The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Blu-ray review

Could it be third time lucky for the supernatural teen movie phenomenon?

When we last left Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) at the end of ...New Moon, they'd just returned from an exciting visit to Italy with the 110 year-old vampire agreeing to change his 18 year-old love interest into a vampire after they get married. Bella had also discovered that shirtless Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and his equally topless chums weren't part of some 'alternative lifestyle' branch of the Boy Scouts of America, but were actually a clan of werewolves who really don't like vampires and have the ability to transform into big cuddly CGI wolves whenever the budget can stretch to it.

With all of that out of the way, you'd expect The Twilight Saga: Eclipse to move onto bigger and better things, upping the dramatic stakes considerably to avoid repetition. For a few minutes things look very promising indeed, thanks mainly to a pleasingly spooky sequence that sees a young man being attacked by an unseen creature. It's a rare venture into a truly supernatural unknown for this franchise and one that shows director David '30 Days of Night' Slade has managed to successfully adapt his talent for terror to a younger audience.

From there though it's straight back to sleepy old Forks where Bella and Edward are back to lying around and brooding as they endlessly discuss the decision to turn her into a vampire. She's keen to get on with it as soon as possible, but he's worried about all of the human experiences she'll miss out on when she's one of the undead. On top of that, Bella's dad isn't too happy about her relationship with Edward and wishes she would spend more time with someone like Jacob. Which the shirtless lad is delighted about, as he'd love to get into Bella's pants without making her wait until they were married and she'd become a supernatural creature. All of which just serves to make Bella even more miserable and broody than usual. Hooray!

After an hour or so of brooding, arguing, moping around and longing stares, we then get to the heart of this film's narrative. It seems that nasty vampire Victoria is back, this time played by Bryce Dallas Howard - continuing a trend that seems to run across the sequels of appearances by actors far better than the material they're working with (see also Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning). She's been busy in Seattle building an army of newborn vampires to take revenge on Bella and Edward for the murder of her love James in the first film.

Following another period of deep meaningful gazes and long brooding silences (punctuated only by songs from Bat for Lashes and Band of Horses), everybody finally figures out what is going on, resulting in the Cullens and Jacob's shirtless werewolves agreeing to work together to stop the newborns from killing Bella. And after the best part of six hours watching this epic love story develop across three films, the only thing I feel compelled to ask is, 'Why?'

You see, in its film incarnation (I can't talk about the books) The Twilight Saga continues to have a major problem at its heart - Bella Swan. Completely devoid of personality and freakishly obsessive in how she behaves, it's still impossible to understand what Edward and Jacob actually see in this sullen and unintersting young woman. Her character arc to date began with obsessing about a man who was essentially a supernatural stalker. Then, when he disappeared in ...New Moon, she could only define herself through a new relationship with another man. Eventually reunited with her first love, she instantly went back to shaping her entire life around him. There's literally nothing else to Bella beyond the men she becomes infatuated with. Even her doting father barely gets a look-in through the sequels, presumably because he's just another man to be cast aside when she finds somebody else to thinking about while gazing into the middle distance.

Because of this, the love story at the heart of The Twilight Saga never rings true. While it's possible to accept that maybe Jacob, being a self-obsessed teen himself, might not be too bothered by Bella's behaviour (except for the bit about her not choosing him of course), it boggles the mind to understand why Edward is smitten with her. There's not been a single scene in any of the three films to demonstrate why somebody who has lived for over 100 years would become so obsessed with an emotionally-stunted 18 year-old girl who spends her entire life pouting, brooding and staring mournfully into the distance. And as their relationship feels so incredibly manufactured it completely kills the romance that the series is supposed to thrive on.

At this point in the franchise it feels like the viewers have a better handle on some of the supporting cast, thanks in no small part to a couple of extremely effective flashbacks for members of the extended Cullen family in ...Eclipse showing how they were turned into vampires. In a matter of minutes both Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed) become far more rounded characters, with more honest emotional cores, than any of the three leads. Surely this is a bit of a problem?

Away from the romance, how does the rest of the film hold up? Well, David Slade certainly delivers a very slick and technically accomplished picture. The effects, when they arrive, are an improvement on what the previous films delivered, even resulting in some slightly less cuddly CGI werewolves. And the big climactic scrap between the vampire-werewolf alliance and the newborns is surprisingly thrilling, with some excellent stunt work married to surprisingly brutal action. It's jut a shame that it's all over so quickly  - but I get people looking for this kind of thing aren't really the franchise's target audience. Slade also brings his usual bleak aesthetic style to the film, which here actually does more work to underscore the emotions the characters are supposed to be feeling than any of the trite dialogue that is put into their mouths by the laboured script.

So there are some positives to emerge from this latest entry in The Twilight Saga. But, once again, they're almost lost amid the sea of underwritten teenage angst that the franchise attempts to pass of as meaningful emotional content. If they could simply try and get to the heart of the main characters and develop them into meaningful people then there could be something here worth watching. As it is, The Twilight Saga continues to prove an infuriating cinematic experience that is content only to make the most incremental improvements and story developments as the film continues, but which continues to miss the gaping black hole at its emotional centre.

Picture: Whatever its flaws as a film, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse makes for a pretty spectacular looking Blu-ray. Presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the AVC 1080p encode delivers an impressively cinematic image with a fine layer of film grain evident throughout.

Colours tend towards the darker end of the spectrum, mainly earthtones with highlights coming in blues and greys for the most part, but they're cleanly rendered and hold together extremely well. Fleshtones are a bit all over the place, veering from the deathly pale of Edward's giant forehead to the perma-tanned orange of Jacob's abs, but this is a deliberate choice in keeping with the film's aesthetic. Best of all though is the detailing evident throughout. While the film itself can be pretty dark, for the most part fine object detail remains at a high standard, picking out everything from the fine textures in clothing to the intricate details of Jacobs tattoo.

That said there are a handful of scenes where blacks become a little too flat and thick. In these instances detailing is diminished and some rather ugly aliasing rears its head. But, it's a relatively minor thing when compared to the high standard of high-definition imagery served up by the rest of this Blu-ray encode.
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: Just as impressive as the Blu-ray's visuals is its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. From the ominous rumble of thunder and rainy downpour that brings the entire soundfield to life as a young man is tormented and killed by unseen forces, this lossless track brings a gravitas to the film that the narrative itself never manages to live up to.

Admittedly, the long passages of the film involving Bella and Edward staring at each other or talking about the future of their relationship isn't exactly the stuff that kick-ass audio mixes are made of. But these scenes are almost always backed by impressively rendered music that provides additional acoustic scale. And anyway, these quieter moments are more than made up for by the sonic assault that accompanies the final battle scenes, with the thunder of the werewolves racing into action providing some rousing audio, enlivened by some potent bass as Edward and Victoria start tearing up (or, at least, pushing over) trees as they face off against one another in a fight for Bella's life.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: While it might seem a little lacking in goodies compared to previous Twilight Saga Blu-ray releases, ...Eclipse still delivers some extremely worthwhile bonus content.

The audio commentary by stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson really can't really be included amongst this due to a complete lack of substance and far too many silent pauses where the less-than-dynamic duo seemingly get caught up watching the film and forget to say anything at all. Either that, or it's some kind of post-modern gag about how their characters act in the film. Whatever the case, the involvement of somebody like director David Slade could have been a big boost here, providing a little more insightful information about the shoot itself, and prompting the actors to comment more frequently. But sadly it's not to be.

Thankfully, the second audio commentary track featuring author Stephenie Meyer and producer Wyck Godfrey is a significant improvement. This particular pairing does a fine job of discussing the film itself, with Godfrey providing technical tidbits of how certain scenes came together, while Meyer offers some insights into the themes the narrative touches on and her thoughts on the differences between the written and filmed versions of the story.

Better still is the 88min six-part The Making of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse documentary. The director himself finally makes an appearance here, providing the largest insight yet into the challenge of bringing the story to the screen, and it's packed with interviews and behind-the-scenes material covering a variety of different aspects of the production. In this Blu-ray incarnation The Twilight Saga: Eclipse gives you the chance of either watching the Making of... documentary directly from the menu, or having it re-purposed as Picture-in-Picture content while viewing the film - a very smart idea that I wish more studios would employ.

After this you're left with a collection of two deleted scenes and six extended scenes with optional commentary by David Slade, a Jump to... feature allowing users direct access to their favourite scenes from a selection of categories (Edward, Jacob, The Love Triangle, The Cullens, The Wolf Pack, The Humans, Victoria's Army and Action Sequences), a photo gallery and a pair of music videos (Muse's Neutron Star Collision and Metric's Eclipse [All Yours]). The music videos are the only extras in standard definition, with all of the other video material being encoded in 1080p.
Extras rating: 3/5

We say: A respectable Blu-ray package for the latest installement in this bafflingly popular franchise

Entertainment One, Region B Blu-ray, £25 approx, On sale December 6