The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

The Twilight Saga
Breaking Dawn Part 1
Director: Bill Condon
Screenplay: Melissa Rosenberg (based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer)
Stars: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black), Billy Burke (Charlie Swan), Peter Facinelli (Dr. Carlisle Cullen), Elizabeth Reaser (Esme Cullen), Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen), Nikki Reed (Rosalie Hale), Jackson Rathbone (Jasper Hale), Ashley Greene (Alice Cullen), Michael Sheen (Aro), Anna Kendrick (Jessica), Sarah Clarke (Renee), Christian Camargo (Eleazar Denali), Gil Birmingham (Billy), Julia Jones (Leah), Booboo Stewart (Seth), Mia Maestro (Carmen Denali), Casey Labow (Kate Denali), Maggie Grace (Irina Denali), Myanna Buring (Tanya Denali)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2011
Country: U.S.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1“If it could be justified for a certain boy wizard, then surely it could be justified for a teenage vampire lover”--or so I imagine the boardroom discussion went when deciding to split the adaptation of the fourth and final volume of Stephanie Meyer’s immensely popular Twilight series into two films. Not having read the book, I can’t say if this was a good idea in terms of adaptation, although, after seeing Breaking Dawn Part 1, I am leaning toward the feeling that it wasn’t a good idea cinematically--outside of pure economics, of course (why have one guaranteed, pre-sold blockbuster when you can have two?). Although not quite a complete slog, Breaking Dawn Part 1 does feel like it has been drawn out excessively in both the sticky romantic syrup of the first hour and the morbid, sullen body-horror of the second hour. In a better film the two hours would feel coherent together, even if they are radical reversals of each other, but here they feel simply disjunctive and contradictory.

The movie kicks off with the long-awaited wedding of 18-year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) to Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the sensitive, comely vampire boyfriend she finally chose once and for all over the moody and angry Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), her werewolf best friend who has and will continue to pine for her. Much ado is made about the wedding, which is held at the Cullen family’s modernist-chic forest home and looks to have been production designed to within an inch of its life. Much ado is also made about making Bella--who has until now favored blue jeans and no make-up--look as beautiful as possible, which is really just a set-up for the second half of the film, where she will look increasingly sickly and skeletal as her and Edward’s vampire-human offspring grows inside her and literally starts to devour her from within.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The wedding is pure fairy tale bliss, with the exception of some pre-wedding jitters (and one bloody nightmare) and a last-minute visit from Jacob, who manages to swallow his pride long enough to give Bella one last dance, although he is infuriated when he learns than she plans to sleep with Edward before she is turned into a vampire. Apparently, vampire sex is a little, um, on the rough side, although this being a Twilight movie, most of the details are left off-screen once Edward whisks Bella away to a private island off the coast of Brazil for their honeymoon. The movie’s one moment of visual inspiration comes when Bella and Edward’s softly lit first sexual encounter is raucously shaken by Edward’s inadvertently crushing the headboard with his grip, an unexpected moment of sexual vivacity that, along with the broken-down bed frame and tossed-about furniture we see the next morning, comes to stand in for what we imagine must have been a pretty rollicking roll in the hay. Bella bears some bruises on her body as a result, which is enough to perturb the ever-sensitive Edward into avoiding sex with her for the rest of the honeymoon even though she begs--begs--him for more. For those who take Twilight’s romantic fantasy seriously from a socio-political perspective, this has some rather disturbing implications, but then again, so does the entire franchise.

As it turns out, that one night was enough because, before they leave the island, Bella realizes she is pregnant, something that both she and Edward thought was impossible. The second half of the film deals with the question of whether Bella’s dangerous pregnancy will ultimately kill her and whether the birth will cause the rest of Jacob’s Native American werewolf clan to break their long-held truce with the Cullens. As with the first half of the movie, the second half is given much more time and detail than is needed, which saps much of its energy and narrative drive (we can only handle seeing so much of Bella trying to be strong, Edward acting morbid and guilty, and Jacob being angry, although the scene with Jacob’s tribe conversing telepathically while they’re all wolfed out has some bizarro camp enjoyment).

For both long-time Twi-Hards and those who loathe the series and its Victorian-era appeals to chastity and romantic swooning, none of this is news, and the film is probably of only limited--if any--interest to those who have not already bought into the movie series, which began with Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight (2008) and has grown steadily through the subsequent two films, New Moon (2009) and Eclipse (2010), each of which featured a different director (Chris Weitz and David Slade, respectively). As a whole, the series had been getting steadily better, if only because the characters have been more fully realized and the darker elements of the story have taken prominence over the sugary schmaltz that weighed down the first entry. In this regard, Breaking Dawn Part 1 is a backward step because it feels more turgid when it should be gaining intense momentum. Granted, the multi-talented director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls) does what he can with the material, and I was genuinely impressed with how parts of the second half deal with Bella’s nightmarish pregnancy in true horror-movie fashion. The notorious birth scene, which is apparently much more graphic and violent in the novel, is depicted in intense, stroboscopic flashes and has a genuine sense of danger about it--a sensation that is typically all but absent in the Twilight franchise.

Yet, there are too many weaknesses to be ignored, particularly the near non-presence of Robert Pattinson’s Edward, who is so blank this time around that even his surly, guilt-ridden outbursts seem to dissipate before they begin. This may be a natural result of Bella moving fully into the protagonist position; no longer simply a pawn to be moved about by others (she and Edward playing chess is, not surprisingly, a recurring image in the film), she is now largely in control of her life and her decisions, which is what gives the pregnancy and her decision to keep it even at the expense of her own life its emotional impact (no wonder tweens love the series so much: an 18-year-old girl in control). Nevertheless, as much as we may appreciate Bella’s growth as a character, the film as a whole drags along too slowly to give it much impact and instead engenders little more than impatience.

Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick

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All images copyright © Summit Entertainment

Overall Rating: (2)

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