women and girls. However, in constructing the “Twilight” series this way, it also veers toward a more conventional romance storytelling path with a just tinge of the supernatural coloring the seams. In other words, all the three movies so far in “The Twilight Saga” is actually quite straightforward with very few plot twists or surprises.
Before I dive into “Eclipse,” I think it would be prudent to recap where the story currently stands. At the end of “New Moon,” the show's three main protagonists are faced with a difficult dilemma. After a run-in with the powerful Volturi clan in Italy, the clan hesitantly agrees to release Bella (Kristen Stewart)--who knows the existence of vampires--back to the Cullens with the understanding that she be turned into a vampire or else be killed. However, back in Forks, Jacob (Taylor Lautner) reminds Edward (Robert Pattinson) of the treaty that the Cullens had made with his tribe of werewolves. The treaty states that in order to protect and maintain the uneasy peace between both these sworn enemies, the Cullens must agree not to feed on any humans. Turning Bella into a vampire would obviously break that truce. Hence the impasse. Many deadly wars and feuds have been started because of a woman and this one is no different. While Bella--with her unbounded love for Edward--has no qualms about being turned into a vampire, Edward harbors deep misgivings about the deed and in dramatic fashion, asks Bella to marry him as a condition for turning her.

So, this is where the story stands as we move into the penultimate chapter of “The Twilight Saga.” For the third consecutive time, a new director is brought on board the “Twilight” bandwagon. Following Catherine Hardwicke in “Twilight” and Chris Weitz in “New Moon,” David Slade, whose previous works include “Hard Candy” and another vampire movie, “30 Days of Night,” is thrusts into the spotlight and entrusted with the hopes of millions of fans to do justice to their beloved movie franchise. There would be no worries though as Slade, with the help of screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (who also penned on the previous two films), is able to maintain the tone and familiarity of the previous films without skipping a beat.
Stripping away the veneer of vampiric romanticism, the “Twilight Saga” is essentially your typical run-of-the-mill romance story. It just happens to possess a few supernatural elements that helps to amp up the interest level by fully engaging in the centuries-old mythical vampire-werewolf feud. What better way to excite the audience than by having these strong mythical creatures fight it out over a fragile human girl? And “Eclipse” continues to explore the far from resolved human-vampire-werewolf love triangle further. At first, Bella is totally convinced that Edward is her one and only love but Jacob's confession of his love begins to cast a shadow on Bella's desire to be a vampire. Muddying matters further is Rosalie (Nikki Reed), of the Cullen clan, who tries to talk Bella out of making the ultimate decision, a decision that she herself did not have any control over. But seriously, how can one resist the temptation of being able to live for eternity with the one that you truly love. Alas, if only life was that simple.

In the mind of the audience, it all boils down to the matter of making a simple choice: werewolf or vampire, fire or ice, warmth or cold, a (relatively) normal life or one of hiding in the shadows. This recurrent theme is thrown around throughout the movie, culminating with the scene where Bella finds herself freezing in frigid temperatures while hiding out in the mountains but Edward, being what he is, is unable to help warm her up. In steps Jacob to save the day, snuggling up to Bella, with Edward looking on begrudgingly. However simplistic Bella's choices may seem to us, it really isn't. Being turned into a vampire means losing her humanity, family, friends and essentially her life in general. As much as one's life may suck (sorry), is it worth it to give everything up for love? “Eclipse” readily poses the age-old question, can true love really conquer all?
With the back and forth love story dominating the majority of the movie's runtime, a new and dangerous storm is brewing, this time in Seattle. Someone has been turning people into “newborn” vampires, creating an army of hungry and uncontrollable blood-suckers. At the head of this army is Riley Biers (Xavier Samuel) but someone else is really pulling the strings behind the scenes. And their target is (surprise, surprise) Bella Swan and the Cullens. And watching over (but not reacting to) all the chaos and mayhem that has been plaguing Seattle are the Volturi, led by cold and calculating Jane (Dakota Fanning). Considered vampire royalty, the Volturi clan is supposed to put a stop to any vampires who try to expose the existence of their kind to the world. However, by allowing the “newborns” to attack the Cullens, the clan have finally shown their hand and without a doubt, harbors a much different and more dangerous agenda.

If you have watched the trailers for “Eclipse,” you must have been excited about the much publicized showdown between the “newborn” army on one side and the Cullens and the werewolves on the other. The build-up to the final battle was massive except for one thing. The actual fight itself lasted for about five minutes of screen time. For me, this was a major letdown that just deflates my and probably a lot of other people's expectations as well. For whatever reason, it seems like the film rushed through its third act and wanted to tie up the loose ends as quickly as possible. This unnecessary rush to end the film makes it feel a tad disjointed when compared to the slower and more emotional scenes from the first half.

Whether “Eclipse” is a necessary bridge to the saga's final chapter, “Breaking Dawn” is questionable. The film spends most of its time meandering around the all-consuming question of whom should Bella choose as her soul mate and her perpetual emotional turmoil. Both hope and doubts are raised and we hear and see the advantages of both sides. But ultimately, it is Bella's question to answer and we thankfully get a definite answer by the end of the film. The “newborn” battle is but a distraction and I am glad the chapter is finally closed on the vengeance-seeking vampire, Victoria (this time played by Bryce Dallas Howard). For what it is worth, I am just glad “Eclipse” is over and done with. Now on to the undoubtedly more exciting 2-part “Breaking Dawn” finale.

Video:
Summit Entertainment brings “Eclipse” to the masses in a Blu-ray/DVD combo disc package. As with most high profile releases these days, “Eclipse” faces the added challenge of producing demo-quality presentations. Anything less would be considered a crime. Well, I'm glad to announce that Summit has risen to the challenge and produced high quality and film-like images that obliterates the massive expectations. The film's 1080p video is gorgeous to look at, with highly detailed textures and beautiful colors that help accentuate the natural settings. Black levels do not dissolve into messy splotches but are instead highly discernible, especially when several dark objects overlap one another. Film grain is visible but it only helps to recreate a cinema-like look to the film. This transfer is indeed beautiful to watch and a top-notch one at that.

Audio:
Like most Blu-ray releases these days, “Eclipse” is endowed with an English language lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. What else can I say but the audio presentation is another winner in my books. Featuring a full-bodied presentation that makes full use of the entire sound field, it is able to put the home audience smack in the middle of the film. Crisp and clear, the dialogue is never lost or drowned out, even when layered within other sound effects. The surround channels and the .1 LFE are fired up when needed and helps complement and add texture to a warm soundtrack. Howard Shore's beautiful score comes through brilliantly, with the orchestral arrangements adding much weight to the emotional scenes. The only other audio track on this disc is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.

Extras:
An assortment of special features are included on this disc. First up are two audio commentaries, one with the actors Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson and the other with “Twilight” author Stephanie Meyers and producer Wyck Godfrey. The first track lacks any essential information as both the actors sought to only add their own anecdotes from working on the set. It is also punctuated by some long silences. Undoubtedly, the latter commentary track is a more interesting one as the author herself adds some great insights into the story and the overall theme while the producer adds his own technical assessment of the film. This is a great track because it is akin to having J.K. Rowlings do audio commentaries on the Potter films. Next up is a 6-part making-of documentary that is viewable as a standalone feature or in Picture-in-Picture mode. This is an almost 90-minute feature and does an encompassing job showing us what important elements go into making such a high profile film. This is a great documentary for fans of the series. There is also a “Jump To” feature that lets fans jump to and watch their favorite scenes that are categorized under several headings. Rounding up the special features are eight “Deleted/Extended Scenes” with optional commentary by director David Slade, a photo gallery and music videos of “Neutron Star Collision” by Muse and “Eclipse (All Yours)” by Metric. Both songs are presented in standard 480p definition video and are part of the movie's soundtrack CD.
Film Value:
“The Twilight Saga” may not be everyone's cup of tea but we do have to acknowledge its impact as a cultural zeitgeist in this era of mass entertainment. “Eclipse” is the third installment in the series and continues to lay down the emotional foundation in preparation for what is to come in the finale. It answers some burning questions but opens up new and interesting ones. While the “newborn” battle is but a distraction, “Eclipse” takes the audience through an emotional rollercoaster as Bella weighs and fights through self-doubt with regards to her feelings for both Edward and Jacob and her desire to be a vampire. Given the emotional heft of the story, “Eclipse” is able to peek through the shadows and show us some much-needed light. In terms of moving the story forward, “Eclipse” is ultimately a good but not great installment to the series.

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