The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1: Film Review

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart
Summit Entertainment

Enjoying some alone time together now that they're married, Edward and Bella play a game of chess. 

An eventful but bloodless first half of the smash series' finale.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson take their characters' relationship to the next level in Part 1 of the epic franchise finale.

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, nearly all of whom will rush to see this one as soon as possible. Part 2 won't follow until Nov. 16, 2012.

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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 to milk as many dollars as possible out of the franchise. 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, but many can't tell the difference or don't care, which will largely be true for its captive audience.

Taking place in a lovely 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) can plausibly be termed the "wedding of the century" only in the sense Edward means it when he tells his 18-year-old bride, “I've been waiting a century to marry you.” Drawn out to last nearly a half-hour onscreen, the gaiety of the preliminaries and ensuing event 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.

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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 — too much so, perhaps, for Bella. They skinny dip at night to some incredibly insipid songs, they're very tender and understanding with each other, and then 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 to what she has so long desired but resisted, 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. When Jacob comes by and observes her already-obvious condition, he gets to bellow an immortal accusation to Edward: “You did this!” As Edward searches for a proper rejoinder, Jacob again scampers off, whereupon the local werewolf tribe reacts with a lot of teeth-baring and internal bickering over what to do. Meanwhile, Bella turns pale and gaunt and seems in danger of wasting away; it appears the fetus is taking all of the nutrients for itself and leaving nothing for Mom, who can no longer eat normal food. There's only one solution to this state of affairs, the administering of which brings Bella back to life as Part 1 pushes toward its end.

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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. After the energy and alertness evident in his previous 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.

Even the normally first-rate film composer Carter Burwell is dragged down by the occasion, though his score is marginally less watery than the songs that dominate the soundtrack.

The actors have long since been set in their performances, and there are no surprises here. In the end, given how little goes on in Breaking Dawn — Part 1 despite the major plot points, what you're left with is to gaze at the three leads, all of whom have their constituencies and reasons for being eminently watchable. The only hope is they'll have more to do next time around.

Opens: Nov. 18 (Summit)
Production: Temple Hill
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Kellan Lutz, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, Michael Sheen, Anna Kendrick, Sarah Clarke, Christian Camargo, Gil Birmingham, Julia Jones, Booboo Stewart, Mia Maestro, Casey LaBow, MyAnna Buring
Director: Bill Condon
Screenwriter: Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
Producers: Wyck Godfrey, Karen Rosenfelt, Stephenie Meyer
Executive Producers: Marty Bowen, Greg Mooradian, Mark Morgan, Guy Oseary
Director Of Photography: Guillermo Navarro
Production Designer: Richard Sherman
Costume Designer: Michael Wilkinson
Visual Effects Supervisor: John Bruno
Editor: Virginia Katz
Music: Carter Burwell
Rated PG-13, 117 minutes