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Indie edge lacking in 'Dawn'

Posted: December 1, 2011 - 1:05am

LOS ANGELES — It breaks my heart to tell you that “Breaking Dawn” is broken.

The movie that’s carved out of the first half of the last book of Stephenie Meyer’s vampires-in-love series, starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, is weighted down by more than its title, to say nothing of the expectations. For the record, it’s called “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1,” as if 5 billion insanely attentive Twihards wouldn’t be able to find it.

Maybe the studio suits have begun to believe the franchise, like the classy Cullen clan, is immortal, that almost nothing can kill it. They’d better hope that last bit is true, because “Breaking Dawn” kinda sucks, in the metaphoric rather than the vampiric sense. The film doesn’t have nearly the bite — ferocious or delicious — that any self-respecting vampire movie really should. It’s as if all the life has drained away.

Yes, there is the wedding of the century and no, it wasn’t Kim and what’s-his-name’s. With high school behind her, Bella (Stewart) can marry her stone, cold hottie, Edward (Pattinson), finally putting an end to Jacob’s (Lautner) werewolf dreams of winning her heart. The wedding is one of the best things about this installment — a slow tease building up to the big reveal — and not easy to do with any drama because, let’s face it, anyone who has even a passing interest in “Twilight” or walks by a magazine rack, knows it’s all about the wedding. (Again, not Kim’s).

With Bill Condon directing and Bella’s sister-in-law-to-be Alice (Ashley Greene) doing all the wedding planning, it is an exquisite, elegant, exceedingly tasteful affair. What is it about vampires that they always have such high-end style? Something in the blood? I ask, because if so, the Red Cross should siphon some of its stash, run ads in Architectural Digest and develop another revenue stream.

But I digress. So the wedding is superb in its execution, the filmmakers allowing plenty of time to savor it. Still I’d really hoped for more that just a well-polished look from Condon. With his “Dreamgirls” and “Gods and Monsters” background, he seemed a perfect fit for the final chapters of the tale of this dream girl and her godless monster. Such a pity.

The couple say their “I do’s,” a little till-death-do-us-part irony. And right about now is when the film’s unplanned meta-story starts kicking in in ways that are a little distracting, a little weird. If you’ve kept up with the glossy celebrity magazines since the first “Twilight” movie in 2008, you know that Stewart and Pattinson have been a couple on and off almost from the beginning. And if you believe the tabloids and if photos don’t lie, and I surely do and they surely don’t, Pattinson is the more smitten of the pair.

So watching Edward watch Bella walk down that aisle, the adoration in his eyes, the relief when she says “yes,” the kiss that seals their union — quite honestly it doesn’t seem like acting per se (if it is, then it’s one of his best performances). And I won’t even go into the whole honeymoon night sequence, or the way the actors’ on-screen “chemistry” is being marketed, or the mixed-messages it sends to girls about their first sexual experience.

But that’s not the film’s real problem. What Meyer did so brilliantly in the book (or at least really, really well), and what Melissa Rosenberg’s script fails to do, is to mine all the dramatic potential of the symbolic implications of immortality.

The book gives over quite a few of its 756 pages to Bella’s struggle with the high price of dying to live forever, especially for her parents, and Edward’s guilt about it. And there is barely a mention of the provocative abortion debate — should the vampire-human hybrid created during the honeymoon be “removed” before it kills Bella?

For conflict, we’re left with Bella in a few moments of contemplation and consternation — which requires very little from Stewart, an actress capable of so much more. The rest of the tension building is left up to Jacob and his werewolf issues. He goes postal when the wedding invitation arrives, hackles raised, lots of growling, disappearing for days, so that’s a real nail-biter ...

For those keeping score, “Breaking Dawn” is missing the interesting indie edge that director Catherine Hardwicke brought to the first film. It does not flat line as badly as the second, “New Moon,” which would have died without the werewolves’ bite. It loses the brief emotional uptick of No. 3, “Eclipse,” which saw the cast blossom into actual actors. So in the “Twilight” pantheon, “Breaking Dawn Part 1” is at best a draw. Hopefully they’ll fix what’s wrong before next year’s finale, because I really can’t take another broken heart.

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