By Jeff Otto | The Playlist November 17, 2011 at 9:05AM
The “Twilight” phenomenon was first catapulted into the cinematic stratosphere with the release of Catherine Hardwicke’s ambitious adaptation of the first novel in 2008. The director was ousted for the followups when Summit insisted that the more complicated second film be ready just a year later. And so hired guns Chris Weitz and David Slade, the latter a particularly unlikely choice, shotgun-released two sequels, “New Moon” and “Eclipse” in just a year and a half. 'Moon' lacked any of the first film’s gritty heart while 'Eclipse,' an improvement to be sure, foreshadowed the romance novel melodrama of “Breaking Dawn: Part 1.”
Taking the reigns this time around is “Dreamgirls” director Bill Condon, who will ultimately hold the dubious distinction of being the only director to survive through two “Twilight” movies. The usual suspects return - Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan, Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen, Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black with the usual a host of supporting Swans, Cullens, Blacks and friends. While the supporting cast mates played expectedly less significant roles in the previous entries, here their parts are razor thin. This story is all about Bella and Edward and their blissful union. But we must not forget Jacob, who somehow manages to find his way into this increasingly awkward threesome again. And again. And again.
“Breaking Dawn: Part 1” opens with the wedding of Bella to Edward, first in fake-out nightmare/premonition form and then in reality, an expectedly lavish affair that lasts at least as long as an actual wedding. From here we move to an equally epic honeymoon pulled from the pages and front covers of Danielle Steele novels. Its all capped off by the accidental impregnation of Bella with a... well, they’re not sure what the heck might be inside her.
The odd part about “Breaking Dawn” is that, given more production time, a larger budget and the supposed advantage of experience and cast familiarity, it feels like a step backward for the franchise. To start with, what’s here isn’t actually a movie at all, at least by the standards of three-act structure. We get an overly long first act that builds to a second act climax and... ends. Sure, this is called 'Part 1,' so it is to be expected that it will end in a cliffhanger to be resolved in 'Part 2.' But 'Dawn 1' should still exist as a film in and of itself; instead it is made quite clear that the decision to split Meyer’s final book into two parts was born purely of financial reasoning.
Also odd is the ever-dwindling chemistry between Pattinson and Stewart, the latter of the pairing giving her most wooden performance of the franchise, which is really saying something. Pattinson is relegated to the background with brooding glances and amplified emo attitude. Lautner’s increased presence doesn’t really serve anyone, especially without the distraction of multiple shirtless ab-flexing scenes. It should be noted that Jacob removes his shirt inexplicably only once, right in the beginning, and it’s brief. After that he’s forced to rely strictly on his pure instincts as a thespian.
Fans mocked the paltry wolf effects in the previous two entries and here, despite a reported production budget of $110 million, they improve only minimally. At best, they still look like graphics from a low-budget television program. At worst, they appear cribbed from a ‘90s video game. One scene in particular, where the wolfpack argue through some form of telepathic voiceover communication -- their lips don’t move but the wolves bounce around erratically and make mean faces -- is arguably the worst moment in the entire series.
After smaller, critically acclaimed efforts “Gods and Monsters” and “Kinsey” and the breakout success of “Dreamgirls,” director Bill Condon must have found it difficult to turn down all the extra zeroes a “Twilight” film offers, much less directing two of them. But unless he can rebound in a major way with “Breaking Dawn: Part 2” next year, the damage done to his future career might prove difficult to recover from.
“Breaking Dawn: Part 1” is slow-moving and listless. The first half plays like something from an extended fan version of the film and it never manages to recover, even when we get something resembling a point midway through. Easily the weakest entry in the series, its the fault not just of a director who seems to find difficulty connecting to the material, but of a cast that appears to be looking forward to the close of the franchise a whole lot more than fans are. [D]