Movies

TERRY GROSS, host:

It's no surprise that this week's opening of the latest "Twilight" movie was boffo box office. It opened on more screens across the country than any other movie in history.

"Eclipse" is the third "Twilight" movie adapted from Stephenie Meyer's series of bestselling books. Her stories mix modern vampires and werewolves with an old-fashioned gothic sense of romance and peril.

Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: At 9 p.m. on June 29th, I walked past hundreds, if not thousands of mostly teenage girls in line for the first midnight showing of "Eclipse" in Times Square, and wondered what it was about the slow, old-fashioned, remarkably chaste "Twilight" saga that has mesmerized a generation of kids whose catchphrase is what-ever - among them my 12-year-old daughter.

You have Bella, a remarkably inexpressive teenage virgin, a gentlemanly vampire, Edward, who's afraid to touch her for fear his bloodlust will take over and he'll gobble her up, and a Native American werewolf, Jacob, who doesn't have a prayer of landing Bella, but hovers protectively, showing off his six-pack abs and deltoids like a human muscle chart. In part, it's the trendy vampire fetish and the usual blockbuster hysteria. But most blockbusters don't move so glacially and withhold so much. Could it be that kids are actually thrilled for once to defer their gratification?

Speculation aside, "Eclipse" is, on its own terms, quite good. I'm grading on a curve - the last one, "New Moon," almost put me in a coma. But the new director, David Slade, has more of a handle on the measured tempo, and the screenplay mixes those long, lovelorn dialogues with nifty historical flashbacks and lots of hissing vampire villains.

We're back in Forks, on the coast of Washington State, where Kristen Stewart's Bella and Robert Pattinson's Edward are stretched out in a meadow of soft-focused violets. Edward asks her once again to be his bride and Bella stares at her lap and twists her wide mouth on her long jaw and refuses to give him a firm yes or no until he promises to kill and resurrect her as a vampire so they can be together forever.

She also wants to make love before she's a vampire, so she'll know what it's like, quote, "while I'm still me." Edward, however, is old-fashioned, having come of age a century earlier. He believes they must wait until they're married before they have sex and he kills her. As you can guess, his pure-mindedness puts a strain on the relationship, especially with that werewolf at the door.

Also, there's this redheaded vampire woman - played in this film by Bryce Dallas Howard - who wants Bella's scalp, or neck, or something. After Edward whisked Bella off to Florida - not the best place for a sun-shy vampire - the couple bump into Taylor Lautner's Jacob in front of their high school.

(Soundbite of movie, "Eclipse")

Ms. KRISTEN STEWART (Actor): (as Bella) Hey.

Mr. TAYLOR LAUTNER (Actor): (as Jacob) Charlie said you left town.

Ms. STEWART: (as Bella) Yeah, to visit my mom. Why?

Mr. LAUTNER: (as Jacob) Just checking to see if you're still human. Look, I'm here to warn you. If your kind come on our land again...

Mr. ROBERT PATTISON (Actor): (as Edward) You should leave. Now.

Mr. LAUTNER: (as Jacob) She has a right to know. She is the one the redhead wants.

Ms. STEWART: (as Bella) Victoria? Alice's vision.

Mr. PATTISON: (as Edward) I was trying to protect you.

Ms. STEWART: (as Bella) By lying to me.

You, why haven't you called me back?

Mr. LAUTNER: (as Jacob) I have nothing to say.

Ms. STEWART: (as Bella) Well, I have tons. Hold on.

Mr. PATTISON: (as Edward) Hey, Bella.

Ms. STEWART: (as Bella) Edward, you have to trust me.

Mr. PATTISON: (as Edward) I do trust you. It's him I don't trust.

EDELSTEIN: Sexual tension, pregnant pauses - that's "Eclipse," except I hasten to add that the actors are very good-looking. And there are maybe 500 lengthy, monumental, screen-filling close-ups of them. Around the 200th, I became hypnotized by their flawless complexions: Was their skin tone evened out in post-production? Did computers squeegee out their zits?

Pattinson comes out worse than Lautner in this one: His Edward hangs back, looking clingy and vaguely antiseptic. But the two have a good, tense, cards-on-the-table dialogue that had me thinking, oh, why don't you macho men kiss already?

Kristen Stewart can seem sullen, a little dull, but I like her. She seems temperamentally averse to emoting. She's an anti-drama queen. Given how florid this material is, I think she's smart to hold something back, to let the audience project their own feelings onto her face.

"Eclipse's" principal threat is an army of vicious newborn vampires, which means the upright vampires and righteous werewolves, normally antagonists, have to team up against their common enemy. The big rumble is a hash of smash-cuts and computer-generated imagery, but it's surprisingly cathartic after all those tortured silences.

My ideal battle scene would have more splatter, but these vampires apparently don't bleed. As my 12-year-old daughter explained, vampires don't have any blood. That's why they need to keep drinking it.

I said I'd been watching vampire movies for 45 years, and they sure as hell had had plenty of blood until now. And she said what I already knew in my bones: Dad, these are not your vampires.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. He reviewed "Eclipse."

And while we're on the subject of vampires, we'll close with the theme from HBO's series "True Blood." The theme was written and sung by Jace Everett. The album that it's featured on, "Jace Everett's Red Revelations," was rereleased last month.

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