Congratulations are due to Stephanie Meyer. Global domination is at her feet. Not only the creator of the Twilight novel series that made “dark fantasy” a literary genre, she is now listed as a producer on the film series of the same name. So she is doubly responsible for the content of this latest instalment of her teen torn between vampire and werewolf love affair. Presumably this is the film she wished to make? The key to her success, apparently, is to ensure that none of her target audience are challenged or shocked. Rather, she will win them over with blandness.
Those familiar with the source novel have commented extensively that despite the length, it was not necessary to split the book into two, but more important is that of the two narratives, that of Edward and Bella’s wedding and that of the relations among the werewolf tribe that shares the Cullen territory, this second thread has been largely eliminated from the filmed version, leaving a predictable linear narrative that for the first half focuses on shoes, makeovers, wedding hair, jitters, and what to wear on the honeymoon. If that sounds like torture for an audience, then be assured they are not alone.
Even before a plodding wedding scene so painfully awkward as to seem parody, Bella’s ennui is endemic and matched by her gloomy undead groom. When Bill Compton or Angel brood, they do it magnificently. To quote Lestat de Lioncourt addressing his long-time companion Louis du Point Lac – “Merciful death, how you love your precious guilt.” Yet Edward has not mastered this yet; despite his hundred plus years, he pouts and sulks like an insipid child.
In this production, every line is devoid of depth, delivered as though at a first script read through, before the actors have developed nuance and conviction. When Edward says “Last night was happiest night of my existence,” he does so in the manner of a serial womaniser who isn’t really bothered whether he gets the girl or not. “Yeah, of course you’re special, whatever.”
Again, the credit for this achievement must go to Meyer, creator of the insipid text. Consider instead Isaac Asimov in his first Foundation novel, where two characters discuss the political crisis they face: “Your glass is empty;” “I’ve had enough.” Yes, it refers to the bottle of wine they share, but it also speaks of an old man who has spent his life fighting to save a system he doesn’t understand, for a goal he will never live to see, in the face of endless hostility. Yet when Stephanie Meyer writes dialogue, and Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart mumble it, each line is limited to precisely what is on the page, never any more.
As Jacob, Taylor Lautner is a relief in every scene, the only one of the central trio who can actually act, and his presence even occasionally draws his costars out of their somnolence. It is unfortunate that for most of the film he is offscreen, sidelined or converted to computer generated wolf. As well as some connection between the characters, the film desperately needs a sense of humour, far more than an intrusive angst pop soundtrack or three musical montages which serve only to emphasise how little happens. The first hour feels like looking at somebody else’s wedding video and holiday photos, only interesting if you were there or if commentary is provided by someone who really knows how to tell a story.
Location shooting in Rio seems only have been for the sake of publicity, as the scenes could as easily have been digitally constructed for all the characters interaction with the setting. Indeed, despite a moonlit speedboat trip to a secluded private island off the coast of Brazil, rather than the excitement of a bride on her honeymoon, Bella’s reaction resembles that of someone who has just been informed said trip has just been cancelled.
The early flashback scene to Edward hunting in a 1930’s cinema screening The Bride of Frankenstein demonstrates not only how much more glamorous cinemas were back then, but by recalling the director of that film was James Whale, subject of Bill Condon’s film Gods and Monsters, now himself directing Breaking Dawn part 1, any audiences members in the know are reminded how superior those films were, made in 1935 and 1998 are than this 2011 offering which generates no interest for the conclusion to be released in six months. Rather than building excitement and tension for what is to come, Breaking Dawn demonstrates exactly why Twilight should have stayed in the shadows.
Breaking Dawn part 1 is currently on general release