Both ruffling feathers and sending hearts aflutter for over five years, Twilight's contortion of vampire lore finally arrives at an end with a sprawling, teary-eyed two-part finale, Breaking Dawn. Ever a revolving door for directors, but constantly penned by Melissa Rosenberg with the watchful input from the books' author, Stephenie Meyer, the series' quality has rendered an inconsistent train of gratingly passable supernatural romance, overdrawn and dramatically limp when looked at under any kind of inspection. Finishing off the slate of filmmakers brave enough to handle the material is Dreamgirls and Gods and Monsters director Bill Condon, who, based on his experience, knows how to navigate a larger production and handle tricky thematic material. He doesn't make a dent in the perception of the franchise, though, guilty of the same overspent mistakes as those before him as Breaking Dawn's two halves clumsily struggle against one another, one as drawn-out and sugary as a piece of taffy and the follow-up, while an improvement, a little too wacky and overpowered by comparison.
Breaking Dawn: Part 1:
I'll gladly take absurd over bland, though, considering how Condon handles the maturing relationship between a vampire, Edward (Robert Pattinson), and his dutiful human fiancee, Bella (Kristen Stewart). Breaking Dawn: Part 1 doesn't really concern itself with introductions to this story, as it knows exactly who the target audience is for the events to come: those who have read the book and watched the movies, the people anticipating an emotional pressure release once the two are hitched and able to fully "enjoy" one another. There is another component, though, that being Bella's agreement to turn into a vampire in order to complete their union; without transforming, Edward's strength will hinder their intimacy and, obviously, she'll eventually die from old age. Bella wants to hold onto her mortality as long as she can, at least through their honeymoon, which leads to some unfortunate circumstances not unlike those that might arise with normal couples: pregnancy, something thought to be impossible between humans and vampires.
So, yeah. The wedding, the honeymoon, the pregnancy -- and, aside from a little family drama for both Bella and her werewolf admirer, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), that's about it. Breaking Dawn: Part 1 suffers from a case of acute onset dullness due to very little occurring over two hours of laborious swooning in idyllic locations, where a forested wedding and a Brazilian island vacation home play host to drawn-out smoldering and melodramatic bickering that's supposed to communicate a message of enduring, immortal love. Engineered to tickle the fancy of the franchise's longstanding fans, with little regard for pacing as it provokes the senses and begs for teardrops, it's as if we're watching the home movies of a hybrid couple's matrimony as they break beds, wrestle with temptation, and express how profusely they love one another. Playing chess and going swimming provide character-building diversions while they iron out their wrinkles, faint as they may be, though the content tiptoes along an unsavory thematic line when it addresses how Bella "accepts" the way Edward inadvertently harms her during intimate situations.
The frustrating thing about all this romancin' is that it's technically rather competent and judicious with its resources; the production design's blending of computer effects and practical sets sustains a seamless illusion of scattered locations in Forks and Brazil, while Guillermo Navarro's cinematography remains well-composed while weaving between the stalwart couple. It provides the ideal setting for Twilight enthusiasts to get lost in the soapy wish-fulfillment of witnessing Edward and Bella finally advancing their relationship, from that wispy wedding in a nook of the woods to the waterfalls and bedrooms where they flirt with the idea of "going the distance". There's simply no momentum here, though, nothing propelling their isolated time alone, outside of anticipating what could come of Bella's resistance to transforming into a vampire. Fans with weatherworn copies of the books might get wrapped up in the cursory delight of seeing this in motion, but it's a slog on any cinematic plane.
Part 1 only really picks up at the point Bella figures out that she's pregnant while on the honeymoon, which introduces a preposterous but slightly compelling (and unintentionally witty) dose of body horror once the vampire fetus begins to wreak havoc on her body. Visual effects and makeup work dress Kristen Stewart to appear emaciated, unable to support the life growing inside her, and that visual image works while her family and friends -- enter Jacob, who already met his shirt taking-off quota after receiving the wedding invitation -- argue about what to do about the child and how the outside world, namely Jacob's tribe and the Volturi vampires, will tolerate its presence (hint: they won't). The situation transforms into a mess of loopholes, shifting allegiances, and flimsy flirtation with abortion comments that director Condon futilely attempts to shape into something intriguing, where the agreement for Bella to turn becomes crucial to thwarting the dangers. Just when things get halfway "interesting", it frustratingly ends on a cliffhanger ... but, hey, that's what happens when a largely romantic story gets chopped in half at the escalation point, right?
Summit and Lionsgate send Part 1 of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn down the aisle again with an "Extended Edition" of the film, which reincorporates seven minutes of additional footage into the theatrical cut of the film -- including a new opening sequence, a few new intimate moments with Edward and Bella in Brazil, and a few pieces of new humor at the Cullen coven's den featuring Jacob. While the rest of the Blu-ray is standard Summit fare, nothing more than a blue disc housed inside a standard case featuring self-explanatory artwork of the rest of the cast, it does arrive inside a purple-and-pink cardboard slipcase adorned with the dangling wisteria that decorates the couple's wedding. Note: the option to watch the theatrical cut of Part 1 is also made available on this disc.
Video and Audio:
The opportunity to experience more of (Oscar-winning!) Guillermo Navarro's cinematography makes Breaking Dawn: Part 1 in and of itself worth a look on Blu-ray, where the intimate close-ups and graceful movement he brings to Guillermo Del Toro's work add an appreciated, and much needed, dimension to the Twilight Saga. Summit and Lionsgate are keenly aware of how important it is for these films to be visually satisfying on the home-video market for its ardent fanbase, evidenced by this 2.35:1-framed, 1080p treatment's robust palette, razor-sharp details, and graceful balance of contrast while following Edward and Bella during their romantic escapades. Yup, there are loads and loads of close-ups on the two starlets, underscoring their facial features and disparity in skin tones, while the depth of field convincingly lets the background fade in and out of focus. Both the misty coolness of Forks and the warm, inviting tones of Brazil look spectacular here, and aptly dishes out the front-loaded eye candy to great effect.
Surprisingly, though not all that surprising from this studio, Lionsgate also keeps the Twilight experience immersive with a 7.1 Master Audio track, capturing the lively, robust, engaging activity that comes with ... a wedding and a honeymoon. Granted, those elements do create a rather charming, dependable aural experience, where the echoing music in the wooded, flowery ceremony and the sound-aware stillness in the Brazilia cottage excel at what they're supposed to accomplish: making the audience feel as close to being there as they can get. Every ounce of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart's dialogue captures the depth and height of their vocal registries, while staying clear enough to pick up on every twinge of emotion that one can discern. Coupled with Carter Burwell's ample musical score, which mindfully looms in the background with fine but restrained clarity, and you've got exactly what's needed for a proper human-vampire romantic excursion -- and the bump in the road that eventually follows. English and Spanish subs are available.
It's fairly safe to assume that most audiences interested in an extended version of Breaking Dawn: Part 1 will likely already own the previous Blu-ray, which contains a hearty slate of special features that include a feature-length documentary and other goodies. Therefore, I suppose it's not surprising that this "extended edition" only arrives with an Audio Commentary from Director Bill Condon which, aside from a few additions, appears to have largely retread the same topics of discussion as the track from the standard release. Bill Condon is nothing if not enthusiastic about his craft; he discusses his troupe of actors, filmmaking techniques, and perspective on the fans' expectations.
It takes a special sort of film to claim the throne as the worst of the Twilight movies, but Breaking Dawn: Part 1 manages to do so rather convincingly. Bill Condon does what he can with the situation, allowing his skill with larger budgets and thorny thematic material to depict the matrimony of Edward and Bella as appealing as he can, but there's only so much he can do with one-half of a story that solely -- and intentionally -- focuses on their isolated romance as a form of wish fulfillment for its audience. These limitations come together into a film that goes nowhere for prolonged periods of time, just to relish the immortal love between a vampire and his doting lady, and just as it's actually approaching the jolt awake that the film needs, it clips off at a cliffhanger that'll ultimately lead into a far more interesting break in the plot. Technically, this is an exceptional Blu-ray in how it navigates the cinematography and subtle sound design, and the added material barely warrants a Rental for both fans and non-fans seeking some form of entertainment value, but those die-hard folks out there will want to hold onto their old Blu-ray releases for the special features.