The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 1
I gotta say, lately I've been feeling inclined to defend the Twilight movies. Partly because hating on Stephenie Meyer's teen supernatural soap opera is getting old, even if I don't disagree with any of the harshest criticisms against it (e.g. unhealthy central relationship, blatantly self-indulgent storyline, anti-feminist and chauvinist values, really bad writing). But mostly because it's the movies we're talking about here, which are made by wholly different people besides Meyer - and much more talented people to boot. I think these people have been trying their damnedest to actually make good movies out of these books, and I think they've succeeded to certain degrees. I ain't budging from my opinion that the third one, Eclipse, is a decent fantasy action-thriller. So it was out of a sense of obligation that I decided to watch and review the latest one - more out of obligation than real anticipation, since my enjoyment of the third one didn't really make up for the previous two.
None of that prepared me for how utterly the movie has been ruined by our ever-wise Lembaga Penapisan Filem.
Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) has finally agreed to marry Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and Edward has finally agreed to turn Bella into a vampire. But first, their first year of marriage will be Bella's last as a human - and when Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) learns that they plan to consummate their marriage, he becomes angry, fearing for Bella's safety. The newlyweds have their honeymoon on a private island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, and their first night is... eventful... but Bella seems otherwise unharmed. Then the unthinkable happens - Bella gets pregnant, an unprecedented occurrence in vampire history. They return to Forks, seeking the care of Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) and the rest of the Cullen clan, but Bella's human body is unable to cope with the baby's accelerated growth rate and superhuman strength - and despite everyone's fears for her life, Bella insists on having the child. Meanwhile, Sam Uley (Chaske Spencer), the leader of the Quileute pack, has deemed the child an "abomination" and a violation of the werewolf-vampire treaty, and prepares to make war on the Cullens - which drives Jacob to leave the pack and reluctantly join the vampires in order to save Bella's life.
Gaahh. IMDB records this movie's running time at 117 minutes, which means almost 20 minutes have been snipped out. This includes the sex scene, which isn't too big a deal; being a PG-13 movie, it's pretty much meant to fade to black then cut back in the morning after anyway. But the cruelest cut is during the birth scene, almost all of which is gone - Bella goes into labour, and then almost immediately we see the newborn baby bouncing on someone's knee. This is the climax of the entire movie! And this means there is absolutely no reason to watch this in Malaysian cinemas; the only option is to download a pirated torrent or get a bootleg DVD. What especially annoys me is that that birth scene was the only thing I was looking forward to in this film, due to how over-the-top gory and sadistic I'd heard it was in the book. I wanted to see how director Bill Condon and long-time series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg handled it. But I didn't. Gaaaaahhh.
Which means it's gonna be hard for me to review this film - or rather, hard to give an accurate rating. There's still a lot to talk about though. It's about middle-of-the-road as far as Twilight movies go; better than the first and second, but not as good as the third. Better in that a Bella and Edward who have actually decided to get married is better than a Bella and Edward angsting over each other (and Jacob). Not as good in the sense that the plot is somewhat rambling and doesn't build up much in the way of narrative tension. Most of the first half is taken up by the wedding and the honeymoon, which is basically romance porn for chicks (and catnip for Twilight fangirls of the Team Edward persuasion); basically nothing noteworthy happens other than a brief altercation with a suddenly-jealous-all-over-again Jacob, and Bella's attempts to seduce Edward after their first night. The latter of which is more fun, for the couple of brief scenes of Kristen Stewart in skimpy nighties. But on the whole, it's pretty dull, mostly because Stewart and Robert Pattinson still can't muster up any real romantic chemistry. I don't hate them, I think they're both talented performers, but even after four movies, they just can't make these characters work.
And in the second half, the focus suddenly switches from Bella to Jacob. Which is accurate to the novel's structure, but in a movie it just feels weird, like the main character has suddenly gotten sidelined. Also, Taylor Lautner is by far the worst of the three principal actors here - Stewart and Pattinson can at least say they've been good in other movies - and putting him front and center makes for no compelling viewing at all. And here is where the plot finally gets started, which is also problematic; early on, the big bad werewolf leader Sam Uley is all "no, Jacob, don't get your panties in a twist, the vamps are our friends." Then later, he's the one who's all, "OMG vampire baby treaty broken abomination kill kill kiiiiilll!" (And he's in CGI werewolf form when he makes this declaration; if we'd seen an actual human actor say it, we might be a little more convinced.) When the major threat in your plot comes from a bunch of folks we'd spent three previous movies establishing that they're badass-but-basically-nice, the outcome ain't gonna be particularly suspenseful.
See, one of the biggest criticisms against the entire Twilight franchise is how it neuters the concept of vampires and werewolves - more the former, since it ain't werewolves that sparkle in sunlight. Which is why the most successful Twilight movie is the one that reminds us that, hey, did you know that vampires and werewolves are inhuman creatures who eat people? I don't even think it's all that bad a thing to combine that with a teen romance, as long as that sense of menace and danger and, yes, horror, is preserved. Keep that, and even the mushy, angsty, juvenile romance elements can be palatable. And so can most of the other things the franchise has been accused of, which I don't think can fairly be laid on the movies. Such as...
...y'know what, I can't. I actually want to mount a defense of the Twilight movies, and I know what I want to say about it, but I gotta wonder, what's the point? What's the point in doing it in a review of this movie, which in the form I watched is completely defective? I'm serious - this is the worst censorship of a cinema release in Malaysia I have ever seen, worse than even the last time our treasured Censorship Board severely pissed me off. I was actually ready to give Breaking Dawn part 1 a 3-star rating, until it got to the omitted birth scene and I had to stifle the "What??!" that almost burst out of my mouth. So, faced with the choice of rating it on the movie it's supposed to be versus the movie I actually watched, I'm forced to go with the latter. When Breaking Dawn part 2 gets here, I'll be ready to expound on how Condon and Rosenberg made Meyer's story agreeable, if perhaps still not quite good enough to recommend, and mollified most of what people object to about Twilight - which is exactly what, as professional filmmakers, they're meant to do. And as all the teenage (married!) sex and body horror is over and done with, there shouldn't be as much censorship. There better not be.
NEXT REVIEW: Petaling Street Warriors
Expectations: yay James Lee and Namewee!