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3 out of 4 stars


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

  • Directed by David Slade
  • Written by Melissa Rosenberg
  • Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattison and Taylor Lautner

Anyone who has followed the Twilight series knows that heroine Bella Swan is a young woman caught in an awful erotic dilemma: She wants to sleep with her dreamboat vampire lover, Edward, but if he gets too turned-on, he just might sink his teeth in her and vampirize her by accident.

Pedestrian types might think of practical solutions for her problem (a Hannibal Lecter-style no-biting mask? Condoms for fangs?) but that would miss the point. Devotees of Stephenie Meyer's immensely popular Twilight books and the previous two hit movies understand that Bella and Edward's dilemma is spiritual, not a prurient practical problem. Their story is about a quest for human love that transcends death.

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A secondary concern, raised by Edward's athletic romantic rival, raises another eternal question: Beauty or Hotness?

The faithful will be relieved to know that The Twilight Saga: Eclipse introduces no vulgar innovations to the story, or for that matter, respite from Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattison) putting their retinas at risk with the intensity of their yearning gazes.

As well as continuity, there are some welcome new developments. The Twilight series has maintained the same writer (Melissa Rosenberg) and producers and cast from the beginning and now, by the third movie, has a distinct shape and rhythm. There's the alternation between talky melodramatic scenes and horror suspense, a hip soundtrack (Muse, Metric, Vampire Weekend) and lots of aerial shots of highways running through forests.

Stewart, with her boyish slouch and deadpan delivery, embodies the alienated teen disposition that's at the centre of the story, but there's more than just attitude here. All the young actors are maturing and expanding their ranges. Stewart, for example, shows more vulnerability, and Taylor Lautner, as Jacob, the buff werewolf rival for Bella's affections, has a conflicted character whose tenderness and animal aggression are at odds. As for Pattinson, the best news, after the last movie when he was mostly absent, is simply that he and those cheekbones get so much screen time again.

Altogether, Eclipse feels painted on a bigger canvas than the previous two movies. Those films were released for the American Thanksgiving; this is a summer movie, adding more action and horror elements into the supernatural love-triangle plot. New director David Slade ( Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) sets the new film's more aggressive tone at the outset with the opening scene, on a rainy dark Seattle street, where a young man is suddenly attacked, chased down to the docks and then attacked again by an invisible vampire. Throughout, Slade uses more outdoor locations, more handheld camera work and rapid editing. There are also two sustained historical flashbacks, when Edward's vampire friends tell Bella about their long-ago human lives.

And there's some humorous relief: in Bella's exchanges with her affectionate, clueless cop dad (Billy Burke), and dealing with day-to-day high-school life. While her friend (Anna Kendricks) is figuring out what to say for her valedictory speech, Bella is trying to decide what will become of her eternal soul.

Picking up from where The Twilight Saga: New Moon left off, Bella has decided she wants Edward to turn her into a vampire so they can live together forever, but first she wants to sleep with him. Parental guidance warning: Horizontal fondling is achieved but Edward's century-old mores and concerns about breaking into a feeding frenzy keep her in a holding pattern as a virgin on the verge. As well, his habit of lying to protect Bella pushes her from him.

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The much hotter Jacob (he's even shirtless during an icy mountain-top kiss that's a shoo-in for next year's MTV Movie Awards) promises Bella a warm-blooded normal relationship. Fortunately, a new external threat breaks us out of the holding pattern as the two rivals decide to join forces to protect her. Edward's nemesis, Victoria (a suitably wraith-like Bryce Dallas Howard) has created an army of "new-borns", dangerously reckless, recently-bit vampires that are determined to get Bella.

The climactic sequence, involving close-combat-trained vampires and leaping gigantic wolves in a forest glade, is fierce and efficiently brisk. The CGI work is the best so far in the series (the wolves look both menacing in action and cuddly in repose). With the bigger story and more fully developed relationships than the previous films, this is the first Twilight film that feels like a real movie in its own right, not just a spin-off from a mass literary cult.

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