The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
Having (half) vampire babies ain’t for sissies
Twilight 4, which has in Bill Condon a new and (some think, anyway) higher profile director, is every bit as bad as its three predecessors, maybe worse. For the teenage girls who flock to cinemas for the franchise (which has taken in nearly two billion dollars so far), the subject matter this time is earthshaking beyond all imagining. But is it, really? Isn’t violent, painful childbirth a bit outside a teenage girl’s normal range? Anyway, this is when in the trashy Stephanie Meyer “young adult” novel series Bella Swan (played always on screen by Kirsten Stewart) gives in to the desire to lose her virginity and at eighteen marries her handsome, pallid vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). They have sex at an ultra-romantic location somewhere near Rio. Edward tears up the bedroom and covers her with bruises. She begs for more. In between they play chess (her bruises disappear in those shots). He gets Bella pregnant. And in the movie version, at least, Bella starts to swell up almost immediately.
It’s dangerous. It seems in Stephanie Meyer, pregnancy is as scary as sex. Bella has a “demon” inside her because Edward is one, according to a Brazilian cleaning lady. Back in the Pacific Northwest at the Cullens’ palatial forest modern dwelling, Bella suffers through a rapid pregnancy, and in under two hours (spoiler alert) Bella gives birth (an event we don’t see) to a sweet baby (of which sex we don’t know yet). But childbirth nearly kills Bella, because the kid is a vampire. Or half one anyway.
I’m not sure the direction this segment goes is the delight to teenage girls its predecessors were. The pain of childbirth may be a bit beyond their everyday fantasies. But there’s a wedding, and Robert Pattinson covers Kirsten Stewart with lots and lots of sweet kisses. Will American high school girls take up chess now?
Condon’s Twilight debut is a peculiar effort. It is quite extraordinary to know that the budget was an estimated $110 million. What was that for? Special effects? A trip to Rio at Mardi Gras time depicted in five-second snatches? Rental of a posh honeymoon cottage on a special island? More body building for Taylor Lautner? The lighting is very strange at times here, to put it kindly, and to allow for the anomalies of digital filmmaking. During the wedding, which is skipped through without any logic, speeches being given as at a prenup party and cut back and forth out of chronological sequence, there are no shadows. Under such circumstances (observable also in large swaths of Scorsese’s new Hugo), people, understandably, don’t look so good. That happens again later at the most romantic (as well as violent) moments. On the moonlit honeymoon island, sometimes Edward looks great, but sometimes he looks sickly, and not in the pallid handsome vampire way. Bella just looks gray in the face on most of the honeymoon and throughout her subsequent uneasy pregnancy. Well, some people say she’s “sick.” The vampire fetus inside her, which requires her to drink blood from medical containers to appease it and keep it from draining her strength away, causes damage to her rib cage and spine. (Gee, it must be a boy.) The editing conveys no understandable sense of time, and the pregnancy zips forward, with a lot of confusing, worried (and bad) dialogue, and no scene of the birth itself. All we know is Bella dies and Edward tries to bring her back to life by biting her, all over. It’s a bloody disgusting mess. All part of the afterbirth scene, I guess.
The editing throughout this movie is as strange as the lighting and cinematography are ugly. Logical visual sequences are not followed. The effect is what amounts to a feeling of constant jump cuts. The angles defy expectations. And there’s no conceivable logic. This isn’t the French New Wave or some sophisticated Hong Kong or Taiwan auteur’s work. It’s a bad movie, by a director who could do much better. The filmmakers seem to have concluded that since their vampire characters can jump around in space, the editing can too.
Most critics have merely differed as to whether the three preceding Twilight pictures were watchable or just plain lousy; distinguishing differences in their irrelevant quality levels is hairsplitting out of medieval scholasticism. The girls flock to the cinemas and the money rolls in. One must protest to any reviewers, such has Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, who should know better, who now proclaim themselves converts to the franchise. This is a bad time to switch. Unless you just want follow the money. In its first ten days of release now, which included Thanksgiving weekend, Breaking Dawn is estimated to be going to make double its production cost in the US and $490 million worldwide. But to an outside observer Twilight was better for the first couple of films. At least Meyer’s clumsy, jejune story seemed fresh back then, and Catherine Hardwicke has a knowing touch with teenagers the subsequent directors have lacked.
I have not said anything about the alleged “war” in Breaking Dawn — Part I between — who? — in which Jacob (the fresh-faced, airheaded Lautner), strongly allied with the vampire Cullens now, is apparently going to play an important role. None of that ever seems to make any sense, probably because a Mormon housewife (Meyer), or this one, anyway, isn’t really too good at dramatizing feuds and battles. Neither are the filmmakers in this outing. As Justin Chang ofVariety comments in reviewing Breaking Dawn, “Two nocturnal wolves-vs.-vamps combat scenes are essentially thrill-free, and so underlit that one is inclined to suspect slapdash CGI.” Anyway none of the key fighting happens yet in this session. A big battle, in which Bella will play a big role too, so they say, will be a new thing for Bill Condon to fail at next year.
DIRECTOR: BILL CONDON
WRITER: MELISSA ROSENBERG (SCREENPLAY), STEPHANIE MEYER (NOVEL)
STARS: ROBERT PATTINSON, KRISTEN STEWART, TAYLOR LAUTNER, BILLY BURKE, BOOBOO STEWART
RUNTIME: 117MINS APPROX