Bloodlust and restless longing

2010-07-05 00:00

WATCHING a highly anticipated series film on release day with a packed audience is one of the pleasures of the moviegoing business. So few films these days draw big audiences that seeing one can seem like a solitary endeavour. But the latest instalment in a series takes one back to what going to the movies must have been like in the 1950s.

Even better when the film doesn’t disappoint. The Twilight series has improved with each one. In the first film, director Catherine Hardwicke (chosen, perhaps, for her affinity for teenage girls after her film Thirteen) messed around with the characters and added pointless digressions that blunted the mood. New Moon, directed by Chris Weitz, stuck closer to the source while adding needed cinematic flourishes, and employed far better CGI. Eclipse is directed by David Slade, who is no stranger to things that lurk in the dark (as vampires are supposed to do), having directed Thirty Days of Night, and is aware of the abilities of teenage girls, with a tough little thriller about a girl turning the tables on a paedophile in Hard Candy.

In Eclipse, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is still waiting for her vampire boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson) to change her, but she is forced to consider that Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the hot-blooded wolf down the road, might be a better choice, as he declares. And vampire Victoria is still on her trail, since she caused the death of Victoria’s mate James in episode one.

Bella is still horribly self-absorbed and passive. She fell hard for Edward and now she just wants to join him in eternal bliss, never mind what he wants. The Cullen family are all to an extent ambivalent about their condition, none of them having chosen to be undead, and horrified that Bella could desire this. Particularly Edward, who is old-fashioned. She just wants to get to the heavy-petting, being a modern girl, while he wants to marry her first. She’s more embarrassed at the thought of being derided for marrying too young than worried about becoming undead. And she is callous towards smitten Jacob, who also worries about her life being cut short.

Adult critics often carp at the series, written by a Mormon, for its old-fashioned sexual morality, as if “hooking up” is better than restraint, just doing it is better than patience, but the books didn’t become madly popular for being out of sync with girls’ desires. There is also a good deal of derision for the quality of the books themselves. Writers for teenagers who score crossover hits (like J.K. Rowling) have to put up with a lot of this, with grown-ups saying, essentially, this is adolescent stuff. Well, duh! Stephenie Meyer isn’t blind to this. In each book, she has Bella reading a classic that parallels her story. In Eclipse, she’s reading Wuthering Heights, which Edward dismisses as being not about love but about hate. If you disregard its classic status, Wuthering Heights is actually pretty silly, with mad characters doing terrible things to each other. And yet it is prescribed by university lecturers who would dismiss Meyer out of hand.

In my opinion, the main failing of the books is that Meyer creates the premise of vampires among us, but then leaches the danger out of them.

She was planning to publish a book, Midnight Sun, which is the story of Twilight from Edward’s point of view. She abandoned it when it was leaked online, but she did release the part that she had completed, and it addresses some of the weaknesses of the story.

Primarily, it makes Edward’s initial attraction to Bella painfully clear. Bella is at first the most desirable meal he has ever smelled. Being near her is almost unbearable because her presence floods him with thirst, which revolts his moral sense. Edward is all restraint, and when Bella flings herself at him, she doesn’t realise the pain she causes. The story from this angle is not one of beautiful “vegetarian” vamps choosing to foreswear human blood, but of continual, painful self-denial. A powerful metaphor and possibly a better book.

Eclipse does sort of reveal the darker vampire world, with the army of bloodthirsty “newborns” created by Victoria to take on the Cullens. The wolves are, again, well handled, with lovely CGI that allows them to reveal the human boys within. And the climactic battles with Victoria and her army are pretty thrilling. The fans were well satisfied.

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