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The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

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Why is Eclipse, the third film in the Twilight series, so fantastically successful? Why does the audience shriek and moan and giggle throughout in feverish joy? Perhaps they'd do that no matter what, but Eclipse is the least laughable installment yet, and director David Slade efficiently delivers the fan service that Twihards require. 

 In the world of shonen manga, "fan service" refers to the full-page pictures of scantily clad heroines that are included in every comic as a sort of gift to readers. The adorable giant-eyed manga characters will be having pillow fights or arguing about schoolwork or whatever, and then, all of a sudden, bam! You turn the page, and there's a shameless up-skirt drawing of a giggling schoolgirl looking straight at you. 

 These out-of-left-field moments are never strictly necessary in manga, but they're expected. They're less arousing than they are silly, a show of respect for the power of fandom. Fans are fans, and they expect service. 

Twilight fans are the same way, even if the nature of the service differs. Sure, they love shirtless Jacob, and Eclipse, directed by David Slade, doesn't stint on lovingly photographed shots of its pack of wolf hunks. But the fan service that Twihards demand is a little more complicated. 

 Eclipse delivers the greatest pleasure when it deals out pain to its stars. Especially Edward. Oh, sweet Edward, how you suffer! Robert Pattinson (aka R-Pattz) can't act, exactly, but he can glower and tremble with the best of them, and in Eclipse he's made to endure the unendurable. Having stashed his beloved Bella (Kristen Stewart) in a mountaintop tent for safekeeping as a battle rages below, Edward must watch her shiver in the cold and then — and then! — must allow shirtless, smoldering Jacob to slide into her sleeping bag to warm her up. "I am hotter than you," Jacob smirks, and Edward winces in near physical pain, and the audience screams.

Is there more to Eclipse than gorgeous suffering, besides Bella agonizing over her admittedly stupid choice to become a vampire for love, or Jacob (Taylor Lautner) haltingly admitting to Bella in his adenoidal, adolescent voice that he loves her? Sure, there are other things: a couple of swell fights, including a climactic battle among the vamps, the wolves and a bunch of "newborn" vampires that's filmed with real flair; Bryce Dallas Howard, brought in as a scab to ham her way through the role of villainous Victoria (played in the past two films by Rachelle Lefevre); an appearance by the cloaked Volturi, led by the enjoyably malevolent Dakota Fanning; and jokes, although they're as wan as the sunlight in the misty forests of Forks, Washington. 

Slade gives this third installment a smooth sheen and a languid pace that belies the ruthlessness with which it cuts a swath through the 629 pages of Stephenie Meyer's novel. Slade's better at action than conversation, but he gets around that by shooting the movie's big arguments like action sequences, with handheld cameras and rapid cutting — a sly nod to the fact that, for Twilight devotees, big emotional arguments are action sequences.  

For those who aren't already devotees, why bother? Dispensing entirely with context and exposition, Eclipse identifies itself early as a fetish object. The movie is bookended by scenes of Edward and Bella making out in a meadow. Its silly explanatory flashbacks are so short, no one who hasn't studied the books will make head or tail of them. And it contains not one but two proposal scenes, each drawn out to delicious length. The ramshackle quality of the first movie in the series is mostly gone. Eclipse is all business. It serves the fans, yes, but it serves the brand even better.

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