To quote a teen classic, “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die!” If only Bella Swan had heeded Coach Carr’s sage advice, we could have been saved all this melodrama.
Breaking Dawn Part 1 is the payoff of the Twilight saga, the instalment in which all the crazy stuff happens. Even if you know very little about the rest of the series, you probably know that this is the controversial one: when the book came out, fans threatened to set their copies on fire, and many of them took it back to bookshops to demand a refund.
So: how does Oscar-winning director Bill Condon deal with Breaking Dawn’s more difficult moments?
Well, basically, he glosses over them. Instead, most of the screen time is given over to Bella’s various expressions of pain, and lots of shots of gorgeous landscapes. (And since the film is 117 minutes long, that’s a lot of scenery and grimacing.)
The film opens with some gratuitous fanservice, as Jacob receives the invitation to Bella and Edward’s wedding and immediately rips off his shirt. As you do. It’s established, once again, that Bella is clumsy and a bit rubbish, and Edward takes one final opportunity to convince her that he’s a monster before they walk down the aisle. And then it’s time for the Twilight franchise to finally stop delaying the inevitable. Finally, Bella and Edward get it on.
Their wedding night is impossibly fraught. Bella is worried about losing her virginity (and possibly dying in the process), Edward is worried about accidentally murdering his new bride in the throes of passion, and the filmmakers are worried trying to portray a sex scene that’s climactic enough to be fulfil three movies’ worth of expectation while still being suitable for a teen audience.
Bella and Edward come out of it relatively unscathed – though the bed is destroyed, she’s covered in bruises, and “how badly are you hurt?” is never a good question to have to ask after sex – but the audience gets short-changed. The love scene is pretty brief, and we’re only treated to flashes of innocent flesh; arms, backs, and a bit of pale chest (his, not hers). It would’ve been unreasonable to expect more, really, but somehow things still fall a little flat.
That the long-awaited sex scene has so little impact might be because it’s so near the beginning of the film. Starting with a wedding feels kind of structurally awkward, because weddings are usually saved for endings, but since this is Twilight, nothing’s ever straightforward.
Far from being a happily-ever-after, the wedding is only the beginning of another set of troubles for Bella and Edward. Two weeks into the honeymoon, Bella realises her period is late, and that can only mean one thing – even if that thing is supposed to be impossible.
The prospect of a vampiric baby reignites the war between the vampires and the werewolves, as well as causing a schism between the wolves themselves: most of the pack wants to kill Bella before she can give birth to an abomination, but Jacob won’t have any of it. This should all be very dramatic, but it’s undermined by a couple of things: some wooden acting from Taylor Lautner, and some shonky special effects.
The CGI wolves are uncanny in the bad way. They don’t look like real wolves, and though the special effects are impressive, they kind of work against themselves, looking all the more weird and creepy because of how realistic they almost are. It’s just about possible to get used to the pallid vampires with their creepy glowing eyes, but the werewolves are so terrible-looking they immediately destroy the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. It’s almost a relief when the fight scenes are so awkwardly choreographed that you can’t even really see them.
Breaking Dawn Part 1 ends at the culmination of the second section of the novel, which feels like a pretty natural break. All the loose ends from this film are tied off reasonably neatly, and the story could almost end there. It doesn’t feel like there’s much more to say.
The film is kind of a slog, though. Apart from the unconventional structure, there’s also the problem that the tension levels don’t really rise or fall at any point. Instead, some level of anxiety is maintained throughout, whether that’s in the shape of Bella agonising over her lingerie or the Cullens realising they’re surrounded by werewolves and running out of blood. Everything’s kind of mildly imperilled. The more threats that get piled on, the muddier everything seems, and it’s hard not to feel slightly battered by the whole experience.
Those who have enjoyed the Twilight series to date will undoubtedly enjoy this one, too, especially because the more controversial gory moments are handled as sensitively as possibl,e without cutting them out completely. For the casual viewer, there are some enjoyable bits, but these are mostly clustered in the first half of the film, when there’s still some levity left. After that, it’s just a long wait till it’s over.