The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 succeeds in transferring the key events from its source material onto the screen, but fails at translating those events into a competent two-hour film.
Two-part finales have become a go-to approach for studios to milk extra money out of fan-favorite young adult franchises - and arguably a way to give lengthier final book installments a bit more room to wrap everything up. While audiences were initially skeptical of the idea when it was introduced with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the success of the final two Potter films (both commercially and critically) seemingly justified the extra trip to the theater.
However, can the same be said for fellow-young adult fantasy series Twilight and the debut of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1? As the longest entry in Stephenie Meyer's book series but is there enough material in the final chapter in the Twilight Saga to fill two feature length films?
Unfortunately, judging by the events unfolding in Breaking Dawn: Part 1, the answer is no.
At least half of the film is dominated by one melodramatic scene after another - in place of either interesting character interactions or exciting action - essentially laying ground for the (presumably) more stimulating Part 2. Even die-hard fans of the books will likely find that at least two of the more pivotal moments from the printed page do not translate well to the big screen - and, as result, once again reveal glaringly poor production values and uninspired direction in a film series that, cumulatively, has earned Summit Films over $1 billion worldwide.
Unlike the prior Twilight films, which offered self-contained and mostly engaging story lines (albeit still guilty pleasure melodrama), the first half of Breaking Dawn is a mishmash of moments that fail to build tension or further develop any of the fan-favorite characters. The basic plot follows the marriage of bloodsucker Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and his bride-to-be Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) as they prepare for their nuptials. While the wedding is a grand and joyous affair, not everyone is happy; cast-aside Werewolf/ex-love interest Jacob (Taylor Lautner) attempts to deal with not just Bella's choice to marry Cullen, but her decision to become a vampire as well. As the wedding bells fall silent, the newlyweds unexpectedly threaten the tenuous alliance between Cullen's vampire family and Jacob's Werewolf clan - causing former friends, as well as reluctant allies, to choose sides.
In general, the events in Breaking Dawn - Part 1 are, simply put, underwhelming. While die-hard fans may find the extended honeymoon sequence cathartic - since the films and books have often been criticized for being too "tame" when it comes to sexuality - all of the lustful looks and "passionate" make-out sessions entirely derail any momentum and charm the film had coming out of the opening act. Instead of pulling in the cast of colorful personalities that have helped balance the book and film series with humor - in spite of all the melodrama from the three leads - Breaking: Dawn: Part 1 revels in spending all of its time indoors with characters arguing about what to do next, instead of actually doing anything screen worthy. While some fans will no doubt defend the film by saying Breaking: Dawn - Part 1 is just being true to the source material - it's the responsibility of filmmakers to take a printed story and make it sing as a two-hour movie. This could have been accomplished by making a couple of the "action" sequences significantly more exciting, or a few of the pivotal character moments more convincing, in order to help break audiences out of the repetitive funk the storyline wallows in for the majority of the proceedings.
Instead of striving for a more competent film experience, Breaking Dawn: Part 1 is simply pandering to the existing fan-base with almost nothing of value to anyone who isn't already in love with the characters. Where more inspired filmmaking could have potentially found ways to thrill or engage a non-fan audience, the filmmakers of Breaking Dawn: Part 1 - specifically oscar-winning director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) - were overly eager to "give the people what they want," which essentially amounts to a lot of Bella on Edward action and some combination of Jacob with his shirt off moping around. Potentially interesting character beats (such as an early admission by Cullen) have no gravity and are simply abandoned/glossed over in favor of warm embraces and pouty looks.
The Twilight films have never been known for high production values, or even particularly stand-out performances (despite the claims of impassioned Team Edward/Jacob fans), and those trends continue with Breaking Dawn: Part 1. The film looks cheap with bland CGI werewolves and vampire effects - and for a series that is raking in plenty of money with each release, it's surprising to see such flat visuals at this point. Similarly, despite a stable of up-and-coming actors that includes Stewart, Pattinson and Lautner, as well as critical darlings like Anna Kendrick and Michael Sheen, none of the actors are given any room to deliver a stand-out performance.
Given the amount of quick cuts - with basically no extended takes - it's almost as if each actor is competing with one another onscreen for close-up shots, one line at a time. It's unfortunate, because despite all the anti-Twilight detractors out there, the franchise leads have shown that they're capable of offering strong performances when a director attempts to get something more interesting out of them (Stewart in Welcome to the Rileys and Pattinson in Water for Elephants). In that sense, it's disappointing to see that capable performers and intriguing premises haven't matured the Twilight series from film to film.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 succeeds in transferring the key events from its source material onto the screen, but fails at translating those events into a competent two-hour film. Fans of the book and movie series will no doubt enjoy watching the film - though, it's still hard to imagine that they won't, deep down, find a few of the book's more decisive moments to be overly cheesy, or even downright laughable. Breaking Dawn - Part 1 is not a competent piece of filmmaking and stands as potentially the worst installment in the series. Hopefully, given the much more intriguing plot points saved for Part 2, the final installment will end the series on a high note.
If you’ve already seen the film and want to talk about various plot details without ruining them for others, head over to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 spoilers discussion.
However, if you’re still on the fence about The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below:
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 is now in theaters.
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