Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More Sex, Kristen Stewart's Sideboob And Blood: Breaking Dawn Part 1 Is An Awkward Transition Film!

The Good: Engaging plot, Decent supplementary character moments, Effects
The Bad: Primary characters do not truly advance, Moments of shaky acting, Erratic.
The Basics: Partially romantic and genuinely erotic, partly bloody and violent, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 is good, but not great like some might hope.

I have, in the past, been a champion of the cinematic Twilight Saga. The truth is, the three movies that have made up the Twilight Saga until now have been all right, though plagued with more of a sense of teenage melodrama than I would, at times, like. The sense of "everything is so important at this age" and a sanitizing of both sex and violence has made the Twilight Saga a surprisingly accessible and unthreatening story. But with the release of Breaking Dawn Part 1 that safety is gone and what results is surprisingly less intense or interesting than it had been.

In recent years, there has been a genre that has sprouted up that I have found entirely distasteful. No, it's not the supernatural romance that became a mainstream genre with Stephanie Meyer's Twilight books, that's fine. In film, there has been a genre that has sprouted up that rather grossly links graphic sex and then graphic violence. Films like Hostel, The Ruins, and Piranha 3-D (reviewed here!) flood the viewer with sexually titillating imagery before turning their stomachs with graphic gore, torture and and/or violence. Breaking Dawn, Part 1 is the sanitized, intended for young adults, version of that genre, much the way Twilight (reviewed here!) was a very sanitized fantasy with no real adult thematic issues to cerebrally challenge viewers, the abstinence-only New Moon (reviewed here!) was a safe romance and Eclipse (reviewed here!) was a remarkably family-friendly action-adventure movie. Vastly less extreme than any of the R or Unrated examples I cited, Breaking Dawn Part 1 erratically transitions from a schmaltzy, still-safe romance into a blood-filled horror that begs the question, "Why not wait?"

The audience that got hooked on the Twilight books was generally 13 - 21 when the first Twilight film came out. That was 2008. That means, if the producers wanted to truly honor the "R"-rated content of the Breaking Dawn novel, the movie ought to have been released in 2013 when that bottom demographic would have been 18 and their parents could not find it objectionable to let them see more of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson than a little sideboob, a little butt and a lot of male chest. That said, nothing stood out in Breaking Dawn Part 1 that wasn't sanitized down to an appropriate PG-13 level and it is hard for me to imagine many of the Twi-Moms not coming away from the theater feeling a little cheated.

That said, as one who has both not read Breaking Dawn and been part of a franchise where most of the big emotional moment one had been waiting years for was left on the cutting room floor, I suspect most Twi-hards will be happy with the resulting film. Unlike Stuart Baird, who left most of the much anticipated wedding between Riker and Troi for deleted scenes on the DVD for Star Trek: Nemesis (reviewed here!), director Bill Condon does not rush the wedding of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. Even so, the wedding is treated more like an inhibition to the story actually getting going than a vital event. In other words, the wedding is the icebreaker that the viewer must get through in order to get to the sex, violence and - incidentally - story of Breaking Dawn Part 1.

At long last, Bella Swan and Edward Cullen tie the knot. Their wedding, attended by human and vampire kin alike, is a generally joyful celebration that leads to the pair getting away for their honeymoon. Enjoying her supposed last days of humanity, Edward and Bella finally make love . . . repeatedly. Unfortunately for Bella, the unthinkable happens and Edward manages to get Bella pregnant, sparking the first real fight for the couple when Edward becomes convinced that the fetus cannot possibly be good news. With Carlisle baffled as to how the pregnancy occurred, Bella digs in her heels, committing to the pregnancy.

The pregnancy draws the attention of Jacob's werewolf brethren and the Volturi, both of whom see the supernatural half-breed as a serious threat to their species. As the Cullens close in to protect Bella, she gets an unlikely ally in Jacob. With Bella's body being battered from within by the supernatural fetus, Jacob joins forces with Jasper and the Cullens to repel the threats to Bella's life.

Breaking Dawn Part 1 feels like what it is, a middle act of sorts. What works for it is that it seems to be going somewhere and the setup is a decent one. It is hard to imagine seeing this film and not clamoring to see the finale. That said, it is far from flawless.

Breaking Dawn Part 1 suffers primarily by feeling like it doesn't know what it wants to be. Like any number of movies that desperately try to get the PG-13 rating instead of an "R," Breaking Dawn Part 1 feels like it pulls too many of its punches. Jacob, for example, never seems to be as realistically angry as one might expect when the woman he loves not only marries someone else, but then gets into a situation where he feels obliged to help. Jacob is left with a strange lack of complexity (and an unsurprising lack of a shirt). But, even when Jacob manages to stay clothed, he does not resonate as a real or vital character.

Similarly and most damaging is how Bella does not progress in the course of the film. The pregnancy, like so many things in Bella Swan's story, is just another thing that happens to her. Bella does not become more sophisticated, more intuitive or more interesting, she is just pregnant. Similarly, despite the problems the pregnancy causes, this is not a huge strain on the relationship between Edward and Bella. The coming threat of the Volturi is a menace, but it does not fundamentally change Bella or Edward or the way they love one another. So, after a hundred years of avoiding humans like Bella, Edward tries to stay away from the young woman - for her own good - then his fears are proven correct and he never seems to resent her for her contribution to their strife.

On the acting front, Breaking Dawn Part 1 finds the principle actors with their parts honed and delivering nothing truly new. We've seen Kristen Stewart shake and look pained, we've seen Robert Pattinson look confused and we've seen Taylor Lautner look upset and strong. So, none of the performances sing with anything resonating as beyond the already-established skill levels for the actors.

For his brief part in Breaking Dawn Part 1, it was Michael Sheen as Aro who wowed me. Having seen him most recently in the comedic recurring role in the fourth season of 30 Rock (reviewed here!), Sheen's ability to be commanding and menacing resurfaces to remind viewers what a dramatic powerhouse he can be. It is a refreshing performance, no matter how brief.

As for the special effects, director Condon uses the soundtrack exceptionally well to augment the emotional impact of key moments without overwhelming them. There are a few moments, as near the climax, that the soundtrack telegraphs the emotions a bit, but for the most part, the soundtrack is an actual special effect that helps tell the story. The CG effects are fully honed in Breaking Dawn Part 1 as well, with the writhing fetus in the womb looking surprisingly realistic - and uncomfortable - and the computer generated wolves looking perfect to each hair on the head.

In the end, though, Breaking Dawn Part 1 was fun and the story moved, but the pacing felt a little belabored at points and the plot moved the characters, not the other way around. Outside Jacob - who stood with Bella in Eclipse, so it's nothing truly new - taking a stand, the plot elements happen to the characters more than the characters making the plot turn in a new or interesting direction. While this could be the death knell, there is just enough to make those not already a fan stick it out and be glad they did. . .

. . . and hope Breaking Dawn Part 2 wraps it up better.

For other Twilight-related reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
2011 Bella, Edward And Jacob Hallmark Ornament
Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1
Twilight trading cards


For other film reviews, be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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