Welcome to Monday Morning Review, a new feature here at Movies.com where we provide a review of a film the Monday morning after it arrives in theaters. As such, this review is written for people who have seen the film, and will discuss plot points, spoilers, etc, so read it only if you've seen it or if you don't mind knowing everything that happens.
It would be really easy to jump on the “Wimpy Heroine, Sparkly Vampire, Shirtless Werewolves are Banal Abominations” train. Let’s face it, proportionately there are as many reviewers taking that stance as there are going to be folks lining up for midnight sales on Black Friday. Certainly there is more than enough room to poke fun at far-fetched plot lines, predicable longing looks, and implausible dialogue. So taking all of this into consideration, why did The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 rake in an estimated $30.25 million on midnight screenings alone, and, later, $139.5 million? Far from falling on its economic face, Breaking Dawn Part 1 is well placed to shatter several box office records, and to finish its cinema run as a top five movie of the year.
Given that the novel Breaking Dawn is considered by many fans to be a huge letdown, and that it is the least popular book in the franchise by far, it does make you wonder why the movie version is doing so well? By in large it’s been established that this franchise is being fueled but its loyal female fanbase. There are a few fanboys out there known as “Twiguys," but the male audience seems to be largely comprised of men that end up getting dragged along under duress to a screening by their girlfriends, wives or friends. So given that it’s a movie “for the fans” that weren’t really that happy with the novel, let’s take a look at why Breaking Dawn Part 1 is succeeding.
Early on director Bill Condon identified the four trickiest areas that were going to lead to fan satisfaction or lament: the wedding, the honeymoon, the imprinting, and the birth. Other than having to make certain accommodations for the PG-13 rating, Condon didn’t shy away from any of these issues, and somehow managed to avoid multiple gales of unintended laughter that marked previous films. Credit also has to go to screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, whose adaptation managed to edit out large sections of the novel that dragged (or just elicited groans even from die-hard fans). The one item that immediately comes to mind from the novel is Edward asking Jacob to make himself available to give Bella a human baby. Thankfully this was dialogue that neither Taylor Lautner nor Robert Pattinson had to handle.
More so than any other Twilight Saga film, Breaking Dawn Part 1 openly embraces a sense of humor. The humor is inserted at just the right points to either alleviate what could be overly sappy or implausible moments. The montage of Bella’s honeymoon preparations, with music by the Noisettes underscoring the sequence, remind more experienced viewers of their own first-time awkwardness. The wedding toasts are another good example. Anna Kendrick’s signature passive aggressive jibes -- as well as Billy Burke’s deadpan delivery intermingled with poignant moments from Elizabeth Reaser and Robert Pattinson -- make the wedding entertaining rather than merely predictable.
Another clear area where humor works to keep the audience engaged is in the naming of Bella and Edward’s unborn child. Fans of the book either loved or hated that name, and frankly those that did like it found it to be a bit silly nonetheless. The name spawned countless discussions and Loch Ness monster-inspired avatars online. When Bella proudly announces the name choice of “Renesmee” the camera immediately pans to Jacob and Edward’s reactions. The looks on both Lautner’s and Pattinson’s faces are priceless. Instead of laughing at Lautner and Pattinson, the audience is intentionally laughing with them. By again embracing “the cheesiness” with intended humor, Condon avoids pitfalls.
The birth scene was as visceral as a PG-13 film is going to get. Stewart has been criticized as overacting in other Twilight Saga films, but here she manages to get the tone just right when expressing Bella’s intense physical pain. Condon stated that to keep the rating intact he made sure that viewers only saw the happenings through Bella’s eyes. The result was shockingly effective with only glimpses of action, including the C-section via vampire incisors, being revealed through her in-and-out-of- consciousness dulled eyes.
The chief potential train-wreck avoided by Condon and Rosenberg was the imprinting scene. Taylor Lautner gazing lovingly at a CGI baby could have gone wrong in so many different ways, from outright hilarity to downright revulsion. Between voiceover by Launter on top of a montage of Renesmee at different stages of her life, what could have been nauseatingly repulsive ends up as surprisingly endearing.
Now all of this is not to say that the movie doesn’t have issues, even for fans. The golden contact lenses on the Denali sisters (played by Casey LaBow, Maggie Grace, and MyAnna Buring) are visually jarring. Perhaps the harsh look is due to the lack of contrast against their platinum blond hair and the silver and gold evening dresses. Hopefully their look improves in the next film; as fans are well aware, they will play a significant role in driving the action in Breaking Dawn Part 2, and so eyes that are harsh will drop fans right out of the scene.
The CGI was excellent when it came to the wolves themselves, and their battle sequences. On the other hand, as terrific as it was to see the wolf telepathy finally come alive on screen, the volume is pretty intense -- it verges on utter cacophony. In addition, the CGI sequence where venom travels through Bella’s body feels a bit like we left a Twilight Saga movie and are on the SyFy Chanel with a reboot of The Fantastic Voyage waiting to pop out of Bella’s newly red eyes.
So where does all of this leave the film? For fans -- even the large numbers that didn’t like the book -- Breaking Dawn Part 1 is very satisfying. On production value alone it’s the clear winner in the franchise, and for sheer fan sentimentality it ties with the original. On the other hand, those not familiar with the series can look at the film as something as a B-movie cult classic, and enjoy the humor that is there while poking fun later on at all the sappiness.
Laura Byrne-Cristiano is a co-owner of The Twilight Lexicon, the longest continuously operating Twilight Saga fansite on the web. You can read her Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn column here on Movies.com every other Thursday.