The Critics: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part One

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Dir. Bill Condon

2011

Watching the latest instalment in the Twilight film series is at once exasperating and strangely compelling, as it treads a fine line between being dreadful, and transcending dreadfulness in such a way as to become highly entertaining. Unfortunately, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, to give it its full title, in addition to failing as a cogent piece of cinema, doesn’t manage to scale the heights, or rather sink to the lows, of the best worst films. This is not The Room, or Troll 2, or Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, and it is not, as some people have said to me, the worst movie they have ever seen. Instead, Breaking Dawn falls in a barren middle ground; it is ridiculous enough in parts to be intermittently enjoyable, but for the majority of its two-hour running time, it is simply turgid, tedious, and achingly dull.

Nevertheless, Breaking Dawn does succeed somewhat as an absurd piece of throwaway entertainment, however unintentionally; I cannot remember another major, supposedly dramatic, release that elicited anything like as much inadvertent amusement in its audience. In a relatively packed screening, the laugh out loud moments were provided not by the laboured and awkwardly played attempts at humour, but by the stilted performances, the bafflingly incongruous dialogue, and an utterly bizarre scene in which a pack of wolves converse with each other via semi-lupine telepathy.

Sadly, these moments of audience amusement and involvement are few and far between. Though there were cries in the opening minute as Taylor Lautner’s Jacob removed his shirt, presumably satisfying a clause in the actor’s contract, Breaking Dawn fails to capture any sense of eroticism whatsoever, a major issue for a film that ostensibly centres on the consummation of the two main characters’ relationship. Instead there is a pervasive sense of lassitude, apathy even, as the narrative builds towards its underwhelming conclusion through a series of lacklustre action sequences. Despite being the fourth movie in one of Hollywood’s most bankable franchises, the special effects in Breaking Dawn still range from average to laughable, with vampires and wolves charging and leaping around a setting that is part Twin Peaks, part Grand Designs.

There are elements that work however, with the film’s one real moment of poignancy also being its most unsettling. A digitally emaciated Kristen Stewart undresses in front of a bathroom mirror, her frailty contrasting starkly with the ravenous child growing inside her. It’s a genuinely moving image, and her reflected expression of terror and resignation is infinitely more affecting than Robert Pattinson’s torpid agonizing, or the climactic, bewilderingly gratuitous birth scene.

It’s rare that a film fails as spectacularly, and on as many levels, as the first part of the Twilight series’ conclusion. Whether it represents a nadir for the series is up for debate, but it’s undeniable that director Bill Condon’s Breaking Dawn Part 1 is deeply and fundamentally flawed. Some will argue that he faced an impossible task in trying to craft a successful movie from Stephanie Meyer’s mystifyingly popular series of novels, but while the film is inevitably a slave to its source material, its inherent silliness doesn’t justify the inadequate result. It’s a dour mess of a movie, and one that worryingly constitutes only the first part of what is turning out to be a prolonged, painful finale.

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