Friday, November 18, 2011

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

Review by Matt Finley


It’s the film adaptation of first half of the fourth installment of a fiction sensation that inexplicably hit the cultural zeitgeist like a tornado hits a game of Jenga: TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1. Be you Team Jacob, Team Edward or Team Van Helsing, nothing I say will change your alliance. Twilight has always been low melodrama at its swooniest, with just enough supernatural claptrap to keep the glares, tears and smooches rolling on toward the inevitable happily ever after. With director Bill Condon (GODS AND MONSTERS, DREAMGIRLS) at the helm, this episode does manage to feel more cinematic than any prior entry but, alas, even our seasoned Cap’n cannot successfully navigate the story’s Bermuda love triangle, a horizonless sea of tiresome dialogue and repetitive themes.

If they had decided to break the book into six films, I could legitimately give TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1 a glowing review. The first third – Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) and Edward’s (Robert Pattinson) wedding and honeymoon - is funny, self-aware and, if you can stomach the perpetual lip-locked limb tangle of teenagers in love, sweet. This has nothing to do with Stewart’s and Pattinson’s diligence to an intense regiment of smoldering, humping and tears, and everything to do with Condon, plus superlative cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (PAN’S LABYRINTH). Eschewing past installments’ foggy, network-teen-drama point-and-shoot style (at least initially) for clean lighting, deft lingering panning shots and an aesthetic that portrays characters in relation to each other and the scenery rather than just cutting between close-ups on whichever face happens to have sound coming out of it, Condon successfully conjures the tone and rhythm of a dramatic film. The honeymoon’s island setting and several light sight gags, including the already infamous bed-busting doing of it, don’t hurt.

Even after the film pulls the pregnancy reveal and devolves into an endless series of arguments, lovers' quarrels and humdrum skirmishes between the Lestats and the lycans, set frustratingly in foggy woods and the Cullen’s peeping Tom wet dream of a house, Condon keeps it real. He stages a delightfully Wonkatania-reminiscent sequence that takes place inside a werewolf’s mind, and a vampire transformation that happily weds flashbacks and biological imagery. Unfortunately, in the matter of Viewer Trying To Give This Movie A Legitimate Chance V. The Scene Where The Wolves Sit Around And Look At Each Other While Psychically Communicating (i.e., Staring At The Camera While A Pissed Off, Disembodied Voice Shouts Totally Loud At Everyone), I have to side with plaintiff because, like, seriously. Also: I know the cash-magnetized PG-13 rating is to blame, but it’s a bummer that the one legitimate horror scene in this movie plays like it’s been preemptively edited for television.

Side note: one of my least favorite things about the Twilight films, aside from watching them (Zing!), is the way the male characters are constantly scheming about who Bella should be with and what sort of life she should have, without really lending any credence or respect to Bella’s ability as, you know, a sentient being, to decide for herself. Kudos, then, to BREAKING DAWN’s recognition of a woman’s reproductive entitlements and Bella’s right to choose, regardless of what the vampires or werewolves think is right, moral or fair.

Question: What’s one more than hat trick? Answer: The number of Twilight films in which writer Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter) has treated what amounts to the Universal monster version of Electronic Talking Dream Phone with stone-faced, near-Biblical reverence.

Okay, that’s mean. These films are being made for the fans, who want to see something akin, in both leaden tone and incessant wordiness, to the source material. In this sense, Rosenberg has earned her paycheck. But screenwriters aren’t paid by the word. Film is a visual medium. I know I’m preaching to a whole tent full of other evangelists here, but why not attempt to take the love, anger and heartbreak out of Stephanie Meyer’s prolific quotation marks and put them into action. It’s easy to assume that audiences just want emotions turned into thick, chunky words and then barfed up all over them, but, hey: James Dean or Morrissey – who broods cooler? Who do the girls wanna take the dance? Verbosity ain’t tantamount to sex appeal. That’s why it’s called adaptation. Trust your actors to embody emotion, and trust your director to help them. Sure, maybe Stewart and Pattinson don’t have the chops to convey a love that transcends elocution (or leaves beds unscathed), but how would we know when they’ve never been given the chance.

Maybe next year, after the release of the second half, I’ll be able to hail the full TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN as an engrossing romantic thriller with a really neat part in the middle where the movie just sort of strokes out long enough for the viewer to make a sandwich run, and still be back in time for the thrilling conclusion. For now, PART 1 is an all too brief honeymoon followed by a marathon slog - just like the type of relationship that stories like Twilight naively deny. (1 1/2 out of 4 Stars)

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