By Eric Henderson

All early indications would suggest that Twilight: Eclipse is the best in the series so far. I wouldn’t know. I jumped headlong into the series with this third installment, having skipped the first two.

I figured that I wouldn’t be too lost, that it would be basically like jumping into a TV soap opera after months and months of time off and catching up within about 15 minutes. Surprise, surprise, I was all caught up during the opening scene as Edward, the gentlemanly vampire, is shown lounging with Bella, his pouty girlfriend, in the spring splendor of a purple field borrowed from Jane Campion’s Bright Star.

The only thing that initially confused me was the fact that the two were sitting in the sunlight. I thought vampires burned easily. I mean, that’s the whole reason I’m interested in vampire movies in the first place, because we have that complexion in common. (Well actually, there were two things that confused me in that first scene. The second was when I realized that Kristen Stewart’s wan, emotionless Bella was not yet undead.)

Otherwise, the love triangle between Bella, Edward and some stack of muscles apparently meant to represent a werewolf named Jacob explains itself in a few expository lunchroom conversations straight out of Dawson’s Creek. (Uh-oh. I’m dating myself.)

In short: Bella loves Jacob, but loves Edward more. And why not? With commitment on her mind, she’s obviously a little bit more taken with the sensitive guy who doesn’t want to give her a life-altering hickey than she is with the guy who smells like dog, even if he admittedly always looks like he just completed 18 sets of push-ups. (The audience of mostly teen girls I saw the film with were similarly torn by their love for chivalry and their love for carnal definition.)

Against this universal goth backdrop, an army of newly undead (more powerful in their first few months of vampirism) are being recruited in Seattle to raise hell, and not in protest of your garden variety G20 Summit. No, they’re being organized to move into the mountains where Edward and the rest of the Cullen clan are protecting Bella. The only way they can keep her safe is to forge an uneasy alliance between themselves and Jacob’s belligerent wolf pack.

Call me crazy, but is Twilight: Eclipse nothing more than West Side Story with less songs and more claws? I mean, I get why this series is such a smashing success. It’s got an undeniable corny, adolescent appeal. This is high school crushing distilled to near-crack level concentration. The clear delineation between just about every type of pre-pubescent crush archetype is represented in Team Edward and Team Jacob.

Author Stephanie Meyer’s well-documented Mormonism doesn’t inform the series, and never overwhelms the horror-show flourishes with morality. But make no mistake, it’s there. Edward’s refusal to turn Bella into the vampire she so deeply wants to be until they are married is hardly a heavily-veiled metaphor. With Eclipse, the whole series emerges as an embalmed cover version of Beyonce’s command to “put a ring on it.” Or put a steak through it.


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