Review: 'Breaking Dawn Part 1' Takes it From 'Blah' to 'What the Hell?'
by Jeremy Kirk
November 18, 2011
The stance on the Twilight franchise between fans and critics is about as wide-gapped as Team Edward vs. Team Jacob. As much as the millions of "Twi-hards" love the first three films, there's very little denying among those who view them from a critical eye that the films are awfully constructed, horribly acted, and painfully dreary. In terms of the latest, Breaking Dawn - Part 1, you can rest in the comfort of knowing much of that still applies. The acting hasn't improved. The story is still shallow as a blood slide. But, Bill Condon, the fourth director of the franchise, realizes the outright insanity Stephenie Meyer injected into the final novel of her series, and he embraces it. Breaking Dawn - Part 1 might be nothing to admire in terms of structure or style, but there's still a universal understanding that anyone will turn to look at an interesting car wreck, one that leaves the cars twisted in ways you never even thought were possible.
Oh, story? Fine. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is finally marrying vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) still pines for Bella who only sees him as a good friend. With each, passing day, Jacob mentally wrestles between wanting to tear Edward to pieces and the truce the vampire Cullens and werewolf tribe created between each other. Bella and Edward venture off to their island honeymoon, but, as with anything involving a vampire-human-werewolf love triangle, nothing progresses quite like you'd expect it to.
For instance, did you know Bella and Edward play chess on their honeymoon? Chess. Interesting, no? It's just one of about a dozen moments of minutia and tedium Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg felt necessary to include in the film's first half. Seriously, the first half of Breaking Dawn - Part 1 doesn't even ride the line between interesting and boring. It takes a swim in the boredom pool, showing us every, little detail of the marriage and subsequent honeymoon between Bella and Edward. Much of this could have and probably should have been stricken completely between novel and film, but they needed two movies to fill.
That's part of the problem, the idea that Summit Entertainment decided to split Breaking Dawn into two movies to keep the Twilight golden goose healthy and prolonged in its egg laying. The novels could have been cut down to one, evenly paced movie. But why do that when you can create two, meandering movies? The core audience is already built in. Who cares if they bore the rest of us to sleep with scenes of Edward and Bella holding each other in an exotic stream? I'm so glad they cut back to that chess game a couple of times, though. I wondered why that was on the book cover.
But then the unthinkable happens. Bella realizes after the two consummate their marriage that she is now carrying Edward's "possibly vampire" fetus. Thus, with the second half of Breaking Dawn - Part 1, the ocean of batshit insanity kicks in, and, thankfully, Condon and Rosenberg don't shy too far away from that, either. This is PG-13 like the previous films, but that's only thanks to creative… cutting. You still get the idea of what's happening, and how graphic things could have gotten if the camera was allowed to be aimed elsewhere. Of course, much of this is best left unrevealed, especially for those who haven't read the books or who even despised the first three films. None of these films are good, but when the story takes this many soap opera-level turns and crafts this many "what the hell?" moments, your curiosity takes over. You can't help but wonder where Meyer and her bizarre imagination is going to take her characters next.
Granted, the whole time the story plays loop de loop before your eyes, you're subject to the acting of the film's three leads. None of them seem to have improved in the three years since Twilight, especially Lautner who almost seems to have regressed back to his Sharkboy and Lava Girl days. Sure, he loses his shirt in record time, 30 seconds into the film by my count, but Taylor Lautner's abs aren't the ones with the credit here. Pattinson and Stewart still do that slow movement, stare-blankly-at-the-floor, try-not-to-throw-up form of acting that's gotten them so far. Who can blame them, really? It's not like it hasn't all been lucrative up until this point.
Much of Condon's in-frame direction is adequate. There's nothing visually magical put on display with Breaking Dawn - Part 1, nor is it Catherine Hardwicke levels of terrible. It's just fine, save for the few vampires-on-werewolf action moments we get where the CG creations at night blur into one another. I swear I saw a werewolf take a bite out of a tree at one point. Also, the way Condon captures the werewolves conversing while in their transformed state is flabbergasting to put it mildly. Let's just say I'll never look at a pack of giant werewolves in the middle of a quarry the same way again. Because that happens all the time.
But the acting and direction are style outside of the substance, especially when that substance is what we get in Breaking Dawn - Part 1, an appalling experiment in awe-inducing story telling. Is it good? Absolutely not. None of the Twilight movies have been good. But the banality seen up until now has been removed like rust being kicked from a sheet of metal. Breaking Dawn is craziness beyond words, a visual realization of the sheer insanity Stephenie Meyer put forth in her novel, one of which those who felt the Twilight series was as bland as egg whites up until now might actually take notice. Maybe using eggs as an analogy was a poor choice here. Breaking Dawn - Part 1 isn't going to win over any new fans for when Breaking Dawn - Part 2 hits November 2012, but even those who dislike all four Twilight movies, myself included, can't deny this film doesn't show them something they've never seen before. Or thought would ever see. Or even ever cared to see. Or thought was even possible.
Jeremy's Rating: 4 out of 10 (or 7, maybe 7.5, if we're just going by the last half)