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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" makers hired a horror director to pump up the action, but what they got was a movie filled with love. And "Twi-hard" fans of the hit film franchise will likely be happy.
"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" premiered Thursday to throngs of screaming young women in Los Angeles with its usual mix of razor-toothed werewolves and bloodthirsty vampires, but the movie's true heroes are the pair of lovers who long for the affection of a teenage girl.
But even as they vie for her in the third film of the smash hit "Twilight" franchise that debuts across the United States on June 30, one-time rivals werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), must ban together to save the object of their desire, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), as she becomes hunted.
As in the two previous "Twilight" movies, studio Summit Entertainment brought in a new director, this time David Slade, who is best known for horror flicks.
While some Twi-hards" showed concern that Slade would turn the film into a dark and bloody tale, influential fans who have seen it say love remains in the air in "Eclipse," which is expected to be among the highest grossing films of 2010.
"Really the love triangle is at its hottest, at its peak in 'Eclipse,'" said Lori Joffs, 36, creator of Twi-hard fan site TwilightLexicon.com.
To readers of author Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" books, on which the movie franchise is based, the winner of Bella's heart will come as no surprise. But watching the romance play out -- as Jacob steals a kiss from Bella and Edward enthralls her with visions of marriage -- should make Twi-hards swoon.
In "Eclipse," a band of newly minted vampires hunts Bella. To protect her, Edward's vampire clan and Jacob's werewolf pack unite to fight the invading bloodsuckers.
And as Bella, Jacob and Edward seek refuge on a snowcapped mountain, the boys who in the second movie both showed love for Bella must now decide who will be her only boyfriend and who will leave her side forever.
The 24 year-old Pattinson told reporters recently that in his own life, he would rather be like his Cullen in "Eclipse" -- namely, the one who starts off with the girl as in the first "Twilight," compared with Jacob, whose desire for Bella sets up a love triangle in No. 2, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon."
"I would never be in Jacob's position, because then you just end up being the guy who broke up a couple," he said.
Lautner, 18, said his character Jacob gets frustrated in "Eclipse," because "gets told 'no' over and over again."
For her part, Stewart told Reuters that even though Bella seems bound to choose Edward, Jacob makes things interesting. "What I really like about the love triangle is she thinks there could absolutely be no one else for her (except Edward) and...she (later) sees that she could totally be with someone else," said Stewart.
Love triangles are the stuff of Hollywood legend, which is surely what independent studio Summit has on its mind as it seeks to keep up the box office momentum of the film.
"Twilight" from director Catherine Hardwicke made $409 million at global box offices in 2008, and one year later, the sequel "Twilight Saga: New Moon" by filmmaker Chris Weitz earned $710 million.
Ben Carlson, president of Hollywood buzz monitoring firm Fizziology, said "Eclipse" is generating as much buzz as any film this year, and is on par with "Toy Story 3" which enjoyed an opening weekend box office of more than $100 million.
One of the blogs generating that buzz is Joffs' TwilightLexicon.com, where the Tennessee mother of two children addresses such topics as "Eclipse's" new director.
Joffs said Slade, who previously made the horror film "30 Days of Night," had fans worried that he "was just going to be so dark as a horror movie director." But after seeing the film, Joffs said those audience concerns will evaporate.
"He understands that the love triangle is what keeps fans coming back for more," she said.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte