Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (*)

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Truth is…it matters not at all whether any film reviewer praises or pans “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1”, because people are going to flood the cineplexes in droves to see the latest chapter in the cinematic retelling of the Bella Swan/Edward Cullen/Jacob the Werewolf story as it reaches its feverish conclusion.  I have avoided drawing comparisons to the “Harry Potter” franchise thus far in my reviews of the previous “Twilight” films, but the reality is that along with “The Hunger Games Trilogy”, these three literary franchises have, or will have, parallel cinematic lives of their own and for the “Twilight” team, they have opted to go the way of the epic final “Harry Potter” film(s), and therefore, we are having the opening half of the final “Twilight Saga” installment.

They likely shouldn’t have.

In “Breaking Dawn – Part 1”, Oscar-winning director Bill Condon (Gods And Monsters, Kinsey) takes the reins of the 750-page Stephenie Meyer finale and is immediately in trouble.  For those who criticized the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part I” film as being all set up and no execution, a contention I personally disagree with, then I would turn your attention to this film – of which three things of substantial significance transpire over 117 arduous minutes.  We have a wedding, a consummation, and a birth.  And with one final shot that made my audience hum and gasp with elation, we are seemingly all ready for unbridled chaos and mayhem in “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2”, arriving November 16, 2012.  My question is why wait?  Let’s go!  If you are gonna deliver some excitement, then please…Bring.  It.  Heaven knows I have been waiting 491 minutes thus far for something truly exciting to happen, so I suppose I can wait 365 more days and approximately 8,760 more hours until the lights dim, everyone gasps and swoons and the apparent battle for world supremacy unfolds before my eyes.  I’m not holding my breath.

Regressing substantially from the alert and energetic “Eclipse” delivered in 2010 by director David Slade, Condon places us front and center in the ramp up to the wedding of 18-year old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and the ageless vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).  The planning is occurring in much the same manner of all other weddings as depicted on screen – one person is in charge, grumbling occurs, veiled back-handed compliments are delivered, and everyone just wants the whole thing to be over.  Certainly this is the case for Edward and Bella, whose timeless love can finally be tied together for all of eternity.

As the wedding nears, the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is nowhere to be found, Bella’s mother, Renee (Sarah Clark) has arrived from Arizona, and Bella’s dad, Charlie (Billy Burke), looks in a constant ease of gaseous unease.  It did dawn on me, as it has other reviewers and writers, that with all of the mystery and rumor and conjecture surrounding the Cullen clan, not one member of Bella’s family or any of her friends raised a sizable concern over whether Bella was marrying into a blood-thirsty vampiric clan?  I mean did it not dawn on anyone who cares about Bella to take Dad aside and share some concerns?  Let’s press on.

The wedding is beautiful and Condon rushes through the ceremony to the reception where humans are dancing with vampires and the Cullens and Swans begin to adjust to their now intertwined lives.  Near the end of the reception, Edward takes Bella outside and a fair distance away from the party.  Then, at the chivalrous invitation of Edward, Jacob emerges from the woods and Bella is nearly rapturous in her delight to see him.  In all honesty, she loses herself a bit ridiculously in the moment she sees Jacob, almost as if Edward could not matter less.  Perhaps because Edward knows they are now married, he is not worried.  But, I mean, wow she sure seemed to fall for Jacob…and hard.

From the wedding celebration, we are off to Rio de Janiero (cue the now ubiquitous Christ The Redeemer shot…), but only long enough to hop into a boat and motor away to a lavish home on the private Isle Esme Island.  The divine and incredible home is the honeymoon location for Bella and Edward and in a rare moment where Stewart plays Bella with her guard down, a comical moment involving Bella preparing for her honeymoon night is a nice touch.  Once the marriage is consummated however, Bella seeks passion and intimacy with Edward only to be rebuffed time and time again.  Edward will not have relations with her until she is turned, but like they always say – it only takes once, and as everyone on the planet knows – Bella and Edward’s family is apparently going to grow by one.

The problem with all of this is that once again, as was the case in the painstakingly slow second entry, “New Moon”, nothing happens.  There is all talk and no action, above paragraph excluded.  Soaked in dialogue, everyone just talks and talks a lot.  “Twilight” fans will tell me that this is necessary and important in building to the final film, but I have simply observed the subpar screenplay adaptations of Melissa Rosenberg squander scene after scene and potential moment after potential moment too many times to have faith that suddenly, she has figured things out for the finale.

Okay, look – can we have a moment of honesty here?  How are these films acceptable to avid lovers of the books?  A “Twilight” film, by this point, should look the part, you know?  The billions of dollars these movies and books have generated should account for something by now, but we are left watching, and making concessions for, a series of films that are more consumed with putting their lead actors in proper lighting, then making sure that the films truly resonate and provide more than a fleeting experience.  When I share my frustrations with a franchise of films I truly want to like, I am dismissed by lots of people because, you see, without having ingested every word of the source material, I simply do not understand.  Look, I watch a lot of films each year, often several in a given week, and there are moments in “Breaking Dawn – Part 1” that are flat out embarrassing and amateurish.

The visual effects work is so laughable, that inexplicably in the finale we are back to seeing wolves shape-shifting via a beta version of PhotoShop and their movements are back to resembling the mouse-click, drag-and-drop-style CGI which made the action scenes so laughable and unwatchable in the first film.

I acknowledge that Kristen Stewart is fairly good here but Robert Pattinson is cut off at the legs, given virtually nothing to do on screen but make facial expressions and look worried and stagger around from scene to scene.  And as far as the heartthrob goes?  I have no idea what you call what Taylor Lautner does here in this film, but it is certainly not acting and it is almost a marvel in and of itself to watch him priss and preen and huff and try and walk around with a command and a purpose.  Lautner is cringe-inducing here, as he tries to deliver screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg’s stilted and immature dialogue.  Lines like “YOU DID THIS!” are shouted at Edward when Bella reveals she is pregnant, and the brilliant “I ALWAYS KNEW YOU’D DESTROY HER!” is bellowed at Edward when Bella becomes shockingly ill during her pregnancy.  Oh, Taylor Lautner.  Perhaps that film he is making with Gus Van Sant will hit his reset button, because life after “Twilight” looks increasingly bleak.

In another moment of honesty, let me mention that I expect and expected better.  As of this writing, the “Twilight” franchise has grossed more than $1.8 billion in worldwide box office receipts.  This is potentially going to open with one of the biggest openings in North American box office history and yet, people were laughing in dramatic moments and mocking the film openly during and after.  I suppose I should channel my angers elsewhere (the “Transformers” films are a nice place to turn in these moments), but all I know is that David Slade’s “Eclipse” made me interested in seeing how “Twilight” would conclude its run.  After “Breaking Dawn – Part 1”, my interest has been snuffed out by a franchise more interested in pandering for dollars than engaging its viewers.

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My love of film began at the age of 7 when my parents not only gave me a television, but HBO to boot. My first theatrical experience was "E.T." My first movie cry came with "Old Yeller". "The Usual Suspects" made me decide to make movies and film writing a priority in life, even knowing the twist beforehand. My passion for film, music, and pop culture in general can be isolated to my youth. My love for film took root in high school. Above all else, movies and art, in any form, exist to entertain and I remain much more interested in how art affects others, more than with myself. But I love the conversation and to have a chance to share my thoughts and be a part of the community here is a unique and enriching experience.