Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1"

It has now become commonplace for big film franchises to split up the books they were based on into multiple movies. "The Lord of the Rings" did it in three parts, and the last installment of the "Harry Potter" series was cut in twain. The upcoming prelude to "LotR," "The Hobbit," is getting the same treatment.

I have no problem with this when there's simply too much story to tell in a single two-hour (or even three-hour) movie, and trying to do so would inevitably leave audiences with a disappointing Cliff's Notes version of the book. As long as there's narrative momentum and character development, make 17 movies if it pleases.

But with "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1," there's just not a whole lot of story to tell. What there is feels stretched and pulled like cheap carnival taffy to make it resemble a complete whole, when really all it is is a whole lot of exposition with vampires brooding and werewolves gnashing their frustration.

The result is a draggy, drippy installment in the Twilight series, easily the most boring of the franchise.

Before you accuse me of simply being a Twilight hater, a fuddy too-old critic who's not the target audience of the books by Stephanie Meyer's books and the movies made out of them, let me offer a little preemptive defense. I read the first book, and found it to be an agreeable page-turner. And I actually wrote a positive review of the third film, stating that it "can boast more visceral thrills than the first two movies combined."

Alas, boys yearning for some wolf/vampire battles in between the kissing and yearning will be sadly disappointed. There's virtually no action until near the end, and even that is a truncated and curiously bloodless encounter. For a bunch of natural killers, they sure seem unable to inflict any real and lasting damage on each other.

It's notable that director Bill Condon is the fourth person to helm a Twilight film, with no one ever repeating. Condon, best known for historical dramas like "Kinsey" and "Gods and Monsters," demonstrates a totally inept feel for the few action scenes that do exist, which quickly devolve into indecipherable flurries of fur and pale vampire flesh.

His touch during the (many) relationship-y scenes isn't much better, with a whole lot of manufactured conflicts and momentary dramas. For a century-old vampire who's too cool for school, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) throws a lot of hissy fits.

Laughably, the big issue in the early going is on the honeymoon of Edward and his human lady love, Bella (Kristen Stewart). Edward has agreed to turn Bella into a vampire after they marry, but she doesn't want to do it until after the honeymoon, because that would be, like, lame to suffer the pains of transformation after a big celebration. So Edward is scared that his super-vampire-strength will kill or injure Bella during their lovemaking.

There's a funny love scene where they thrash in the throes of passion, and Edward turns the bed into so much kindling. Of course, no one thinks to have her get on top. But then, no one thinks to ask how an undead vampire can, uh, perform in that way.

Curiously, despite spending a lot of time on the sun-kissed beaches on Edward's private island near Rio de Janeiro, he never displays any of that twinkling effect that was so derided in the first movie. I realize the CGI designers were never quite able to pull it off, but simply pretending that this aspect of vampirehood that the movies were so explicit about  simply doesn't exist is an abject surrender.

Anyway, the rare coupling of mortal and vampire results in an unexpected pregnancy. It grows with astonishing speed, so that she's showing two weeks after the wedding. (Again, how can something that's undead grow in Bella's womb? But ... nevermind.)

They return to the perpetually rainy and gray town of Forks, where it soon becomes clear that the baby will kill Bella. So why doesn't Edward just change her into a vampire right away? Carlisle Cullen, the father figure of their coven, murmurs something unconvincingly technical to say why it's impossible (which it will remain, right up until the moment when the plot requires it to be possible).

Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the angry American Indian werewolf who lost out in a love triangle with Bella and Cullen, is furious at the situation. He doesn't want Bella turned into a vampire, and he certainly doesn't want her to be killed by a vampire baby. Meanwhile, the alpha male of Jacob's pack of wolves considers the vampire/human hybrid an abomination that must be destroyed, forcing Jacob to make a difficult choice.

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1" is a bad movie not because it's a tween fantasy about dreamboat vampires and the insipid girls who love them. It's bad because it's half a movie, all build-up and no payoff.

1.5 stars out of four

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