Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner
My rating: ★★★ stars
A new director elevates the franchise.
Breaking Dawn, Part 1 is the best film in the franchise. This movie makes me wonder what could have been had the entire franchise been made with this level of quality. Director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey) brings a skillfulness to the film that elevates it above its predecessors. The awkwardness that pervades those films is absent here. He understands what works on film and how to get the most out of the materials he’s working with.
Condon recognizes that the relationship between Bella and Edward is the cornerstone of the Twilight series and that the chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson is one of the franchise’s greatest strengths. He keeps them together on camera as much as possible. He also has gotten more natural performances out of both of them than in the rest of the series. Stewart in particular looks at ease in front of the camera in a way she hadn’t previously. Also, Condon doesn’t stay too long on shots of actors who cannot command the screen or convey an appropriate emotion for the scene, minimizing the impact of the weaker performers.
This entry follows Bella and Edward through their wedding, honeymoon, and Bella’s unexpected pregnancy. In its depiction of this pregnancy, the film manages the neat feat of being anti-abortion and pro-choice at the same time. Bella chooses to continue the pregnancy despite the risks of carrying a half-vampire child. Although Bella vigorously states that what she’s carrying is a “baby” not a “fetus,” all she’s really asking for is sovereign control over decisions regarding her own body, which is the key point of the pro-choice movement. The film impressively manages to navigate the waters of this contentious issue without offending anyone.
Non-readers of the book may be perplexed that Bella asks her sister-in-law Rosalie to help her during her pregnancy, as Bella and Rosalie have never gotten along. But then non-readers of the book may not even notice that Rosalie’s role in Bella’s pregnancy is unexplained. I can understand why this non-essential, complex explanation was left out of the adaptation, but I do wonder if some viewers will be confused or if they will not even be aware that something is unexplained. (As briefly as I can put it: Rosalie’s greatest desire in life was to have a family and children of her own, a possibility that was taken away from her when she was turned into a vampire. So, of all the Cullens, she would be the most supportive of Bella’s attempt to carry the child to term despite the risks. Bella feels she needs Rosalie as her bodyguard because, not only does Rosalie have medical training like Edward and Carlisle, Bella fears that Carlisle or Edward may force her to terminate the pregnancy to protect her, and she needs another vampire to stand up for her. She knows that Rosalie would and that Rosalie’s husband, Emmett, the strongest of all the Cullens, would support whatever Rosalie does, thus creating a split in the family that would paralyze the family members preventing them from taking any action.)
The novel provides a special challenge for adaptation in the significant amount of telepathic communication there is among the werewolves in their wolf form. As much as possible, the film alters these scenes to show the werewolves discussing matters in their human form. However, one essential scene where the wolves telepathically debate whether to kill Bella and her fetus cannot be handled in that way. The film manages to avoid ridiculous talking animals, for which I was very glad. The scene starts by presenting the communication as a cacophony of voices in voice-over as the wolves prowl around each other. I thought that did a good job of capturing the turmoil that Jacob describes in the novel of having the voices of the whole pack in his head. Two voices, that of Jacob and alpha wolf, Sam, distinguish themselves over the din. Some of the dialogue in the scene is ham-handed, but the manner in which it is presented is probably the best possible way to depict the scene.
Although the Twilight series is rife with monsters, the most accurate way to categorize it would not be as Horror. I would call the series a Gothic Romance. Nevertheless, this entry in the series picks up a common horror motif, that of the monstrous birth. In fact, this movie has one of the most grisly birth scenes I’ve ever seen, as grisly as the PG-13 rating will allow.
Grisly births, however, aren’t as challenging to our farkakte rating system as sex is. And Bella and Edward finally do have sex in this movie (because, you know, that’s how babies are made). The sex scenes were both sexy and tasteful, again achieving a delicate balance, this time between pleasing those who want to see the couple get it on and not upsetting those who would bring younger children to the film. Of course, I would think the birth scene would be more traumatizing than seeing Edward and Bella in the sack, but the puritanical hang-ups of our culture always mystify me.
One problem with the sex scenes is the lack of body make-up on Robert Pattinson. Vampires are supposed to be pale all over; they’re not supposed to have a healthy glow. However, later in the movie, the make-up on Kristen Stewart to show the physical toll of her pregnancy is particularly well done. Much of her transformation must have been done digitally, but we don’t notice that we’re seeing special effects, which, of course, are the best kinds of special effects. They are seamless, they don’t call attention to themselves, and they are in service of the story, not an end in and of themselves.
The soundtrack is also a notch above those of the previous films. Although I don’t like Carter Burwell’s score as much as Howard Shore’s for Eclipse, the song choices are significantly better. One nice choice is, in the wedding scene, picking up “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” from the first film to create a sense of continuity between Bella and Edward’s first dance to their wedding.
Whatever one thinks about the narrative of the Twilight series, the craftsmanship of this film cannot be faulted. Sure, there are few nitpicks here and there, but no film is perfect. This film, however, is solidly good.