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? Well, perhaps they’d do that no matter what, but Eclipse is the least laughable installment yet in the series, and director David Slade efficiently delivers the fan service that Twihards require.
In the world of shōnen 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 upskirt drawing of a giggling schoolgirl looking straight at you.
These out-of-left-field moments are never strictly necessary in manga, but they are expected; that is, they are not required by the plot but are required by the medium. 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 feel the same way, even if the nature of the service differs. Sure, they love shirtless Jacob, and Eclipse doesn’t stint on lovingly photographed shots of its pack of wolfhunks. But, really, 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! 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. Oh, God, they scream, and you can hardly blame them, so perfectly self-aware is the scene.
Is there more to Eclipse than gorgeous suffering? Besides Bella agonizing over her admittedly stupid choice to become a vampire for love, or Jacob haltingly admitting to Bella in Taylor Lautner’s adenoidal adolescent’s voice that he loves her? Sure, there are other things. There are a couple of swell fights, including a climactic battle between the vamps, the wolves, and a bunch of “newborn” vampires that’s filmed with real flair. There’s 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). There’s an appearance by the cloaked Volturi, led by the enjoyably malevolent Dakota Fanning. There are even jokes, although admittedly they are as wan as the sunlight in the misty forests of Forks, Washington.
Slade’s directing resume seems eerily aimed toward scoring a Twilight gig – gloomy music videos, the sex panic of Hard Candy, the vamps of 30 Days of Night — and he 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 he is at conversation, but he gets around that by shooting the movie’s big arguments like action sequences, with hand-held 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 that no one who hasn’t studied the books will make head or tail of them; it contains not one but two proposal scenes, each drawn out to delicious length. The ramshackle quality that Catherine Hardwicke brought to 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.