It’s been four years since ‘The Twilight Saga: New Moon’, and the subsequent film adaptations based on the popular young adult vampire series have become such a big success, with box office takings of over $1 billion worldwide combined. And in February 2011, Summit Entertainment released the third and final installment of the vampire franchise, ‘The Twilight Saga: Eclipse’, bringing the total number of views on our YouTube channel to over 18 million.
With all the focus on the movie and the lead actor’s upcoming wedding to be celebrated in just over two weeks, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a look back at how the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire saga has held up over the past four years.
How’s the Writing?
In the first two films, ‘New Moon’ and ‘Eclipse’, the three-part story arc had been largely retained, with some alterations to better fit the big-budget studio movie adaptations. While the action scenes in ‘New Moon’ had been greatly expanded, the quieter scenes between the characters were mostly intact. In fact, the adaptation was so faithful to the source material that Summit had to change the titles of the first and second film, originally ‘The Twilight’ and ‘The Twilight Saga: Eclipse’, to avoid any confusion. And even then, they had to put in legal notice to ensure they weren’t misread as an official Harry Potter edition.
Which Scenes Were Problematic?
The biggest changes involved the addition of new scenes and the excision of some of the more traditional vampire storytelling. The first major addition was the climax, involving a devastating car crash that saw the life-size cardboard cut-out of Kristen Stewart’s Bella get destroyed. Director Bill Condon told Variety that this scene was added to give the audience a cathartic release following six months of intense anxiety. It wasn’t the first time that Summit had had to fight for the right to use CGI effects, as director Chris Weitz had to battle it out with the studio over the portrayal of a zombie attack in ‘The Twilight Saga: Death Waits’. CGI effects weren’t invented in 2011, but they were certainly used to their fullest potential in this scene, with VFX supervisors working seven days a week to make sure that Bella’s school bus turned into a four-wheeled projectile that traveled at least 100 mph before colliding with a tree.
Has The Adaptation Held Up?
Yes, largely. The final installment of the Twilight series is due to be released in theaters on August 22, with an exclusive one-week IMAX premiere set to follow on September 4. And while there are some significant changes for the better, there are also a few areas where the film falls short of what fans have come to expect from the original source material.
The biggest misstep comes at the end of the film, where we are treated to a frenetic, chaotic vision of Bella and her friends’ hectic, seemingly random day-to-night schedules. It would have been nice to see Bella and her crew take a step back and actually attend to some of the schoolwork that they are so obsessively studying, as opposed to treating us to a frantic montage of their studies interspersed with fits of jealous rage and petty squabbles. In the books, these scenes are often punctuated by long, dull, monologues from the over-obsessed Bella, and it would have been a nice change of pace to see someone else narrate these events for a change.
Who’s the Real Bella?
One of the most significant changes is the character of Bella, whose defining attributes are altered to better suit the needs of the film adaptation. The character had originally been created for the 2003 film adaptation of ‘Charlotte’s Web’, and it wasn’t until the third installment that she started to show any semblance of personality or life outside of her infatuation with Edward. Even then, she was still primarily motivated by her undying love for the bespectacled teen, with one critic lamenting that she is presented as a “blank slattern” in ‘Eclipse’ and “almost an entirely emotionless character”.
Too Many Clichés
Another area where the film disappoints is in its reliance on overused metaphors and cliches. In ‘Eclipse’, Bella likens her relationship with Edward to that of a pet rabbit and a fox, and her love for her friend, Jacob, to that of a brother and sister. While there’s nothing wrong with metaphors and cliches per se, they are often used in such a way that they seem insubstantial and even a little bit trite. But, nonetheless, they are repeated so often that they start to seem genuine. When a writer relies too much on these sorts of similes and analogies, it can start to seem like they’re not thinking very hard about their material, which in turn can make the reading experience somewhat of a chore. If you’re going to compare your love life to a game of chess, then it would be nice to see the writer employ some originality and inspiration instead of falling back on tired comparisons and clichés.
No Parental Guidance
Speaking of clichés, parents might want to keep an eye on their children during the film, as there are a few scenes where poor judgment, excessive drinking, and even some violence are depicted. The most notable example of this is in an early scene where Edward and Bella meet each other’s families for the first time, with a drunken Bella spilling wine all over Edward’s t-shirt and making a rather rash remark about his mother’s cooking. Parents might want to keep an eye on their children during this scene, as there is some questionable language, a scene of underage drinking, and a bit of a fight scene.
An Unnecessary Sequel
Speaking of questionable language, there is also a sequence early on in the film where a character says, “If we were the best, she would still be with us.” And this is followed by a shot of the car accident that led to Bella’s death, which has now become a major plot point in the film. While it’s not entirely clear what language was used in this scene, it’s the sort of thing that might give anyone pause, even if they are in the audience members hoping for a fast-paced, entertaining night at the movie theater. This sort of thing happens all the time in cinema, and it’s generally referred to as “cinematic language”, but it still makes us question the cultural assumptions behind it. Why is it that violence and language are considered the two most offensive aspects of cinema, but the assumption seems to be that all women are supposed to find violence sexy and all men are supposed to find profanity appealing?
A Less Than Metaphoric Ending
‘Eclipse’ also marks the first time that the director of a ‘Twilight’ movie does not also serve as the writer of that movie. In the previous two installments, the screenplays had been written by Melissa Rosenberg, with Chris Weitz also taking a hand in ‘New Moon’ and ‘Eclipse’. This time, the director and writer are different people, with Tanya Wexler helming and Kurt Johnstad writing the screenplay. Both Wexler and Johnstad are long-time fans of the series, with the latter having even adapted the first novel into a graphic novel that was released in 2010. And while no one would question their admiration for the series, it seems like a bit much to expect that they could pull off a movie that is, essentially, a literal adaptation of the source material.
All things considered, while there are a few significant changes for the better in ‘Eclipse’, it still feels like a step back after such a long break from the books. And if you’re going to make a change, why not go all the way and bring back the Bella of our imagination, the one who seemed a little more alive and a little less like a prop from a teen romance novel?