It’s a curious situation when so many people get a kick at the same cinematic can and none of them can get it right. Is the material to blame? The filmmakers? The whole bloody idea? Let’s call it a three-way tie. Following in the footsteps of occasionally decent (but you wouldn’t know it from this saga) directors Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz, and David Slade, usually decent director Bill Condon tackles the Twilight juggernaut and comes up with . . . another mediocre movie where everything looks flat and ugly. Despite being a relatively promising fill-in for the rotating director slot of this series, Condon just runs into the same problems as his predecessors. The acting still reeks, the visual design is hokey, and the plot drags. It’s as though these Twilight movies direct themselves, considering each filmmaker stumbles in the same areas, rendering their participation almost arbitrary.
At the very least, Condon knows what the franchise fans want to see. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 is not a minute old before heartthrob Jacob (Taylor Lautner, brow regularly furrowed as always) is running through the rain with his shirt torn off (I’m not even sure if he knows how to remove a shirt the old-fashioned way). It’s a goofy, though understandably fans-first approach to the movie’s opening and it instantly re-establishes the conflict between Jacob and vampire Edward (Robert Pattison), who is now about to marry Bella (Kristen Stewart), the object of dual affection throughout this series. Jacob is particularly miffed upon seeing the wedding invitation, so he does what he does best: He wolfs out.
Unfortunately, this isn’t what the effects team does best, because the CGI wolves still look as shoddy, cartoony, and entirely pitiful as the ones featured in previous installments (“Twilight,” “New Moon,” “Eclipse“). I don’t really get how the fourth movie in a massively successful series can still get away with such heinous animal animation, but this stays true to the strict banishing of personal style or individual flair that handcuffs each filmmaker who chooses to step on to the set and try to call the shots. Once Chris Weitz’s “New Moon” (the second in the series and arguably the worst) unveiled the pixel-hungry wolves, it was a statement that this was as good as the effects were ever going to get.
Condon does try to inject some of his own passions into the movie, but he’s stymied at nearly every turn. Fans will be happy to know that The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 looks and feels and walks and talks just like all the other Twilight flicks. Detractors will be disappointed to know that The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 looks and feels and walks and talks just like all the other Twilight flicks. Such is fandom, really. I guess that Condon and the movie’s producers felt that playing it safe was the best plan and that messing with a proven formula and style wasn’t a worthwhile risk.
It’s not too surprising, really, but it is frustrating that Condon has to so uncomfortably squeeze his movie into the rather plain and thrifty franchise template that was established several movies ago. Everything still looks rather cheap and the visual representations of special abilities remain painfully pathetic. Four movies in and the vampire super-speed still looks as slapdash and silly as ever. Dream sequences or visions or whatever are still communicated through cheesy partial dissolves and a contrived combination of bargain bin photographic and editing techniques that are so poor they’d feel more at home in a direct-to-video effort instead of a theatrically released blockbuster.
When Condon’s interests actually manage to temporarily break through, puncturing the Twilight mold ever so slightly, the movie at least becomes momentarily fun. A quick glimpse of James Whale’s iconic classic “The Bride of Frankenstein” in a flashback does the movie no favors (referencing a brilliant monster movie in the midst of such mediocrity does not invite favorable comparisons), but the brief moment sets up a juicy little homage to one of Whale’s trademarks. Condon is clearly a big fan of the guy, having previously made a fantastic biopic about him with “Gods and Monsters.” So, given the opportunity to tip his hat to the master once more, he jumps at the opportunity. During an intense scene where the camera is focused on Bella, Condon unveils the triple-shot close-up technique that Whale lovingly employed to introduce his monsters. Is Condon suggesting Bella is a monster? Hmm . . . foreshadowing, perhaps?
Fans will know and others can probably figure it out, so it’s not so much a crafty piece of filmmaking as it is a breath of fresh cinematic air in an otherwise stale concoction. Outside of that little touch, the movie remains lamely lifeless. The narrative is far too boring for a flick about a love triangle between a lip-chewing woman, a sparkling vampire, and a silly CGI-assisted werewolf. That quickie synopsis sounds kind of awful, of course, but a fun, hilarious awful that at least promises campy entertainment. But there’s not much of that here, where we instead get a bunch of weepy songs invading the soundtrack space, loads of stiff acting, a lifetime’s worth of angst, and long stretches that seemingly exist simply to kill time. For the fans, that’s more time with the characters they love, but for us less dedicated viewers, that’s just more time with a bunch of cardboard cutouts.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 does benefit from the Part 1 portion of the title. By chopping Stephanie Meyer’s final Twilight book in half (such is the norm nowadays, as studios are eager to extend their soon-to-expire franchises by any means possible), this fourth flick in the series actually ends with a relatively tantalizing cliffhanger. I say relatively tantalizing in that it’s tantalizing in relation to how drab everything else is, but it is a good note to end on. The final shot, while predictable, is still one of the better moments in the series. That it follows a somewhat grotesque third act (itself the product of a mildly entertaining attempt to get down and dirty with the monstrous themes) does help a bit. But there’s also a dreadfully incoherent battle sequence in that third act, so you know, baby steps. It still doesn’t add up to much, which is a shame because of how fun this silliness should and I’m guessing could be. Condon tries, just not very hard. Facing such stifling dullness, I feel the need to liven things up, so I’ve composed a little rhyme to sum up my thoughts.
“Oh Breaking Dawn, you’re slightly more entertaining than mowing the lawn, but ultimately aren’t worth much more than a yawn. Oh well, before too long, this Twilight Saga will be gone.”