THR's Review of Breaking Dawn: Part 1


Disclaimer: This review may contain spoilers.

Because of possible spoilers, the review is under the cut.
Remember this is an individual opinion.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1: Film Review
by Todd McCarthy
Big things happen in this penultimate Twilight Saga entry: Bella and Edward get married, she gets pregnant on their Brazilian honeymoon, almost perishes before giving birth and finally, after four films and about 490 minutes of elapsed screen time depicting simmering desire and superhuman restraint, wakes up with the red eyes of a vampire (Spoiler? Hardly.). But so little else occurs in between these momentous events in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1 that you can practically hear every second ticking by while awaiting the payoff. Not that this will matter to the faithful who have devoured every one of the 754 pages of Stephenie Meyer's series-climaxing tome and want to see as many of them as possible recreated on the screen, nor to those who have paid more than $1.8 billion worldwide to see the previous three installments in theaters, nearly all of whom will rush to see this one as soon as possible. Part 2 won't follow until Nov. 16, 2012.

When the decision was made to split Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two separate films to bring that blockbuster series to a close, there was some cynical talk regarding mercenary motives to milk as many dollars as possible out of the franchise. Once the films came out, however, this all stopped, so emphatically did the massive amount of narrative incident justify the extended length. On the basis of Breaking Dawn—Part 1 however, the same cannot be said of this series-ender, which feels both bloated and as anemic as Bella herself becomes while enduring her pregnancy. The film is like a crab cake with three or four bits of crab in it surrounded by loads of bland stuffing. But many people can't tell the difference or don't care, which will be largely true for the film's captive audience.

Taking place in a lovely woodsy setting that could easily be on the next estate down from the site of the wedding reception in Lars von Trier's Melancholia, the nuptials of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) can only be plausibly termed the wedding of the century in the way that Edward means it when he tells his 18-year-old bride that, “I've been waiting a century to marry you.” Drawn out to last near a half-hour onscreen, the gaiety of the preliminaries and ensuing event is encumbered by a strong sense of foreboding, not because the whole world is coming to an end, as in Melancholoia, but because it means that Bella will shortly pass over from human life to the vampire side.

Upon receiving the wedding invitation, the first reaction of Bella's friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is to go wolf and race into the forest in a snit, but he finally turns up to wish her well before the happy couple jets off to Rio, which is so little seen it scarcely seems worth the trip. At their lush honeymoon villa, Edward is every inch the gentleman, too much so, perhaps, for Bella. They skinny dip at night to some incredibly insipid songs, they're very tender and understanding with one another, and then in the morning the bedroom is in total disarray; we never see anything of what came in between, no moment of actual surrender, which is what the series has been building to all along. Where one legitimately hopes to register what Bella feels upon finally giving herself over to what she's so long desired but resisted, all we get are languid and lax interludes of what still seems like puppy love. Very lame and very disappointing.

At about the film's halfway point, Bella finds she's unexpectedly pregnant, prompting a quick return home. When Jacob comes by and observes her already obvious condition, he does get to bellow an immortal accusation to Edward: “You did this!” As Edward searches for a proper rejoinder, Jacob again scampers off, whereupon the local werewolf tribe reacts with a lot of teeth-baring and internal bickering over what to do. Meanwhile, Bella turns pale and gaunt and seems in danger of wasting away; it appears the fetus is taking all the nutrients for itself and leaving nothing for Mom, who can no longer eat normal food. There's only one solution to this state of affairs, the administering of which brings Bella back to life and Part 1 pushing toward its end.

During the very slow and drawn-out scenes of Bella's deterioration as one observes Kristen Stewart appear progressively skeletal, so little else is going on that one is obliged to muse over whether the pounds came off digitally or the old-fashioned way. After the energy and alertness evident in his previous work as the director of Gods and Monsters, Kinsey and Dreamgirls, it looks as though director Bill Condon fell into some kind of trance while making this one, so dirgelike is the pacing, so banal is Melissa Rosenberg's dutiful script on a scene-by-scene, moment-to-moment basis. It truly feels that 40 minutes or so, not two hours, would have been plenty to convey all that's necessary in the material covered here.

Even the normally first-rate film composer Carter Burwell is dragged down by the occasion, although his score is marginally less watery than the collection of songs that dominate the soundtrack.

The actors have long since been set in their performances and there are no surprises here. In the end, given how little goes on in Breaking Dawn—Part 1 despite the major plot points, what you're left with is to gaze at the three leads, all of whom have their own constituencies and reasons for being eminently watchable. The only hope is that they'll have more to do next time around.

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