The Twilight Series
Twilight (November 19/09)
Based on the best-seller by Stephenie Meyer, Twilight follows awkward teen Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) as she moves to Forks, Washington and inevitably falls for a mysterious boy named Edward (Robert Pattinson). Director Catherine Hardwicke - working from Melissa Rosenberg's screenplay - does a superb job of capturing the feel of Meyer's admittedly evocative novel, as the film has been infused with a deliberate pace that proves instrumental in establishing (and perpetuating) the source material's very specific atmosphere. And although Hardwicke is rarely able to get inside Bella's head to the same extent as the book, Twilight benefits substantially from the palpable chemistry between Stewart and Pattinson - with the strength of Bella and Edward's budding relationship effectively carrying the proceedings through its sporadically less-than-enthralling stretches. The stars' superb work is matched by an impressive supporting cast that includes Billy Burke, Nikki Reed, and Anna Kendrick, and it's subsequently increasingly difficult not to become wrapped up in the unabashedly melodramatic exploits of the various characters. The thrilling, unexpectedly propulsive third act - in which Bella is pursued by an evil vampire named James (Cam Gigandet) - ensures that Twilight concludes on a thoroughly positive note, thus cementing the movie's place as an apt adaptation that effectively lays the groundwork for future installments.
An impressive yet slightly overlong sequel, New Moon follows Kristen Stewart's Bella as she attempts to cope with Edward's (Robert Pattinson) self-imposed absence by spending time with old friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) - with problems ensuing as Bella's red-haired nemesis (Rachelle Lefevre's Victoria) reappears and Edward runs afoul of an ancient coven of vampires known as the Volturi. There's little doubt that New Moon stands as a marked improvement over its decidedly uneven predecessor, as director Chris Weitz does a superb job of establishing (and sustaining) an ambiance of heightened reality that proves impossible to resist - with the filmmaker's outwardly cinematic sensibilities reflected in the movie's lush visuals, larger-than-life action sequences, and colorful roster of supporting players. It's worth noting, however, that Weitz dutifully ensures that the emotional core of the series - the Bella/Edward/Jacob love triangle - remains at the forefront virtually from start to finish, and it's subsequently not surprising to note that the movie is at its best when focused on Bella's inherently engrossing (yet admittedly far-fetched) romantic dilemma. The uniformly captivating performances are heightened by the inclusion of several thoroughly moving dramatic interludes, with Edward and Bella's breakup undoubtedly standing as the film's dramatic high point (although there's certainly no understating the effectiveness of Bella's rainy confrontation with Jacob a little later on). The consistently compelling atmosphere, which is heightened by a number of thrilling sequences (ie Jacob's initial transformation into a werewolf), admittedly does take a bit of a hit somewhere around the midpoint, as the movie's longer-than-necessary running time begins to become more evident than one might've liked - yet it's worth noting that the narrative demonstrably picks up once Bella arrives in Italy to save Edward's life (with Michael Sheen's magnificently entertaining turn as the Volturi's charismatic leader alone justifying this stretch). The final result is an endeavor that will surely enthrall fans of Stephenie Meyer's books, even as it leaves the author's many detractors scratching their heads over the series' continued success.
The Twilight saga continues in an installment that follows Kristen Stewart's Bella as she's forced to finally choose between Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), with her efforts complicated by the creeping realization that Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over for Rachelle Lefevre) is assembling an army of newborn vampires to avenge the death of her mate. There's little doubt that Eclipse effectively builds on the irresistibly cinematic atmosphere established by its immediate predecessor, 2009's New Moon, as filmmaker David Slade does a nice job of balancing the elements that have come to define this series - including larger-than-life action sequences and the romantic entanglements of the three protagonists. It's subsequently not surprising to note that Eclipse generally seems content to appeal solely to fans, as casual viewers (and detractors) are sure to find themselves growing more and more frustrated with the film's unabashedly loose structure (ie New Moon's comparatively plot-heavy sensibilities are noticeably absent here). Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg's character-based modus operandi is heightened by a welcome emphasis on backstory, with the ongoing exploits of the central trio augmented by flashbacks detailing the tragic pasts of such periphery figures as Jackson Rathbone's Jasper and Nikki Reed's Rosalie. It's fascinating stuff that goes a long way towards infusing the proceedings with an unexpectedly epic feel, while the over-the-top battle between vampires and werewolves that closes the film cements Eclipse's place as one of the most satisfying big-budget extravaganzas to come around in quite some time. It's worth noting, though, that the movie is generally at its best in its quieter moments, as Slade comes impressively close to capturing the intensity of Stephenie Meyers' depiction of Bella and Edward's love for one another (which, not surprisingly, ensures that a pivotal marriage-proposal sequence stands as the film's emotional highlight). There is, as a result, no denying that Eclipse and its two predecessors stand as ideal examples of how to adapt a beloved property for the big screen, and one can only hope that the trend will continue with the series' upcoming two-part finale.
Breaking Dawn: Part 1
It's ultimately clear that the decision to split the final Twilight book, Breaking Dawn, into two parts was, to say the least, somewhat misguided, as Breaking Dawn: Part 1 generally comes off as a needlessly padded-out effort that could have (and should have) been whittled down to a tight, hour-long stretch housed within the upcoming final installment. The film's mild success, then, is due primarily to the inherently compelling nature of the material and the expectedly strong performances from the various actors, with the thin storyline, which follows Bella (Kristen Stewart) as she marries Edward (Robert Pattinson) and subsequently becomes pregnant with his life-draining spawn, primarily allayed by the movie's ongoing emphasis on elements taken directly from the source material (ie fans of Stephenie Meyers' books will surely have an easier time overlooking the film's deficiencies). Breaking Dawn: Part 1 admittedly gets off to an impressively strong start, as director Bill Condon, working from Melissa Rosenberg's script, does a fantastic job of bringing Bella and Edward's idealized wedding to life - with, especially, Stewart's stirring work here heightening the impact of this moving stretch. From there, however, Condon's increasingly strained efforts at prolonging the running time become more and more difficult to overlook (eg was the Bella-gets-ready-for-sex montage really necessary?) - which inevitably does ensure that the film suffers from an egregiously languid midsection wherein nothing of consequence seems to occur. And though the narrative has been peppered with a few standout sequences here and there (eg Bella begs Edward to take care of the baby if she dies), Breaking Dawn: Part 1 doesn't wholeheartedly improve until the now-infamous birth sequence rolls around - with the strength of this captivating interlude ensuring that everything that comes after fares unexpectedly well (ie the final half hour is gripping and engrossing in ways that everything preceding it isn't). It is, as a result, impossible to label the film as anything more than a shameless cash-grab designed to artificially prolong the life of this profitable series, although, as far as shameless cash-grabs go, Breaking Dawn: Part 1 is far easier to stomach than certain other franchise-extending installments (eg the Star Wars prequels).
Breaking Dawn: Part Two
The Twilight series comes to a close with this uneven yet satisfying finale that effectively wraps up the saga of these vivid, almost iconic characters, with the strong third act and continuing emphasis on irresistibly fun interludes compensating for the movie's almost palpably overlong atmosphere. The thin narrative follows Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) as they attempt to cope with both Bella's newfound powers and their daughter's rapid growth, with such concerns rendered moot by the impending arrival of the Volturi and their army of vampires. As was the case with Breaking Dawn: Part One, Breaking Dawn: Part Two often feels as though it's been unnaturally expanded to justify two separate movies. This is despite the fact that it's ultimately all-too-clear that there's simply not enough content here to justify more than one picture, with scripter Melissa Rosenberg's efforts at compensating for the dearth of plot resulting in a number of padded-out and superfluous sequences. One's willingness to indulge director Bill Condon is directly related to one's fondness for the characters, as Breaking Dawn: Part Two boasts a patience-testing opening hour that's seemingly been designed to appeal solely to the most die-hard and loyal fans of this much-maligned series. And although the first half of the movie contains a number of distinctly entertaining sequences - eg Jacob (Taylor Lautner) reveals his true identity to Billy Burke's Charlie Swan - Breaking Dawn: Part Two doesn't become the enthralling franchise capper that one might've hoped for until it rolls into its action-packed final stretch - with Rosenberg's decision to deviate from Stephenie Meyer's admittedly uneventful text resulting in a jaw-dropping and absolutely breathtaking climactic battle sequence that's nothing short of stunning in its audaciousness (ie its unexpected nature ensures that one can't help but gawk at some of the things that transpire, particularly in terms of character deaths). It ultimately goes without saying that Breaking Dawn: Part Two is an absolute must-see for fans of these movies, as it does become rather easy to overlook the film's various deficincies in the face of its utterly spellbinding final half hour.
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