'Twilight: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1'

6:00 AM PST 11/15/2011 by Todd McCarthy
Andrew Cooper/SMPSP/Summit Entertainment LLC

Fans of the teen vampire saga will bite, but the first part of the "Twilight" conclusion seems both soporific and stretched thin.

Big things happen in this penultimate Twilight entry: Bella and Edward get married, she gets pregnant on their Brazilian honeymoon and almost perishes before giving birth, and finally, after four films and about 490 minutes of screen time depicting simmering desire and superhuman restraint, she wakes up with the red eyes of a vampire. (Spoiler? Hardly.) But so little else occurs between these momentous events in Twilight: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1 that you can practically hear every second ticking by while awaiting the payoff. Not that this will matter to the faithful who have devoured all 754 pages of Stephenie Meyer's series-climaxing tome and want to see as many as possible re-created on the screen, nor to those who have paid more than $1.8 billion worldwide to see the previous three installments in theaters. Breaking Dawn -- Part 2 won't follow until Nov. 16, 2012.

When the decision was made to split Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films to bring that blockbuster series to a close, there was cynical talk regarding mercenary motives. Once the films came out, however, that talk stopped, so emphatically did the massive narrative incident justify the extended length. On the basis of Breaking Dawn -- Part 1, though, the same cannot be said of this series ender, which feels as bloated and anemic as Bella becomes during her pregnancy. The film is like a crab cake with three or four bits of crab surrounded by loads of bland stuffing.

Taking place in a woodsy setting that could easily be the next estate over from the wedding-reception site in Lars von Trier's Melancholia, the nuptials of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) are drawn out to last nearly a half-hour onscreen. The gaiety is encumbered by a strong sense of foreboding, not only because the world is coming to an end, as in Melancholia, but also because it means Bella will soon pass over from human life to the vampire side.

Upon receiving the wedding invitation, the first reaction of Bella's friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is to go wolf and race into the forest in a snit, but he finally turns up to wish her well before the happy couple jets off to Rio, which is so little seen it scarcely seems worth the trip. At their lush honeymoon villa, Edward is every inch the gentleman. They skinny dip at night to some incredibly insipid songs, and in the morning the bedroom is in total disarray; we never see anything of what came between, no moment of surrender, which is what the series has been building to all along. Where one legitimately hopes to register what Bella feels upon finally giving herself over, all we get are languid and lax interludes of what still seems like puppy love. Very lame, and very disappointing.

At about the film's halfway point, Bella finds she's unexpectedly pregnant, prompting a quick return home. She soon turns pale and gaunt; it appears the fetus is taking all of the nutrients for itself. During the very slow scenes depicting Bella's deterioration, as Stewart appears progressively skeletal, so little else is going on that one is obliged to muse over whether the pounds came off digitally or the old-fashioned way. Given the energy and alertness evident in his work as helmer of Gods and Monsters, Kinsey and Dreamgirls, it looks as though director Bill Condon fell into a trance while making this film -- so dirgelike is the pacing, so banal is Melissa Rosenberg's dutiful script on a scene-by-scene, moment-to-moment basis. It truly feels that 40 minutes or so, not two hours, would have been plenty to convey all that's necessary in the material covered.

Release date: Nov. 18 (Summit)
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli
Director: Bill Condon
Screenwriter: Melissa Rosenberg
Rated: PG-13, 117 minutes

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