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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 - Review

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

THE first part of the final chapter in The Twilight Saga offers the darkest material yet in book form so it’s somewhat disappointing to find that Bill Condon’s Breaking Dawn Part 1 lacks any real bite.

Rather, it too often feels constrained by the box office friendly 12A certificate even though a couple of scenes still remain too strong for the youngest fans of the franchise.

What results is a missed opportunity to properly do justice to Stephenie Meyers’ source text with the horror aspects diluted to such anaemic effect that certain key scenes emerge as laughable.

Likewise, the decision to split the final book into two movies also backfires somewhat, depriving the film of any real tension or peril and quite often making proceedings feel laboured.

That’s not to say that Breaking Dawn isn’t without its guilty pleasures or enjoyment value. The solid groundwork laid by the previous movies in the franchise enables us to care about most of the characters involved, while some of what unfolds grips in an absurd kind of way. But it’s still the weakest film in the saga so far.

Picking up on the eve of the marriage of Bella (Kristen Stewart) to vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson), the film spends a generous half an hour on their big day before following them on honeymoon where they get to consummate their long-suppressed passion.

A couple of tastefully shot love scenes and two broken beds later and Bella finds herself pregnant and being told that her baby is draining the life from her. It’s up to the vampires and lone werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) to find a way to save her before the rest of the wolf clan attack or Edward can convert Bella into a fellow blood-sucker and eternity long soul-mate.

Condon’s film had the potential to be the most adult, even chilling, entry into the series yet but it only ever tip-toes around such plot points rather than fully embracing them.

Rather, the horror elements are given short shrift in favour of the age-old themes of family, identity and the loss of innocence. It’s an odd juxtaposition that’s made to feel all the more uneven by the play it safe nature of the direction, a by-product of which is to turn the film into an unwitting comedy.

For example, a big reveal moment in which viewers (and Jacob) get to see an emaciated Bella for the first time has its shock value diminished by having Jacob comically turn to Edward in disgust and saying: “You did this!” But then Melissa Rosenberg’s script frequently has characters state the obvious… a failing that Condon attempts to mask by punctuating big dramatic moments with various songs.

The performances suffer, too, only really coming alive during the one or two scenes in which Condon opens up to the dramatic possibilities posed by the darker material, or the comedic ones that are supposed to be funny.

The wedding sequence, while overlong, contains some nice moments (including a montage of cringe-worthy speeches), while some of the angst-ridden soul-searching posed by themes of loyalty and mortality allow Lautner and Pattinson, at least, the chance to show some range.

But Stewart continues to pout her way through the majority of proceedings, while her willingness to sacrifice herself (much like the human heroines in a lot of recent vampire stories) tends to cheapen the value anyone else places upon her life.

The lack of any really major set pieces also exposes the lack of pace the film has to offer, despite several characters squaring up to each other and growling at various points.

To be fair, Condon always had his work cut out balancing the book’s darkest material with the distributors’ need to keep it ratings friendly and to pad things out enough to warrant two films.

That he ultimately fails is arguably down to this lack of faith in the original material – for while the film still pushes the boundaries of its 12A parameters to sometimes shocking effect, it still feels like its screaming out to go further.

Twi-hards probably won’t mind too much but even they may quietly be forced to concede that this opening chapter – while still watchable – could and should have gone a lot further.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 117mins
UK Release Date: November 18, 2011