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Twilight: The Verdict

The Movie Critic

Fantasy. Starring Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Greene. Directed by David Slade. Cert 12A

It's a sign that a studio know that it's on to a surefire, critically bulletproof thing when it shows a summer blockbuster to the media nine days before its official release. So scared are producers that their expensive punt might crash and burn amid howls of derision like, say, a France team at a World Cup finals, they're generally reluctant to let their baby out into the world until the last minute, thus limiting the effects of bad word of mouth on the crucial opening weekend.

Last November the second instalment in the Twilight saga was withheld from media scrutiny until the night before it opened to the public, but, once New Moon improved on its predecessor's performance, everyone involved knew that the fanbase were going to shell out in their droves no matter what us nasty old fogies had to say, and so there's a certain cavalier attitude emanating from the Twilight camp.

That said, there's a certain hubris detectable in that, although Stephenie Meyer wrote four novels in the series, the final book, Breaking Dawn, will be split into two films Harry Potter style, thus allowing the makers to milk the . . . sorry, do full justice to the rich material provided by the author.

Eclipse is, again, set in the Pacific Northwest town of Forks, a place as wet and dreary as the general demeanour of its heroine, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). Within minutes of the opening titles Little Miss Mopey Mittens is sitting in an idyllic meadow with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) asking her to marry him, a scene guaranteed to elicit squeals when played before full houses, so you can't accuse director David Slade of beating about the bush when it comes to hooking the target audience. However, despite the fact that this is clearly just what her heavy heart desires, does she begin dancing through the daffodils? Of course not, she actually starts nagging him to turn her into a vampire: the miserable little wagon.

Matters are complicated further by the hunky Jacob (Taylor Lautner) still lurking about the place with his shirt off, when he's not cavorting with his similarly shirtless and hunky buddies or turning into a great big wolf.

Still, the smitten Edward persists -- although God knows why -- and the pair agree that he'll initiate her into the ranks of the undead after they graduate from high school and get married.

Now, the mention of an upcoming graduation celebration certainly gave me a brief glimmer of hope that maybe we'd be in for some Carrie-style carnage but, alas, all that passes off relatively peacefully.

Throughout Eclipse you get the sense that this is a classic case of mid-series filler, an exercise in treading water until the hype machine can be ramped up for the remaining movies. The central plotline, apart from Bella trembling her lip as she goes 'eeny meeny miny mo' between Paleface and Wolfboy, involves a rogue army of newborn vampires who've been assembled by sinister forces to hunt for Bella and get to snack on the townsfolk by way of a treat. This, naturally, leads to a temporary truce between the Cullens and their traditional four-legged foes, the natural enemies getting together for Forks' sake to face the intruders.

It's a slim enough premise to sustain a two-hour movie, with long stretches of the running time devoted to the increasingly irritating Bella (and I was pretty badly disposed towards her to begin with, as you've probably gathered) giving wistful stares and spouting the kind of inane cliches which would shame a cynical wordsmith at Hallmark. There's one scene which, by rights, should have sussed teens spluttering with disbelief as Edward gives a mind-boggling speech about the virtues of courtship and why sexual relations should be avoided until marriage.

In fairness to the central players, they don't exactly have Oscar-winning material to work with here and you can sense the relief from Pattinson and Lautner when they finally get a decent line each, which tip a wink at their public, pin-up personas.

David Slade's previous movie was the excellent vampire chiller 30 Days of Night but while he shows snatches of what he's capable of in this outing, most notably in a pre-titles sequence set on a rainy Seattle waterfront, this is strictly kiddies' corner stuff with nary a drop of decent gore to be seen anywhere. When one character utters the line "Something terrible is coming", it's very difficult to suppress the thought, 'Yeah, two more of these things'. HHIII