As an aspiring entertainment journalist, for better or worse, it’s my duty to try and take in the aspects of pop culture currently capturing the popular zeitgeist. As someone who was constantly frustrated as a teenager by people who insulted the Harry Potter series but had neither read the books nor seen the movies (at least past the initial entries), I try to make it a point not to belittle things I’ve never watched. A couple of years ago, one of my co-workers in the dorm hoisted her copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight into my hands, and in the interest of knowing what all of the hooplah was about, I read Twilight (and eventually New Moon). While it wasn’t nearly as terrible as some men make it out to be, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch of the imagination to say that the Twilight books are roughly of the quality of above average fan fiction, and Stephenie Meyer’s notion of romance is perhaps more than a bit unhealthy.
Despite my complete aversion to her writing style and my utter lack of interest in the (perhaps) key romantic plot of the series, I would be a liar if I said I didn’t enjoy some of the fantasy world building in the established Twilight universe. Had it not been for the introduction of the werewolves as well as the Volturri vampire hierarchy in New Moon, I would have likely lost interest in the series after that point. However, the addition of the conflict between Jacob and Edward and generally the addition of Jacob period (who makes Edward seem even more boring and uninspired of a character than he did at first) as well as the ticking time bomb of a showdown between the Cullen family and the world’s less sparkly vampires piqued my interest.
While I’m still yet to read Eclipse, I saw the movie which I thoroughly enjoyed without even the slightest hint of irony. It was a dark urban fantasy action film with plenty of mythology to pull from, and with the exception of the love story, it was a fun if flawed film. My family went to see Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1 in theaters, and after all of the forward momentum that Eclipse made for the franchise, Breaking Dawn represented a frustrating step backwards into everything that makes this franchise childish drivel as well as a soap box for Stephenie Meyer’s bloated and self-righteous political and religious views which she has managed to hoist on a generation of impressionable young girls. With dialogue as insipid and stale as something you’d see from a first year film student and plotting so languid that I nearly fell asleep in the theatre (at least until the more compelling final 20 minutes), Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1 is easily one of the most disappointing films of the year.
Set shortly after the end of Eclipse, Breaking Dawn picks up on the eve of Edward and Bella’s wedding. The Volturri have set an ultimatum that Bella must either become a vampire or die in order to protect the secret of the existence of vampires. Despite Edward’s own misgivings, Bella and Edward are marrying (mainly because Bella wants to have sex and Edward won’t til they’re married) and on their honeymoon, Edward will change Bella. Despite still being in love with Bella, Jacob had given his blessing to Bella’s transformation until he learns that Bella and Edward plan on having sex before Bella is turned into a vampire, which Jacob fears will kill Bella. Without wanting to spoil any of the plot (not that it’s a particularly plot heavy film), on Bella and Edward’s honeymoon, Bella discovers that she’s pregnant, and it’s growing fast and possibly killing her. Soon, war is on the verge of breaking out between the werewolves of Jacob’s tribe and the Cullen vampires.
It is painful to watch Kristen Stewart act in this film and not just because of the Gollum-esque makeup she’s wearing by the film’s end. Having seen her work in other films like Adventureland and Into the Wild, I know she’s a better actress than this. As Bella, she’s capable of about one expression which is a strange combination of pain and complete mental vacuity. There is hardly a moment in the film where she doesn’t look like she’s constipated and that Bella simply has no clue what’s going on around her. Unless this is a subtle commentary on how Bella was intentionally written as a blank slate for young teenage girls to project themselves onto, there’s virtually no excuse for a talented actress like Kristen Stewart to put forth a performance this lazy. Robert Pattinson has exactly one job which is to be good looking and make the female fan base swoon. In that regards, he succeeds but he also manages to bring at least more weight to Edward’s pain and angst than the script provides. Once again, Taylor Lautner is the saving grace of the cast as the hot-blooded Jacob, the only character with any flaws or personality in the franchise.
Outside of the simple fact that virtually nothing happens for the first ¾ of the film, the message that this film sends to little girls is absolutely reprehensible. Stephenie Meyer has made no secret that her fundamental religious beliefs have heavily influenced her writing, and there is even less subtle proselytizing on display in Breaking Dawn than a C.S. Lewis novel. To recount the anti-feminist themes on display in Breaking Dawn could fill up an entire essay. A short list includes that it is better to get married at the age of 18 than to experiment with one’s sexuality; a woman’s duty is to completely subserve herself to a man to the point of giving up her humanity for eternity; it is better to die than to have an abortion; men with Madonna complexes (the inability to view their spouses in a sexual manner) are to be fetishized; and last but not least, sex will kill you. While everyone is entitled to their religious and political beliefs, it is incredibly irresponsible for Stephenie Meyer to force feed this to the series’ legion of young female fans.
The film’s only real redeeming quality is its beautiful cinematography. In the moments where someone isn’t talking (which are too rare), director Bill Condon combines gorgeous on location shooting with a dark, moody vibe in the emotional moments. While he wasn’t able to elicit great performances from his two leads, his shooting managed to add some mystery and dread to the proceedings. The franchise has had a long history of hiring auteurs to direct the franchise, and Bill Condon gets to join the ranks of directors who added some artistry to an otherwise lifeless script (no pun intended). The scene where Bella is giving birth gets serious points for being quite unsettling and disturbing. For the series teeny bopper fans, that was probably quite graphic and terrifying. The final 20 minutes were just better because the film finally introduced a compelling conflict.
Other than the franchise’s consistently awesome indie soundtrack, there aren’t a lot of positive things to say about this train wreck of an entry in the series. My sister, an avid fan of the books, assures me that the book was a lot better than the disaster of a film and that part two should be much more compelling. As it stands, Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1 stands as one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen in ages. The film couldn’t go more than five minutes at a time without uttering a line so unnatural and forced that I nearly laughed, and Kristen Stewart’s horrendous performance is a stain on her otherwise interesting career. Only die-hard Twilight fans should see this entry. Everyone else can stay at home. Save your money for The Muppets which I plan on seeing when it premiers.
Final Score: C-