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Nov192011

'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1' review - Vampires, vixens, and why you should never, ever have sex with the undead

“I’m a professional, damnit,” I thought to myself as the screening began to fill with fans eager in a way that I could never hope to be, passionate beyond logic or reason. The Twilight fans are protestors without a cause, ready to defend their right to love these movies despite everything the films throws at the audience.

The previous movies in the Twilight series are deeply flawed films, but I would never say that to the faces of a ravenous crowd of the series’ fans, at least not while I was unarmed. The source material, of which I have endured through, is a technical mess, with numerous narrative problems. And yet here we are, four movies deep and well over a billion dollars in profits later.

The core idea of the series works. It hit the right chord with people at the right time. The series is a phenomenon, and while I don’t claim to fully embrace it, I respect it. Well, I understand it.

To put my feelings in perspective, I saw the third film, and forgot it almost immediately. I saw the first and thought it was a decent B-movie. I saw the second and wanted to murder everyone in the world to save them the horror that this film unleashed on people. So walking into the newest film in the series, a film I knew from the books could be filled with suck, I was prepared to fight my way out. This film would not be the end of me.

To my surprise, Breaking Dawn, Part 1 is not as bad as it could have been, and that is high praise. The acting is still suspect, the CGI is closer to a SyFy movie of the week than a billion dollar franchise with a $260 million budget (for Part 1 and 2), and the plot is a cautionary tale about the horrors of necrophilia, but it is a technically strong movie.

Part 1 of 2

As the movie’s title suggests, the film is Part 1 of a larger story. If you have read the books then you can probably guess where the split occurs. Unlike the final Harry Potter film which also broke a book in two, the Breaking Dawn novel has two very distinct sections with wildly divergent plots.

Part 1 picks up shortly where Eclipse left off. Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) are about to end three years off their bewildering courtship by finally getting married. Following the nuptials, those crazy kids head off on a private honeymoon to spend some quality time, let Bella enjoy her last moments as a human, and engage in a wee bit of necrophilia. But who knew there would be consequences of an 18-year old girl having sex with a technically dead vampire?

Problems quickly arise when the stripes turn blue, and Bella is on course to deliver a bouncing baby abomination. The vampire clan rallies, Jacob the werewolf continues to brood, and the rest of the local wolf pack has a major problem with what Bella is cooking inside her, and another conflict between the pretty, shiny vampires and the savage, shaggy werewolves is brewing.

The story has a lot of fat on it, but it will work with fans as a celebration of the characters, and a moment of enjoyment before the inevitable shitstorm that is on the way. You can’t have a film like this without conflict, but for people that have invested so much time into the series, it will play well to see the characters they love have a moment of fun.

Overall, the plot is handled as well as possible, and you have to give credit to the director, Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls). Condon manages to make the world feel as realistic as possible. He tends to rely on close-ups a bit too much, but that is a minor issue. In some ways it is a slight departure from the source material, but it works better as a movie. For example, gone is sparkly Edward. There are many instances where he is directly in the sun, and yet he is more pasty than sparkly. And with Kristen Stewart as a contrast, it is sometimes hard to tell.

You should know this by now

The Twilight world doesn’t need explanation at this point, and so it doesn’t have any. Things are taken for granted, and it makes the film stronger. There is no need to go in to deep exposition about the Cullens, or the werewolf pack. The movie offers just enough visual recap that you catch up without the film slowing down to explain everything. You get that she is a clumsy weirdo, and you get that he is a vampire. Done and done, then on to the plot.

The first two films focused on the character development, while the third transitioned more towards the plot and action. This movie follows suit and is far more focused on the action than the character’s internal struggles with the horror of needing a boyfriend, or the terror of making the woman you love nearly invincible and ultra-powerful.

Condon keeps the plot moving along as swiftly as possible. It still drags a bit, but once the happy part of the film is concluded, the rest of the story tears by. And it is not just the film pacing that picks up, but the quality of acting as well.

Kristen Stewart has not been what most people would consider good at acting. There are moments where you are sure that she is feeling some deep emotion, but what that emotion is, we’ll never know. Is she scared? Is she upset? We just can’t say with any degree of certainty. Pattinson is not all that bad of an actor, but the dialog and action he has been forced to shoot out of his mouth would challenge the best of thespians. Again and again he has delivered impossible lines that are at best over-the-top, and at worst ridiculous, but bless his little heart, he tries.

When the plot picks up, both Stewart and Pattinson step it up. The dialogue is simplified, and the supernatural aspect is dealt with as a matter-of-fact event rather than something that needs to be thoroughly analyzed. Because of that, they both are left to simply react to the scenario in as believable a way as possible. Stewart turns in a decent showing once the drama notches up, and Pattinson matches her. The key to both performances is that they are far more subdued than in the previous films, where they were encouraged to dig deep into the melodrama.

Then there is Taylor Lautner. I’d be interested to see him in a role that actually has something to offer, but as it is, the character continues to come off as petulant and immature—which isn’t the intention, but is how the character is accidentally written. Maybe a better actor could have done more, but it is hard to get behind Jacob Black.

There are so many things that could have gone wrong with this movie. There are two moments at the end, both taken from the book, that could have been awful to see on film. Without going into spoilers, one scene would be exceedingly gross and bizarre, while the other would be creepy and weird. Both are handled well, and by that they are both played down.

Conclusion

This film is essentially review-proof, and fans will see it regardless of what any critic says. But for those who are on the fence, or for those that will get dragged to it, it could have been worse. All the same problems from the previous movies return: the dialog is still cheesy; the acting is still uneven; and the story is still melodramatic; but it is the most technically sophisticated film of the series and Condon manages to keep the more ridiculous moments in check. It also manages to address the slowest and most awkward sections of the book, quickly getting them out of the way in order to set up the conclusion in the next film.

This movie won’t win over non-believers and haters, but putting aside all personal feelings about Stephanie Meyer’s series and her weird and bizarre morality, the film does everything it needs to, and will likely satisfy fans (and the studio) as they prepare for the long year wait until the conclusion.

Rating:   (Passing)

Trailer

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