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Dustin Putman

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Breaking Dawn Part 1  (2011)
2 Stars
Directed by Bill Condon.
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Nikki Reed, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Billy Burke, Sarah Clarke, Anna Kendrick, Christian Serratos, Michael Welch, Justin Chon, Michael Sheen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Christopher Heyerdahl, Mia Maestro, Maggie Grace, MyAnna Buring, Casey LaBow, Christian Camargo, Gil Burmingham, Booboo Stewart, Alex Rice, Kiowa Gordon, Tyson Houseman, Chaske Spencer, Bronson Pelletier, Alex Meraz, Julia Jones, Tinsel Torey, Tanaya Beatty, Mackenzie Foy, Ali Faulkner, Charlie Brewley, Daniel Cudmore.
2011 – 117 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for disturbing images, violence, sexuality/partial nudity and some thematic elements).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 17, 2011.
When J.K. Rowling's final novel in the seven-part "Harry Potter" series was announced by Warner Bros. as being divided into two separate films—2010's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1" and 2011's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"—reaction was divided and many thought it was purely a decision based in greed, an obvious way to suck twice as much money out of audiences (let's not get into the latter's 3D conversion, which was appallingly unnecessary). While this might have been so, at least partially, no one could accuse Rowling's book—or the subsequent adaptations—as lacking in an epic scope. Sure, a superior, altogether tighter single picture running three to three-and-a-half hours might have been preferable, but few can complain too much about the actual respective finished products. Stephenie Meyer's so-called "Twilight Saga" doesn't hold to that same close inspection. Anti-feminist fantasy romances about an impressionable young woman whose lustful obsession over a glittery vampire boy leads her to throw her life away and foolishly abandon her loved ones, the story's individual written volumes equate to far-from-voluminous soap operas. Regardless of Meyer's wrong-headed antiquated messages, her books simply don't have the breadth of plot, characters and themes of Rowling's. Thus, the mirrored decision by studio Summit to expand the final novel, "Breaking Dawn," into two features really does strike one as desperate and uncalled-for. Upstart company Summit would be nowhere without the rabid successes of 2008's "Twilight," 2009's "New Moon," and 2010's "Eclipse"—and they clearly aren't ready to say good-bye to the blockbuster franchise—but that doesn't take away the nagging feeling that "Breaking Dawn Part 1" is stretched as thin as a run-on sentence.

"Who else gets married at 18?" sarcastically asks Jessica (Anna Kendrick), old high school friend of the soon-betrothed Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). Teenage brides may not be quite as rampant as they were back in the 1960s, but it does still happen—just not to the bloodsucking undead. That's right; after three movies of people making countless convincing arguments for why Bella shouldn't give her future and very heartbeat to 110-year-old vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), she goes through with the wedding, then makes the dangerous decision to remain human during their bed-smashing, pillow-thrashing, body-bashing honeymoon on a secluded island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. All is right with the world—hornball Bella is okay with getting banged up, in both senses of the term—until periods are missed, morning sickness hits, and it all becomes too obvious a bun of abnormal origin is in the oven. Death for Bella is almost certain if she decides to carry the baby to term, but it's a chance she's willing to take. Meanwhile, with their peace treaty now broken, wolfy hunk Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) finds himself on the unlikely side of protector when the alpha pack set out to destroy the Cullens, Bella, and her unborn demon spawn.

In keeping with tradition, "Breaking Dawn Part 1" was penned by steadfast screenwiter Melissa Rosenberg, while directing duties have been handed over to a fresh voice, in this case Bill Condon (2006's "Dreamgirls"). Rosenberg and Condon don't even appear to agree with Bella's sacrifices, giving her lines where she passively jokes about her "blatant lack of respect for mortality" and relishing in the chance to have other characters tell her how stupid and stubborn she is. Were they interested in really going against the grain—a long-overdue middle finger to Stephenie Meyer for putting such distastefully misguided messages into the minds of young girls everywhere—they'd take the opportunity to end things with Bella hopelessly alone, depressed, immortal, and finally owning up to the mess she's made of her destiny and the relationships she squandered. Something tells me that probably won't happen. So much for positive moralizing.

Following a step in the right direction with "Eclipse," which did away with most of the clangingly melodramatic lines and treated the Bella/Edward/Jacob love triangle with a bit more maturity than previously seen, this fourth installment sheds, over the course of 117 minutes, much of the good will built up. The plot should be going into overdrive by this point—the stakes have begun to raise—but the studio has seen fit to stretch forty-five minutes of material to two hours in order to satisfy the ignorant two-parter conclusion. What is left is frustrating and empty by itself, the film forgetting about all of the other story threads that have been set up in the last films—i.e., the Volturi; the murderous bystanders of the vampire clan led by a now-dead Victoria—and concentrating mostly on a wedding, a honeymoon, and a rib-splintering pregnancy that turns Bella into a worn-out, grizzled, heroin-chic anorexic. There is an awful lot of standing around and waiting when there aren't music montages. One scene where Jacob's wolf pack argue in animal form, their growls and roars translated into English-language voiceovers, is howlingly bad.

Kristen Stewart (2010's "The Runaways") and Robert Pattinson (2011's "Water for Elephants") have always been better than this series, doing just about all they could to access believable emotions out of a numbskull premise. Pattinson's Edward is rather passive, warning Bella of dangers and then allowing her to do the wrong thing. He merrily goes along with it, then looks pained and conflicted when things don't go their way. For her part of Bella, Stewart is committed in a way that is undeserved, but goes further this time by appearing to lose a scary amount of weight. As the half-breed pregnancy takes its toll, Stewart and an Oscar-worthy make-up team turn Bella into a gaunt, withered, ashen pile of bones. The sight is quite extraordinary, certain to take some viewers aback. Taylor Lautner (2011's "Abduction") is, by now, comfortable in his role as Jacob, but mostly poses with commanding dreaminess.

"Breaking Dawn Part 1" has a few standout moments amidst the grave lunacy, no doubt of director Bill Condon's talented doing. A dream sequence of Bella's wedding vows, culminating in a pool of blood and roses and a pile of the dead bodies of all her family and friends is subversively bold. A flashback to 1935 where Edward reveals he rebelled and killed his first human at a showing of "Bride of Frankenstein" is sumptuously reminiscent of 1994's "Interview with the Vampire." Before things become all life-threatening and stuff, the scenes of Bella's and Edward's honeymoon hold all of the hope, excitement, and tranquility one would expect when they've married a soul mate. It's nice to see these characters smile, laugh and have fun together since it's all too rare. For a brief time, you almost forget Edward is a creature of the night. Then, alas, it's back to the sudsy business at hand.

Is it just me or is it strange that there is nary a mention of college in these movies? The conversation never seems to come up, Bella's mother (Sarah Carter) and father (Billy Burke) accepting of their daughter settling down because, who knows, that must be what women are good for in this world of Harlequin tropes. Eh, education and career prospects and non-carnal passions are overrated, anyway. As a certain segment of female audiences swoon, predisposed to not think about the ramifications of what's occurring before them, "Breaking Dawn Part 1" spins a gloomy yarn about a woman who chooses to kill herself before she's had a chance to live. What's romantic about that? If Bella was actually written as a person with apparent aspirations outside of bone-jumping, her foolish—let's face it, suicidal—finite decisions here would be too tragic to comprehend.
© 2011 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman