Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:08 pm 
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Fire and ice -- but not much really happening

The extremely successful romantic franchise mostly if not entirely for teenage girls has reached a midpoint, with this the third in the series and two more to come. How is it doing? Well, the strategy is good, this time: some violent, if blurred, battle scenes; some out and out sensual attraction -- and physical contact -- between Bella and her two boyfriends, the delicate vampire and fiery werewolf. They come face to face with each other and with the object of their affections, still with no thought of becoming sexual, following the series pattern, with Bella exchanging some warm kisses with both boys, nothing more. The movie begins with Bella and Edward (Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson) in a dim but flowery meadow, making out, while Bella reads Robert Frost's poem "Fire and Ice," whose proffered dual choice as to how the world will end reflects her oscillation between the chilly but sweet and pretty Edward Cullen, the vampire beau, and his rival, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a fiery werewolf, a hotblooded mammal.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

(Bella's reading this is the one allusion to the fact that she actually has subjects to study in high school, including English.) Twilight: Eclipse does not rise to the disturbing apocalyptic level of Frost's poem, but it does hint at the radical dilemma Bella faces in choosing between the tow boys. Edward is her first love. But he offers no warmth. "Face it, I'm much hotter than you," Jacob gets to say to Edward up on a mountain, when Bella is freezing in a tent and needs a cuddle to avoid hypothermia.

It may not really matter to devotes, but it's more obvious than ever that of the series principals, only Kiristen Steweart as Bella is much of an actor. Robert Pattinson as the romantic vampire seems only barely possessed of any kind of reality. As the Indian-werewolf clan boyfriend Taylor Lautner at least, as required, is lusty, angry, and alive. He also might have had the advantage of being allowed to talk in his own natural American accent, unlike the London-born Pattinson. Unfortunately Lautner's voice is much less developed than his new-found muscles, and he speaks with a real but overly adolescent-sounding intonations that aren't quite worthy of the torso or Bella -- who's been around, even if she's still a virgin. His dialogue sounds naturalistically whiny, but unworthy of a semi-mythical creature.

Bella has bargained to marry Edward if they can consummate their love, after high school graduation, and she can join him in eternal vampire-hood, a fate he has always wanted to spare her, for reasons he has yet to reveal. Old fashioned Edward gives Bella a ring which was his mother's. But graduation still seems far away. She is increasingly tempted by Jacob, or at least he insists she is. But that remains up in the air. It's all about titillation.

In the background other stuff is necessary as temporary distraction from the fact that when this episode is over we're still pretty close to square one. Jacob and Edward and their respective clans team up to deal with an invasion of a sudden horde of vampire "newborns" who descend from elsewhere, attracted by Bella, for some reason. We learn that in their first few months of vampire-hood is when vampires are at their most powerful. These freshly-mined and dangerously violent blood-suckers clash with the Cullens and the werewolves in their wild four-legged form for some rapid-fire action. It's all so pumped up with CGI and loud music none of it makes sense, but young people are used to this kind of trickery and don't know what they're missing: it’s like a video game, but one that’s not interactive.

Apart from being better received critically than Twilight number two, number one one had a big advantage: the whole concept was new then, and the appearance of vampire siblings in a Pacific Northwest high school had a campy novelty about it. I liked the idea that the weather up there was so gray vampires would choose the region to live in, with the Cullens able to inhabit a woodsy modern villa with lots of windows. Edward wasn't even there for most of number two. Now he is back, and the rivalry between the two boy-men livens things up. Trouncing the rival outsider newborn vampires provides action that has little effect except for providing Edward and Jacob a chance to cooperate with each other. Bella talks to Edward, Bella talks to Jacob, and Jacob talks to Edward. All three have zeroed in on each other more than in number one and number two. But has anything changed? Nor really. All this may make more sense in the Stephenie Meyer novels -- but mus be pretty darn silly there too.

None of these Twilight movies makes much sense without filtering them through a teenage girl's viewpoint, according to which, evidently, boys are very attractive but also scary. It feels as though the larger action that takes place is just a metaphor for stuff outside Bella's real understanding, a world of danger and confusion, when her involvement with these two boys, with their opposite-pole natures, is danger and confusion enough. David Slade is good at keeping the action flowing; not much can make up for the shortcomings in the acting category. Striking closeups happen throughout of the wolf clan, the vampires, and Bella. Visually the vampires win out: the images seem sickly and crepuscular nearly all the time; natural light and shadow, the essential elements of real and traditional photography, are not to be found. Maybe the next installment will be in 3-D (the way things are going) and it will all look even more unreal.

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