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My personal experience with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight phenomenon has been simple. I went from not hearing anything about it, to being slightly annoyed by the premise, to being concerned with the implications of the main character’s passive, anti-heroine status, to finally being so bored by the first movie that I decided I didn’t care to pursue the whole thing any further. Frankly, it was my disgust of the continuing hatred of the franchise that brought it back to my attention. At a certain point, you’ve got to let your distaste of pop-culture banality go, unless you’re 12 years old and still entangled in the all-important battle between little boys and little girls. In the long run, Twilight hasn’t really had much effect on the film entertainment I find important. Pretenders to the Young Adult Supernatural Romance throne have mostly failed at the box office and vampires have/will continue to survive the slight of Meyer’s bad writing. Frankly, the vehement hatred is just as boring as the franchise itself. I think the stupid, irrelevant, anti-popularity contest called The Golden Raspberries was my last straw. And you know what else? These are surprisingly affordably priced movies. Along with the similarly Young Adult-based Hunger Games, this series is proving to studios that they don’t need to spend the GDP of a small country to make mainstream blockbuster features.

It’s time to put my money where my moral high ground is and give this series one last chance. Besides, I’ve heard that Meyer’s last book, Breaking Dawn, is so batshit wacky that it might fulfill my crazy-stuff-o-meter on an admittedly depleted PG-13 level. And you never know, maybe a director as good as Bill Condon could pull it off. Condon’s skill set is eclectic, including trashy thrillers ( Sister Sister), a semi-successful, unwanted horror franchise sequel ( Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh), two brilliant biopics ( Gods and Monsters and Kinsey, his best movies) and a popular, Oscar-friendly Hollywood musical ( Dream Girls). Admittedly, Condon’s not quite as interesting a choice for the series as David Cronenberg (who non-fans were hoping would take on the impossible task), but he’s definitely more interesting than the other directors approached by the production, which included Gus Van Sant, Sofia Coppola (both of whom would probably treat the material in their usual understated fashion), and Mark Waters (who is too on-the-nose).

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2

Breaking Dawn: Part 1 (Extended Edition)


Having only seen parts of New Moon while shopping at a video story and absolutely none of Eclipse, I have generally no idea what’s going on here, but am immediately intrigued by how much more brutal the vampires have gotten since they were when I last left this series. It appears that Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) have decided to tie the knot and that most of the characters in this universe aren’t particularly happy about it. Following the wedding, Eddie and Bella finally do the nasty and it makes them uncomfortable for a while, because Bella is horny and Eddie is still afraid of hurting her. Blah, blah, blah…turns out Bella is preggers and that having a vampire baby will probably kill her.

What saves Part 1 – a dour bummer of a ‘teen friendly’ supernatural romance – from utter ruin is the ‘kitchen sink’ factor. It’s as if Meyers had three more uneventful books in mind, but grew bored of the franchise and crammed it all into this final story. This leaves little time to fill in the previous misadventures of everyone’s favourite mopey vampires and, for this film version, Condon doesn’t slow things down with any kind of recap. You’d think this would’ve meant less unnecessary exposition, but you’d be wrong. Since Summit decided to split a reasonably compact novel into two feature-length movies, Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg are left to include just about everything they can in order to make use of the excessive, nearly four-hour total runtime. The first hour of the film has no sense of pace and is enshrouded in dry, content-free conversations that would try Herman Melville’s patience. The emptiness of the dialogue is best summed up in the scene where the lovers frown their way through an argument about the previous evening’s lovemaking session – nothing is actually said that won’t be said again about a dozen more times throughout the next act and most of it will be said without words. It’s like a Bergman film where the marriage begins to fall apart the second it’s consummated.

Having skipped the last two entries, I may have missed some context, but the utter lack of palpable romance is jarring. Outside of even the missing chemistry between Pattinson and Stewart, I find the vampire/human relationship indomitably creepy. The kitchen sink factor saves things again when Jacob the wolfboy realizes Bella plans to have sex with her new vampire husband without being turned into a vampire, which will apparently kill her. The creepy component is turned up to eleven when the entire wedding party starts discussing the possibility of never seeing Bella alive again…because she’s about to be sexed to death to serve a most shudder-worthy metaphor (it’s amazing she can walk to the bathroom without putting her life in danger and bringing about an argument among the men that take responsibility for her). Condon obviously understands how creepy the whole honeymoon is and packs these sequences with awkward, passive aggressive sequences of Edward rebuking Bella’s advances. Slowly, the director leads the once pure-minded series into a place of almost baroque perversion. Watching him balance the teen-friendly with the genuine ick factor is almost fascinating, but is ultimately undone by the hopelessly dull moments between grotesque highlights.

Minus these scenes of insufferable boredom and the huge franchise following, Breaking Dawn: Part 1 might have made a late night TV cult classic another decade or two down the line, because once Bella gets pregnant (almost an hour into the film), the film is officially too silly to hate. And it’s not just the Cronenberg-lite/Rosemary’s vampire baby aspects that draw unintended laughs – plenty of unexpectedly wacky stuff happens, including a scene where werewolves argue about the validity of killing a baby without their lips moving. The body horror stuff is pretty potent, too – Bella looks like a creepy skeleton lady (probably the single best special effect in either film), she drinks blood on behalf of the vampire baby, her body folds in half as her back is shattered, her bruised belly throbs, and the insane birthing scene culminates with Edward using his vampire teeth to C-section the critter out of his wife (unfortunately left to our imagination). The capper, however, is that Jake falls in instantly in love with the vampire/human baby. That has to be some new level of perversion for a mainstream movie. The problem is that this still feels like an over-long half of a movie. No one ever found a valid reason to separate the story into two parts beyond the fact that it would make the producers more money.


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2

Breaking Dawn: Part 2


With all of the depressing, boring plot laid out in Part 1, Part 2 is more or less a big pile of climax, which makes for a mostly entertaining popcorn experience. It’s still a ridiculous movie that constantly verges on chaotically bad, but it’s an accommodatingly ridiculous movie that constantly verges on chaotically bad. The fun begins as Bella explores her new vampire powers by eating a freakin’ cougar. Then Jacob has to explain to Bella that he has fallen in love with her baby…who he has nicknamed ‘Nessie’ after the Loch Ness Monster. Fortunately, little Renesmee (played by Mackenzie Foy and weird CG babies/toddlers made to look like Mackenzie Foy) grows super-fast, so an adult werewolf being in love with her is slightly less disturbing. Like in the way pedophilia is slightly less disturbing than infantophilia. Soon, we’re introduced to other ‘themed’ vampires, each with their own extra mutant powers, and The Volturi – a proto-typical band of grinning, evil, bourgeoisie vampires that run the show (I assume these guys were previously introduced in earlier movies). The X-Men-powered ‘clan’ vampires and The Volturi are all overdrawn clichés, but they’re played by some fun actors having a fun time, especially Michael Sheen as Aro, the Volturi leader. The constant stream of physical and dramatic immediacy does wonders for the main cast as well. The other movies (what I’ve seen of them) were equally bloated with histrionics, but the performances were constantly pitched somewhere below catatonic. Given the chance to shout their provocations, these normally placid actors show actual life. It’s too bad that it took the producers this long to realize that scenery-chewing camp would work so well for the franchise.

Condon and his writers leave very little fat on the bone as they build to the promise of a battle, moving quickly and thoroughly over a relatively wide expanse of time. Even the scenes that dawdle feel like part of a real movie, such as a scene where the vampires gather around a campfire to talk about all the wars they survived over the centuries. There’s no emotional heft in their stories, of course, but the sentiment is interesting; it’s decent shorthand to prep the audience for the coming battle. Then Condon actually pays things off with truly epic creature carnage. The brief fight that closes out Part 1 was pretty weak and visually confusing, but this time, Condon captures the superhero action sharply with simple, fluid shots and a solid sense of physical weight. The scale is a bit small compared to big-budget miracles like The Lord of the Rings, but even with a smaller cast of combatants the cool factor is achieved and the whole sequence is better directed than anything in the similarly-themed Underworld series. At the very least, Condon outdoes Brett Ratner’s similar ‘two lines of superheroes run at each other’ sequence from X-Men 3 (though this may just be an indictment of how bad the climax of X-Men 3 is). Too bad they couldn’t get away with a little more gore on their PG-13 rating. I’ve also got to give Rosenberg some credit for maintaining Meyer’s lack of dramatic resolution without rendering the battle entirely pointless with a sudden hand wave (though, if it was a better movie, I’d consider it more of a middle finger straight to the face of her audience).

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2

Video


Condon was an interesting choice for these movies, but cinematographer Guillermo Navarro was positively brilliant. Navarro continues to impress with a diverse visual style covering everything from his gothic collaborations with Guillermo del Toro, to wide-audience friendly fluff, like Spy Kids and Night at the Museum. Condon and Navarro shot both Breaking Dawns on 35mm film and Navarro’s influence is pretty powerful. Both discs are presented in 1080p, 2.40:1 HD video. The overall look is pretty dark (I suppose the vampires would be all sparkly if there was too much light), earthy, and warm, much like a del Toro movie. This dark and warm palette is then nicely highlighted with rich reds and lush greens, all of which give the pale qualities of vampire skin a nice pop. Some of the reds do exhibit minor blocking noise and bleed a bit into the harsher whites, but much of this can be blamed on the qualities of the film, which hasn’t been too obviously digitally treated. Grain levels are thin and consistent, as should be expected from a brand new 35mm source. Blacks are very pure without appearing overly crushed and usually without sacrificing fine detail and highlights. Deep-set details are pretty mushy because the focus rarely extends beyond the middle ground. However, there aren’t really that many extremely detailed close-ups, either, since Condon and Navarro try to maintain some continuity with the other films in the series, which (based on what I’ve seen) have pretty soft textures. That said, Part 2 does do some cool stuff with Bella’s micro-detailed super-vampire-vision. Some of the wider-angle shots feature thicker edge enhancement than I expected, but nothing painful.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2

Audio


The first Twilight movie had incredibly bland and thin sound design for such a massive release. I haven’t seen any of the other sequels outside of a few scenes and had no idea the sound designers had finally figured out what they were doing. These DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 tracks are well-utilized, especially as a band-aid for the lack of effects budget. If you can’t afford to show vampires flying around as often as the story requires a good ‘whoosh’ sound in the stereo or surround channels is an effective way around the problem. The big battle climax of Part 2 is the obvious demo moment between the two discs – with all its zippy, flying vampires, growling werewolves, magical powers, and cracking beheadings, but some of the best sound design comes out of non-action sequences, like one in the first movie where Jake turns into a wolf and goes on a pity run, replaying previous discussions in his head. The internal view of Bella’s vampire transformation in is another surprising piece of expressive noise (the balance of the deep, LFE heartbeat and crackling ‘flesh noises’ is perfect). The opening sequences of Part 2 compliment these subtleties with Bella’s ‘new vampire’ senses. I did find the center channel dialogue to be on the quieter side, especially on the Part 1 disc, and was a bit surprised by the amount of hiss on the track during some of the quieter dialogue sequences. Composer Carter Burwell, who is capable of good things, sleepwalks his way through both scores, recycling bland piano motifs during the romantic moments and generic hero cues that give the surround channels a little more to do. As if the score wasn’t blah enough, it’s turned into a wall of short-attention-span banality, thanks to a constant influx of teen-friendly pop music. The bigger scale and action cues of Part 2 are a definite improvement and give the LFE more to do (taiko drums!).

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2

Extras


The Breaking Dawn: Part 1: Extended Edition extras include only a director’s commentary with Bill Condon. Due to time constraints, I didn’t sit through the entire commentary, but was sure to sample enough of it to understand what he was going for. Condon’s tone is cheerful enough and mostly entertaining, though he leaves a lot of blank space between discussing behind the scenes anecdotes and changes between the book and this movie. Apparently, he already recorded a commentary for the theatrical version of the film, so I suppose we can’t hold the blank space against him too much. This track also helps me to note where additional material has been added to this extended version, as I didn’t really intend on sitting through the entire thing again while taking notes. It seems that he was mostly not in favour of re-adding most of these scenes. Breaking Dawn: Part 2 also begins with a Condon commentary and it’s more of the same – cheerful tone, entertaining behind the scenes information, a heavy focus on themes and character development, and too much blank space.

The big extra is found on the Part 2 disc. Forever: Filming the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (1:33:20, HD) is available either as a picture-in-picture option, or as a stand-alone documentary. In documentary form, it is broken down into seven chapters, starting with Rebirth, which concerns the process of turning Bella into a vampire. This includes the thematic aspects of new vampirism and technical processes involved in creating the images of vampirism (digital effects, camera tricks, animal wrangling, costume/make-up). Renesmee covers the process of characterizing Bella and Edward’s child, including aging her up from the books, casting, and creepily matching the baby and toddler’s faces to match actress Mackenzie Foy (so creepy…). The Cottage is about the design and building of the cottage in the woods where Bella and Edward ‘retire’ to in hopes of raising their baby in peace. It also includes an exploration of the effects processes behind the ensuing sex scene. The Gathering covers the introductions of dozens of new vampire characters (arranged by ‘clan’), including casting (with casting tapes), shorthand character traits, and the special effects involved with the various superpowers. The Field concerns the process of finding and decorating a field for the film’s action climax. In the end the scene was shot almost entirely on greenscreen soundstages, which was understandably strange for the cast and crew, who staged a secret dance-off for the hell of it. The Battle is about the major changes to the book that led to the complex final battle, including a whole lot of technical information about the sequence (storyboards, pre-viz, stunts, fight choreography, and special effects design). Forever closes things out with a brief look at the coda and wrap-up on the entire series.

Interviews throughout the featurettes include Condon, producers Wyck Godfrey and Bill Bannerman, producer/author Stepenie Meyer, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, SFX supervisors Mark Stetson, Edsen Williams, Terry Windell, Colin Straus, David Poole, Ken Kokka, Eric Levin and Phil Tippet, costume designer Michael Wilkinson, casting director Debra Zane, production designer Richard Sherman, lead prologue designers Lisa Bolan and Ryan Robertson, assistant director Greg Yolan, location manager Michael J. Burmeister, SFX foreman R. Terry Tjelmeland, and actors Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Mackenzie Foy, Michael Sheen, Asheley Green, Elizabeth Reaser, Casey LaBow, Christian Camargo, Rami Malek, Andrea Gabriel, Tracey Haggins, Judith Shekoni, Lee Pace, Erik Odam, Toni Trucks, Bill Tangradi, Joe Anderson, Lisa Howard, Patrick Brennan, Noel Fisher, Omar Metwally, Kellan Lutz, Cameron Bright, Casey Labow, Charlie Bewley, Daniel Cudmore, Valorie Curry, MyAnna Buring, Jason Rathbone, Dakota Fanning, and Nikki Reed.

The Part 2 extras are wrapped up with Two Movies at Once (6:27, HD), a quickly-paced look at the process of blending the productions of both parts of Breaking Dawn, a music video for Green Day’s ‘The Forgotten’ (5:20, HD), and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2

Overall


Taken as a whole, Breaking Dawn is a failure, but there are truly entertaining pieces of film stretched between the two movies. Had someone found a way to cut together the weird body-horror stuff from the first movie with the surprisingly potent action and fun camp of the second movie I may have found myself whole-heartedly recommending the final chapter in this popular saga. As is, non-fans have something to look forward to, assuming they’re ever forced into a viewing by an enthusiastic loved one. The Part 1 disc features an extended version, but not a lot of extras outside of director Bill Condon’s commentary track while the non-extended Part 2 release features an entertaining, feature length behind-the-scenes documentary. Passive fans that already own the un-extended version of Part 1 might want to skip the extended release, but all fans will likely love the Part 2 Blu-ray and its strong A/V presence.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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