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Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

Directed by: Bill Condon

Produced by: Wyck Godfrey
Karen Rosenfelt
Stephanie Meyer

Screenplay by: Melissa Rosenberg

Based on: Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer

Starring: Kristen Stewart
Robert Pattinson
Taylor Lautner

Music by: Carter Burwell

Cinematography by: Guillermo Navarro

Editing by: Virginia Katz

Studio(s): Summit Entertainment
Temple Hill Entertainment
Sunswept Entertainment

Distributed by: Summit Entertainment

Release date(s): November 18, 2011

Running time: 117 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $110 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $649, 192, 542

Ok folks, updates! On Saturday, I will be going to see Sherlock Holmes: The Game Of Shadows. Also, in case you didn't know, it is that time of the year, and I have regressed into my default mood of "Bah, humbug!," so you'll have to excuse the occasional bit of cynicism in my tone. Of course, I will be seeing a number of films in the coming weeks, with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (whose source novel I am enjoying greatly) coming out on the 26th, so keep your eyes posted.

Right, it's about time I got to putting words to my opinions, this movie having been out for a month, so let's get down to it. "Forever is only the beginning" runs the tagline for Breaking Dawn Part 1, an appropriate phrase that describes my feelings regarding The Twilight Saga. I have watched (and reviewed) every one of the films, of which I've had mixed feelings: I liked Twilight, hated New Moon and thought Eclipse was a very good film. Saying that, having now read two of the Stephanie Meyer novels, I have come to the conclusion that while there are good elements in the books (as well as catering to an untapped readership of young girls that is seriously under-catered), as I was finishing New Moon, I felt that if I had went through the book with a red pen, I could have edited this five-hundred-plus page book to closer three-hundred: Meyer is a consummate over-writer who waffles way too much and envelops the reader like a suffocating, overprotective mother, and doesn't give her children enough independence to develop their own thoughts. Anyway, this isn't a discourse on Meyer, but one of her book's adaptations, so here comes the synopsis: Bella and Edward are getting married, but on their honeymoon in Peru, Bella gets pregnant, and the foetus is growing at a furious rate, consuming her from the inside. Thus, tension is caused between Bella's new family and in the Quileute tribe, with the impregnation of a human by a vampire the final straw that broke the camel's back, or rather the vampire/werewolf pact in Forks, the Quileute's declaring war on the Cullen coven.

To start off with what is good about Breaking Dawn: Part 1, I must credit the three leads. Pattinson (who I have liked in other films) has never been good as Edward, but this is as good as he ever has been playing the role, but Kristen Stewart continues ascending the upward scale of gradually improving performances as Bella. She really has grown into the part that she was initially very awkward playing, and portrays a rather empowering female character, putting her all into the absolute hell that Bella goes through. Once again, Taylor Lautner is the glue that holds this cast together. Often slagged by some critics, I find him to have a great expressive range that is appropriate for the character arc and a strong range of emotional palette. Still a young actor, I feel Lautner has the makings of something special. I must also praise the cinematography by Guillermo Navarro. The Twilight Saga has a real lack of consistency in terms of its crews, so I do think it is good that despite the film's being the same tonally, Navarro's colour palette is still very distinctive and gives Breaking Dawn a unique flavour. Finally, I would like to congratulate the film's make-up department for their transformation of Kristen Stewart. In a movie that reeks of absurdity in parts, you can't help but wince as you watch Bella's degradation as her spawn consumes her energy. Also, Modus FX has done a wonderful, subtle bit of work in adding to Bella's pregnancy, although their work here would make one think that her pregnancy was more like a giant tumour (I mean that in a good way). Furthermore, (spoiler alert) the whole birthing scene is done excellently, capturing a deep-grained fear of pregnancy and childbirth that despite being more part of a young woman's psyche, I found very intense. The quick jump cuts, Bella soaking in sweat, terrifically overbearing sound editing, and to top it off, the nastiest caesarian birth I have ever seen, with as much grot as A Serbian Film (I kid you not), and you've got one of the most memorable scenes in a film this year.

That said, as with the other instalments of The Twilight Saga, for all the good that it has to offer, equally there can be as much bad elements that we have to swallow. For instance, Carter Burwell, whose musical compositions I do like (and with regards to the series, has been a more consistently decent composer than his New Moon counterpart Alexandre Desplat), reek of the same stench that the series emits, in that we are told everything, as opposed to figuring it out for ourselves. It's a case of 'in case you didn't know how you're supposed to feel, here's how it is.' Even the great Howard Shore suffered the same issue in Eclipse: with all these talented composers on hand, with multiple awards and nominations between them, those bastards at Summit still felt like breathing down their neck, and forcing them to work with the notorious Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra. Great job guys! Also, despite Bill Condon directing the film, if anything, the closest The Twilight Saga's adaptations has to an auteur is Melissa Rosenberg. Her screenplays have been at an inconsistent level, corresponding to the quality of the films (Twilight/Eclipse = Good:New Moon = Bad). Granted, part of the problem is the source material, but Meyer's books, as messy as they can be, have far more structure than Rosenberg's screenplay for Breaking Dawn Part 1. Structurally, the whole story revolves around certain plot points, i.e. wedding, sex, pregnancy, birth etc. These points are well developed (although I would have went further myself with the sex scenes, but hey, it's a 12A film), but they only take up about thirty to forty minutes of screen time. As such, you would think with over an hour in between there would be some decent filler, but no, everything in between is written as though they are attempting to rush from plot point A to plot point B to... you get the (plot) point. Also, being a 'talky' film, with lots of heated discussion, you would think that there would be some decent dialogue, especially regarding Bella's pregnancy. But once again, nada: the dialogue sound like something from a propaganda film. I'm not getting a bee in my bonnet about the so-called pro-life themes, but all verbal sounds in the film sound base, forced, and above all, highly patronising. All semblance of an argument is lost in the fact that the dialogue is so terrible you can't help but notice how terrible the dialogue instead of being able to pay attention to what is going on. Furthermore, speaking of plot points (this won't be a spoiler for those who haven't seen it, but those who have will know what I talking about), the whole imprinting incident is bullshit: we never quite buy 'a major character's' instantaneous transformation, and it makes the film's ending completely anticlimactic. Speaking of the ending, why rip your last shot straight out of the last shot of Avatar? How contrived does one have to be? No spoilers, just saying! Finally, while I'm still on my high horse and my Napoleon complex maxed out to eleven, I've never ever bought those CGI werewolves. They've always looked like big, furry, blobby teddy bears, as opposed to the nasty killing machines they're meant to be. Also, there is a scene with the wolf pack in a heated discussion ('heated discussion' seems to be the default Twilight mode), but they are in their wolf form and the actors depicting their human form are delivering voiceover dialogue. I'm sorry, but I was the ignorant git laughing at the back of theatre, because this scene was funnier than the entirety of Zookeeper and had me thinking about Alpha, the dog with the malfunctioning collar in Up. It was good in all the wrong ways and was a classic example of misjudged filmmaking.

I know, I know, I went off on one there, but The Twilight Saga is something that I am highly opinionated about. As much as there is devoted to the bad about the film (granted, probably too much, I got a bit carried away), there are also some enjoyable elements in Breaking Dawn Part 1. The three leads, particularly Stewart and Lautner are good, Guillermo Navarro's cinematography really elevates the status of this picture, and the transformation of Bella by the makeup and CGI teams is an astounding bit of work. Finally, the staging of the birth scene is one of the most memorable scenes in a film this year. However, by no means is it faultless, and in terms of the film adaptations of The Twilight Saga, it ranks as the second worst.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Contented

P.S. Dear Stephanie Meyer, I know the opinions of a (slightly) pretentious film critic will have no effect on you or your significant financial income, but please take these figures into account: over four books (not including The Short Second Life Of Brie Tanner), The Twilight Saga comes to 2492 pages. I make that an average of 623 pages per book. The less successful (but infinitely better written) vampire series The Saga Of Darren Shan, has a total of 2499 pages over it's entire series. I know, it's exactly seven pages more than your Twilight Saga, but take into account that this is over twelve books, and not four, with an average 208 pages per book. So, in conclusion, you write roughly three times as much as you should, and the primary reason for your series' continued success is because there is a massive gap in the market were teenage girls are concerned. There is good material in your books, you just have a serious tendency to waffle!

With Kind Regards

Callum 'The Thin White Dude' McCready

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