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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1

By Pam Glazier · November 21, 2011

I spent a portion of this past weekend taking part in a recently established yet still revered tradition—The Fourth Annual Dorky Twilight Outing. Last year was epic, we saw (i.e., giggled through) all three films, in the theater, back-to-back. This time around, we decided to only see the latest installment of the Twilight franchise. And it was amazing. Now, that’s not to say that it was actually good, because it wasn’t. It was really pretty terrible. But it was one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve had all year. I suppose there’s a sort of juggernaut quality that manifests in certain film series, and that quality is in full-force with the Twilight movies. I fully intend to see the last film in this series, even though it may be as bad (or worse) than this one.

The last three movies, while focusing on the inner strife that comes with teen love, did a fairly good job in grounding themselves in outer-world events. The first movie was framed by the mysterious local killings done by three villainous vampires. The second film, which was almost solely based on Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) emotional loss, managed to frame itself with the threat of physical danger—first hers and then later Edward’s (Robert Pattinson). And in the third film there were lots and lots of outer events that our main characters could react to—joining forces with a family of werewolves in order to face an army of vampires requires that various logistical signposts be embedded within the script so that the audience can follow along. But in this latest fourth installment, I imagine that the filmmakers were quite flummoxed with how to approach such a feelings-intensive story line after they had decided to break it up into two parts. You see, all of the plot stuff that framed the earlier films has been excised out of this one, and I suppose that they’ll be waiting for us in theaters next November.

Breaking Dawn starts off with wedding invitations. Bella and Edward are getting married. Alice (Ashley Greene) has outdone herself again in planning the extravagant wedding and everything is perfect. Bella experiences pre-wedding jitters but when she’s finally walking down the aisle, next to her teary-eyed father (Billy Burke), and she sees Edward standing at the altar, it is clear from the look on her face that all her doubts are gone. This is the only thing she ever wanted. In the events surrounding the wedding, everything is emotional and sappy. And that’s exactly as it should be. It’s the freaking wedding of freaking Twilight. If you can’t be emotional and sappy here, there really is no place for it ever. While there are some good moments—seeing Bella’s old high school friends, watching her interact with her mom and dad—these moments were like fluffy toothless vignettes, since they didn’t do anything for the story. It felt like these scenes were just going through the motions, rushing through until we reach the “actual” story. The pre-wedding, the wedding, and the honeymoon portions of this film feel like extended prologues. These scenes seem kind of pointless because there’s really no conflict around them. We know the wedding is going to happen and there’s really no sort of plausible threat to it, so we’re just treading water. And when the wedding does happen, it just happens. It wasn’t a win from a possible loss or a reaction to an impending circumstance. And that fact loses the film its power and emotional impact in these early moments.

Thrown in among all this fluff is the scene at the wedding reception where Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is angry and disgusted when Bella tells him that she is planning on having a normal honeymoon with Edward (i.e., sexing it up). Edward arrives, sensing Jacob’s rage, and Jacob spews hatred at him. How dare he, it’ll kill her. While this might seem refreshing to some because it brings the pragmatic aspects of the Superman/Lois Lane argument to light, it just came off as uncomfortable. A werewolf and a vampire are arguing about the frailty of the vampire’s girlfriend’s vagina right in front of her—just, bleh. But then again, I also have no constructive ideas as to how this possibly could have been done better or more tactfully, so maybe this is as good as it gets.

But back to the whole story/conflict issue. It’s not until about forty-ish minutes in that Breaking Dawn starts to feel like an actual movie with an actual plot that might have some sort of dynamism that can move us from the beginning to the end. Bella survives the onslaught of sex with Edward, only to find out that she is preggers and in danger of dying. Edward, too much in love with Bella to let her die, is set on “cutting that thing out.” But Bella has formed a bond with her vampiric baby-bump and refuses to agree to an abortion, thus sealing her fate: death by demon-birth. And this is where the real story begins. Will she survive? Can the people she loves talk her out of her choice? These are the primary questions of the film, and they get a really late start thanks to all that filler in the beginning. Maybe the movie wouldn’t come off like this if you watched the quadrilogy from start to end. But on its own, it’s got holes.

Perhaps it was the bisecting of the story that made it awkward. Maybe it would have been better if it was split up into three: the story of the wedding, the story of the birth, and then the final fight against the Volturi at the end. But I guess that’s a bad idea—I can imagine the audible shivers of horror going up the spines of boyfriends everywhere at the mere mention of an additional Twilight movie. Maybe if they had kept it as one movie (even if it was a little longer), there wouldn’t be these incongruent moments that feel off. Because in fact, they really are off since the story structure was Frankensteined into two parts, and you can feel it. The same kind of thing happened in the final Harry Potter film. The first one was all camping, and then BLAM! The last one was all action and it was over before you knew it. So, long story short: yeah, the structure needs a little work.

Now let’s take a moment to mention just a sampling of some of the horrible things that I found truly enjoyably bad in the hopes that you too can suffer/guffaw along. The majority of this film was comprised of meaning looks. Everyone was having some sort of silent epiphany, or melt-down, or what-have-you. I took great pleasure in mocking some of the especially over-dramatic looks with friends afterwards. And when facial expressions weren’t enough, the film took us inside…into the blood stream, the heart, the nerve endings, to give us some sort of CGI understanding of what was going on with Bella physically through the pregnancy. These effects were distracting as hell, and did nothing to aid the story.

But the real moment of brilliance, the shining diamond centerpiece, was the audibly-vocalized werewolf inner-monologue argument that takes place between Jacob and Billy (Gil Birmingham). The two characters are in their werewolf forms. In the book they argue telepathically, so I suppose the filmmakers were just trying to “stay true” to the source material. In response to their attempt—well, I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard at anything in my life.

At first I was trying to go with it and suspend my disbelief for the sake of the story, then I was trying to be quiet for the sake of the other theater-goers, then I was trying to stop because it was physically painful to keep laughing, but I couldn’t. The whole thing was just too ridiculous. These giant wolves are busy having a hissy-fit at each other, and all the other wolves are acting as if this is the most serious moment of their lives. But the voices of the wolves are different than the voices of the actors playing the human forms of these characters. The wolf-voices sound like people putting on a wolf voice. This was the most off-putting and distracting part of it all. I couldn’t get over the idea that some D&D nerd was narrating for the scene. And when the Jacob character’s wolf-voice roared up about “my grandpa!” …well, I lost it. It was all just too much.

Now, there were actually good performances in this movie (Billy Burke is always amazing and Lautner is getting better as he goes), and it had some good moments as well, but it fails as a whole because of the structure and the hyperbolic moments of drama that pull you out of the story. In all honesty, it isn’t the casts fault (except for the voice actors). So my final verdict for this film? It was terrible! And I loved it despite that fact, and I can’t wait to see the next one.