THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN – PART 1 Review

     November 17, 2011

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I’m always surprised when I like anything Twilight-related.  I’ve written at length on how I find the subtext of the movies repulsive even though I can understand how the text can be enjoyed as shallow fantasy.  The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 even managed to wrap me up in that fantasy for the first half of the movie.  I’m not immune to big weddings and romantic honeymoons, and the first half is filled with happiness and humor.  Sadly, the second half of Breaking Dawn transforms into the mopey and idiotic drama I endured for the past three movies, but at least this time the series reached some glorious so-bad-it’s-good moments.

[Because this review is for fans of the series and they already know the plot, I’m going to go ahead with spoilers.]

The first half of Breaking Dawn – Part 1 lets the fans indulge in romantic fantasies like never before.  Sure, there’s been cuddling, laying together in open fields, and enough longing gazes to fill the world’s most unbearable YouTube supercut, but this is the climax.  Strangely, this was my favorite part of the movie.  It felt human and there was an implicit understanding that this was fantasy, but at it was fantasy almost entirely devoid of angst.  It’s the dream wedding, the dream honeymoon, and the dream loss of virginity.  It’s also the only part of the movie that allows for humor.  Billy Burke and Anna Kendrick remain my favorite part of these movies because they seem to be the only people who can note the absurdity of their surrounding situation (they also have terrific comic timing).  The wedding and honeymoon are bolstered by director Bill Condon‘s indulgence and Guillermo Navarro‘s vibrant cinematography, both of which manage to overcome an unusually wretched score from the highly talented Carter Burwell (who has scored all of the Coen Brothers‘ movies).

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But of course Jacob Black has to come along to spoil the party.  The movie opens with the little shit being petulant and selfish when he receives the wedding invitation because he can’t deal with anything like a mature human being.  You can argue that’s his primal nature, but like every other character, he’s never matured over the course of the series.  He’s still an everlasting fountain of rage and jealousy.  Even when he decides to show up at the wedding and Edward kindly gives Bella a moment with the whiny prick, he has to remind her A) Her heart will stop beating when she becomes a vampire; B) he calls her stupid when she says she and Edward are going to have sex on the honeymoon while she’s still human; and C) he violently grabs her arms and yells at her.

There has to be a better way for Jacob to express to Bella that he doesn’t want her to die, and I started to wonder: is Jacob written as a terrible human being/werewolf?  There is a relatable emotion to being passed over for another guy and being kept in the friend zone for all eternity.  There’s a way to express the emotions of that situation without becoming a possessive jerk and Taylor Lautner will never find it.  Even if this is how Jacob acts in the books, it’s still up to the actor to generate some sort of sympathy from the audience, but Lautner can’t do it.  His performance makes Jacob come off as childish, abusive, and thoughtless.  Edward Cullen may be the impossibly-perfect man, but at least we can understand why Bella wants him.  I remain baffled as to why she doesn’t take out a restraining order against Jacob.

When Bella and Edward go on their honeymoon, it plays like a brochure for an exotic location where rich people can go and not be bothered by anyone except the charming locals who think Edward is a demon and that he’s going to kill Bella.  When Bella become a couple months pregnant in a matter of days, he asks for his cleaning lady’s ethnic wisdom in determining the cause.  She doesn’t have an answer other than “Death,” and I think it was rude for the newlyweds to not say, “Thanks for the vague and ominous warning.”

The pregnancy stuff sends Breaking Dawn – Part 1 into a slide of irritating drama that plays up Jacob’s role and how he and his renegade wolves must protect Bella and the Cullens from the other members of the wolf pack because the treaty has been broken by Bella’s pregnancy.  It’s a funny dichotomy because the attitude of the wolves is wild, free, primal, and savage, but they’re a stickler for rules, and I was hoping a werewolf lawyer would come along to settle the dispute.  I was also hoping there would be some mention of a prophecy or some other reason why Bella getting pregnant would break the treaty, especially since the occurrence is “impossible” and no one even understands it (Edward has to use the Google—seriously).

Taylor Lautner The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 1 image

However, there is respite from watching Lautner fail at a commanding performance and Kristen Stewart looking like death warmed over.  The blessed relief comes from the awful plot points that should have been excised from the script or changed so drastically that they would be palatable to a greater audience.  Instead, Condon struggles mightily and fails terribly at translating these laughably bad moments.  The CGI wolves have always looked fine, but watching their actors have a telepathic conversation is breathtakingly awful.  There is no reason they couldn’t transform back into humans to have their dramatic verbal confrontation.

Then there’s the moment when Edward has to use his mouth to eat through Bella’s uterus in order to free the baby.  Keep in mind: there are surgical tools less than two feet away.  Condon tries to mask the moment by editing Tony Scott-style to play up the intensity, but nothing changes the fact that a guy just chewed through a uterus to get to his child.  The scene is made worse because it directly follows Bella’s decision to name the baby “E.J.” if it’s a boy (for “Edward Jacob”—at which point I was reminded how her boyfriends dominate her life) and Rensemee if it’s a girl because it combines her mother and mother-in-law’s names.  No one says, “Well, can’t we use a compound name?  Esmee-Renee?  No would call a Barbara-Ann a Barbraan, because that sounds stupid like the name you just came up with.”

And yet none of this comes close to Jacob “imprinting” on the newborn Rensemee.  Again, Condon tries to cover it up by quickly cutting to the teenage Rensemee because he knows like we do that this is creepy.  It’s one thing for a parent to look into their eyes of their child and know that they will love and protect their baby always and forever.  It’s another thing for mommy’s creepy and jealous stalker to walk into a room, gaze into a baby’s eyes, and think “You and me are lifemates.”

Twilight fans, these scenes are your fault because deep down you know they’re terrible but you want them anyway.  You know there’s nothing romantic about this and that’s why Breaking Dawn is the most controversial book of the series.  But these movies have been built on a foundation of never breaking or questioning the source material.  The script can only reduce what’s extraneous, but never change the essential elements of the plot.  Other franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have the same mandate, but the key difference is that those plots are good and what was cut out, like Peeves the Poltergeist or Tom Bombadil, were fantastic things to remove.  Because all fanbases demand adherence to their source material and Twilight is too popular to go against the wishes of that fanbase, we’re left with terrible scenes that no one enjoys except for the devoted.

If you were to take the broad thematic plot points of Breaking Dawn – Part 1, you have elements that can appeal to a wider audience.  There’s technically a love story (I argue its infatuation, but whatever), a story of unrequited love, a story about beginning life as an adult, and being caught between warring tribes.  But none of this will ever connect with anyone beyond Twilight‘s fanbase because these elements are smothered in idiotic material that goes beyond a simple fantasy and into a strange place where an audience’s love supersedes reason and everyone else is left to wonder why we can all enjoy a nice wedding and honeymoon, but why non-fans are the only ones laughing when a werewolf falls in love with a baby.

Rating: C-

*By the way, did they drop the vampires-sparkle-in-the-sunshine thing in Eclipse or is this the first time?  Either way, they’re allowed in sunlight without fear of being “discovered” (which was the entire risk at the end of New Moon**)

**Being able to remember these things makes me sad.

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