Movie Review – Breaking Dawn – Part 1: The Twilight Saga

I watched this film with extremely low expectations – let me make that point again: extremely low expectations. I’d read the books, of course, so I knew what to expect as far as the story went, but part of me was curious as to just how a director of Condon’s caliber might pull off one of the most unneccessary extended epilogues of all time. Let’s just say that about ten minutes in, I’d started to wish that I could be staked through the heart to allow the pain of watching this crap to end.


– Summary –

Director :  Bill Condon
Year Of Release :  2011
Principal Cast :  Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Billy Burke, Sarah Clarke, Julia Jones, Booboo Stewart, Chaske Spencer, Jackson Rathbone.
Approx Running Time :   117 Minutes
Synopsis:  The wedding of grumpy and sparkly, the honeymoon of grumpy and sparkly, and the rapid pregnancy and birth of their evil spawn. God help you all.
What we think :   I watched this film with extremely low expectations – let me make that point again: extremely low expectations. I’d read the books, of course, so I knew what to expect as far as the story went, but part of me was curious as to just how a director of Condon’s caliber might pull off one of the most unnecessary extended epilogues of all time. Let’s just say that about ten minutes in, I’d started to wish that I could be staked through the heart to allow the pain of watching this crap to end.


Spoiler Warning. I give away the plot in this review. You’ve been warned.

 If I ever meet Stephenie Meyer, the human being responsible for the complete dumbing down of literary expectations (perhaps co-responsible; Dan Brown is in my sights as well!), I’m going to say some not-pleasant stuff to her. The least of which is going to be how stupid, vacuous and insipid her finale to the Twilight Saga was – the first three books in her quartet of literary “masterpieces” were middling at best, not entirely without some sort of literary merit and, if nothing else, designed to capture a certain demographic that didn’t include yours truly. The fourth book, Breaking Dawn, is without doubt, one of the most ridiculously unnecessary novels ever written. The story of Bella and Edward (and I’m not going to explain who they are – if you’re reading this, I expect you’ve either seen the previous films, watched the previous movies, or at least have the vaguest notion of who it is I’m talking about!) all but wrapped up at the end of Meyer’s Eclipse; the Cullen’s had defeated (or seen off) the Volturi, Bella and Edward’s love has been proven true, and there’s the fainest inkling of sunshine and buttercups in the air. Eclipse – the novel – completed the story started by the original Twilight to the point where any further words would not only be pointless, but dilute the quality of Meyer’s work to that point. Yet, despite everything, Meyer went on to create one of the literary worlds most pointless novels. Breaking Dawn is essentially one enormous epilogue. The novel has no central villain, at least not in the classical sense. There’s virtually no tension save that of Bella’s unborn child starting to rip her apart. I was reading it a few years back, and got about half way through and began to wonder when something was actually going to happen.

You took your shirt off and I wasn’t around to see it? You bastard!

Much the same could be said of the film version. The comical “artistic requirement” to split the novel of Breaking Dawn into not one, but two films, stretching out an already wafer thin narrative to the n-th degree, is nothing but a commercial decision by Summit to gouge money from vapid viewers, and anybody arguing differently is not only an imbecile, but outright deceitful. I’m not an idiot – there’s no way Spielberg, Cameron or Jackson would look at Breaking Dawn and say “yeah, there’s two films there.” Breaking Dawn is, in essence, a horrendously overlong epilogue for the events of Eclipse, with Bella and Edward finally tying the knot, experimenting with human/vampire carnal knowledge, making Jacob jealous, and agonizing over the decision to allow Bella’s inevitably freaky vampire fetus to grow and potentially kill her. If you think about all that’s happened in the previous books/films, Breaking Dawn is where it all really goes off the rails. For the love of God, Meyer even has Edward rip open Bella’s stomach with his teeth to get the baby out before Bella dies – a rather graphic image to try and put into a PG-rated film, it must be said. A lot of Breaking Dawn (the novel) involves telepathic conversations between the main characters of Jacob, his wolf pack, and the Vampires; a concept harder to pull off than a decent version of Frank Herbert’s Dune, which included a shitload of the same thing. The concept of “imprinting”, whereby a werewolf will imprint on someone to the point where they become some crazed guardian angel for life, is also given fresh legs, although the fact remains that the previous films never even touched on it – Condon has to not only introduce this concept in Breaking Dawn, but run with it when Jacob imprints on Bella’s kid.

When you said I’d get wet on our honey moon, this isn’t what I had in mind…

What strikes me as being the worst part of these Twilight books, and their subsequent film iterations, is just how shallow they all are. Meyer’s novels make for terribly inane reading – the characters are 1-dimensional, they behave in completely ludicrous and selfish ways, and characters just appear and vanish with no reason or explanation whatsoever. Bella’s father, especially, comes in for the most grievous treatment by Meyer – Bella is so up herself in love with Sparkly Dude that she almost cripples herself trying to get away from her father as fast as humanly possible. Bella’s mother, who exists only on the other end of a phone call throughout the books, is given better treatment in this film, but that’s not saying much. Yes, I understand that the story revolves around Bella and Edward, but in order to make them believable, your supporting cast need to be up to the challenge – and they aren’t. Meyer’s vapid literary skill, which has unfortunately limited screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg’s attempt to give the Twilight film world some scope, feels like some kind of dull romance novel with slight fantasy overtones, which I admit does nothing for me. That being said, even though I’m not the target demographic for Twilight, that shouldn’t prevent me from enjoying the film on its merits. Breaking Dawn is, at its core, a terrible story, and the end result is an equally terrible film.

And the biatches sit over there!

Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) are to be married. They get married. They honeymoon on a private island off the coast of Brazil – where Edward gives Bella a couple of bruises in the throes of his superhuman vampire passion (let’s just say now – he really gets carried away), leading him to suddenly put the brakes on any more sanctioned teenage sex. Bella, pouting her way through even her overly romantic wedding vows, gets all mopey that her new undead hubby doesn’t want to pork her, before discovering that Ed’s undead sperm has actually managed to impregnate her anyway. The fetus, growing at an alarming rate, is also blessed with enhanced vampire strength and invulnerability, which means Bella may not survive to term, much less the birth. Hunky werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner, blessedly keeping his shirt on for almost the entire film), who’s had the hots for Bella since day one, grumps about Mystic Falls – er, I mean, Forks – pining for his lost love, and resenting the fact that Edward’s got his cold dead hands on her (if only he really knew what Edward was doing to her!). When he learns that Bella is pregnant, the rest of the wolf pack come to the decision that either she, or her unborn child, must die. Jacob cuts his ties to the wolves, in order to team up with his enemies to protect the woman he loves. Bella goes into labor, and in the process of giving birth, dies. God, how I wish that was the end.

hey Bella, when you said I’d get wood on our honeymoon, I bet this isn’t what you thought of!

Breaking Dawn is about three things: a wedding, teen sex, and a pregnancy. The film follows the book quite closely, which is weird because the film finishes with about a chapter of Meyer’s tome to go – I don’t quite know how they’ll extend the entire last chapter of the book into Part 2, but I’m guessing some “creative license” might be in order. Perhaps a two hour fight sequence might be coming our way! I doubt it. Director Bill Condon, who gave us the rather excellent Dreamgirls, as well as the more obscure Kinsey, was apparently a long-time choice to direct a Twilight film for the studio, although you’d never guess the way he manages to turn even the most romantic moments in the film into a dull, insensible, turgid mess. Breaking Dawn Part 1 moves with the speed of a dead snail. The highly anticipated wedding of Grumpy and Sparkly includes a tepidly written build-up, a nonsensical series of vows and whatnot, and a somewhat clinical and emotion-free send off for the happy couple to go on their honeymoon. Even now, I struggle to see this film as anything but a terribly written melodrama – the angst and emotional wrangling by Bella, Jacob and Edward is as convincing as a Jew playing Santa. The much anticipated “wedding night” for Bella, where Edward essentially consentually rapes her (thanks Stephenie Meyer and your vaguely masochistic text), destroying the bed around her as he pounds away uncontrollably, is about as erotically charged as an episode of Sesame Street (including the “open wide” lyric). The discovery of Bella’s pregnancy is accompanied by all the men around her getting angry – Edward’s angry because “it” is an abomination, apparently, while Jacob sees the pregnancy as the final nail in the coffin of the fact he’s never going to bag Bella now. Hell, even the cleaning woman at the Cullen’s island retreat cracks the sads for some indiscriminate reason!

Hey Edward, if you’re not sure how to do it, I can show you!

One of the major problems with Breaking Dawn is that it must contend with a lot of material set-up in the previous books but not included in any of the preceding films. Having read the books, I could fill in a lot of the blanks, but woe betide anyone unfamiliar with the original texts trying to understand a lot of the subtext and subplots going on here. Jacob’s wolf pack, in particular, seems like a haphazard creation designed to add meaningless conflict within the story, even though Meyer’s original books contained plenty of explanation as to why this is the case…. Condon can’t put this on the screen in any meaningful way, because the original story doesn’t lend itself to a visual medium. So much of Breaking Dawn (the book) occurs as telepathic conversations and internal narrative output – never verbal or visual to the outside world – to an outsider it’s an illogical jumble of glances and knowing looks. When Jacob breaks away from his pack, he is joined by Leah Clearwater and her brother Seth as fellow renegades: the book explains why, but the film never does. The same could be said of the relationship between Jacob and the Alpha of the wolf pack, Sam Uley, with whom there’s an entire underlying subtext which none of the films ever explored. The whole concept of the wolf pack and the internal loyalties, which make up a significant part of Breaking Dawn and pretty much the entire franchise, has been mishandled from the very start of the film series, and Breaking Dawn does little to stop the rot. Don’t even get me started on the “imprinting” debacle, which I touched on earlier.

Look, for the last time, I’m not taking my shirt off in this scene!

The second of the major problems with Breaking Dawn Part 1 is the insipid dialogue. Virtually passionless in every respect, devoid of humor, emotion or even meaning, the characters spout little more than empty dialogue throughout the film. It’s a humorless affair – unless you count the accidental humor derived from one of the worst baby names ever devised; it’s like Stephenie Meyer couldn’t make the story any more stupid unless she came up with one of the most repugnant names for a character, ever. Bella’s child, whom fans will know she named Renesmee (yes, you read that right, Renesmee) is a combo of Edward’s adopted mothers name, and Bella’s own mothers name – as much a pointless fact as you’re ever likely to read on this site. The biggest laugh of the film comes from Jacob’s expression when he learns this is what Bella’s decided to call the young infant. It’s the same expression even the most die-hard readers of Meyer’s rubbish had when they read it as well. Bella and Edward’s conversations feel like high-school productions of some badly written Shakespeare riff, as if Rosenberg decided to go the George Lucas method of scripting for this effort. Stewart provides a one-note performance throughout, that constant sad suicidal frown on her mush as she strives not to let Edward tear out her unborn fetus: man, what a role model for the pro-life crowd. The baby will kill her, but she decides to have it anyway! Because she loves Edward so much. God, give me strength to get through life knowing that other young girls might read this and think it’s normal behavior.

I looked anorexic in this – it’s as close to the truth as this film ever gets!

You might have guessed by now that I’ve got a lot of issues with Breaking Dawn Part 1 as a film, and the Twilight phenomenon in general, and you’d be right. In some respects, I pity poor Bill Condon for signing up to have his career ruined by directing this terrible, terrible film. He’s a visual director, sure, and Breaking Dawn Part 1 definitely has his stylish stamp all over it, but the creative decision to split the story into two films creates a massive problem – keeping the audience interested chief among them. For a film based on a book where there’s almost zero action, Breaking Dawn was up against it, but to put zero action into two films instead of just one, is creative suicide. I can only hope that Part 2 is half as long, and filled with some pretty cool battle sequences, because if it’s just more of this crap, there’s no hope for any of us.

Don’t you know, it’s all about the lace, right?

Clocking in at nearly two hours, Breaking Dawn has plenty of opportunity to satisfy anyone daring to watch it. It completely, utterly fails to do so. The complete lack of chemistry between the two leads, who both spend the film looking like they suffer constipation, and the hicklety-picklety structure of Meyer’s daft story (not helped by Rosenberg’s desire to remain slavish to it in the script), prevent Breaking Dawn from being even a remotely passable film. Condon is probably not to blame, here: after all, he’s simply picking up where many, many others have left off in both casting and story, so he’s essentially boxed in with what he’s able to accomplish. As a result, Breaking Dawn Part 1 is an interminable bore, a bloodless concoction of convoluted character-wrangling and narrative-busting inanity, and perhaps somewhat ironically, devoid of life.

What others are saying about Breaking Dawn Part 1:

Sam over at Duke & The Movies thought it was shit too: “Director Bill Condon seems to be aware of the films lackluster script and takes full advantage of peeking and speaking to the sexual desires of those hormonal female teens craving disingenuous sex and shirtless male models. If that’s filmmaking, than all hope is lost.”

My mate Al K Hall over at The Bar None made this keen observation about Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson: “i would be more forgiving if they were first timers and didn’t know any better about how to act when making the scene, but the fact is they are repeat offenders and insist on coming back and coming back and coming back and each time they act worse.”

Stevee at Cinematic Paradox had a charming little interview with the film, and snagged this little gem: “What do you mean, ‘why does hardly anything happen?’. Edward and Bella play chess for at least 50% of the movie. And everyone thinks that is so romantic. Plus, chess is a game which needs to be brought back out into the spotlight. Harry Potter had a go at making it cool and all, but I think Edward and Bella really nailed it.”

Who wrote this?

10 thoughts on “Movie Review – Breaking Dawn – Part 1: The Twilight Saga

  1. …Hey the old commenting system is back! Hooray! 🙂

    I haven’t seen this, I have no intention, especially now. But I applaud your determination and courage as a film critic for subjecting yourself to this bilge.

    Have you seen those videos of the Nutty Madam on YouTube – her adoration of Twilight and its stars borders on the clinically insane…

    1. Well, not the "old" one technically – we've upgraded to Intensedebate instead of Livefyre, and we're finding this is working just fine! I'm gonna go search the Nutty Madam on Youtube right now…. I'm set for a good laugh!

  2. I think commenting works now (testing)? Anyways, like Custard I am also never watching this movie. I had a hard enough time sitting through the first one, and I hear the sequels are worse. Even the trailers were sort of painful to sit through.
    My recent post The Artist (2011) – Review

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