Director Bill Condon ups the horror quotient of the “Twilight” franchise, but he’s stuck with the same ridiculous characters from the earlier films
In 1989, Spy magazine commissioned some of New York’s most acclaimed pastry chefs to try to recreate a Twinkie. And while all of them concocted tasty desserts packed with actual crème, none of them could completely duplicate the mass-produced, injection-filled icon of junk food.
With “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1,” the Twinkie wins.
The hiring of talented filmmaker Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”) has no doubt resulted in the best “Breaking Dawn, Part 1” that we were ever going to get. But even with this craftsman (and horror stylist) at the helm, we’re still stuck with author Stephenie Meyer’s ludicrous storytelling and one-note characters and a principal cast that mistakes not-blinking for soulful depth.
Not that any of this will matter in the slightest, of course, to the Twi-hards who have eagerly drunk the Edward-and-Bella Kool-Aid; they’re lucky to have a director of Condon’s caliber seeing the story through to its climax.
Both climaxes and drinking the Kool-Aid, incidentally, are on the agenda for Bella (Kristen Stewart), who begins the film teetering in her first pair of pumps and preparing to tie the knot with her undead paramour Edward (Robert Pattinson).
While wolfboy Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the other guy who loves Bella, is upset about the impending nuptials, he nonetheless makes an appearance to wish her well — only to get upset over the fact that the newlyweds plan to have sex on their honeymoon with Bella still in human form, an act that Jacob thinks will kill her.
Bella and Edward dash off to Brazil and enjoy one night of bed-breaking bliss, but when Bella wakes up with bruises, Edward shies away from a rematch despite Bella’s pleas. After a metaphor-packed montage of waterfalls and chess games, she finally gets her way, only to find herself knocked up with a bouncing baby bloodsucker within two weeks.
A vampire fetus in a human womb is apparently unprecedented, as no one knows quite what to do with a baby that is literally sucking the life out of its mother, to the point where Bella is forced to begin a pre-natal nutritional regime that involves Type O and a straw.
For a series about vampires, “Breaking Dawn, Part 1” feels like the first time that the visceral aspects are being addressed, so it’s something of a relief to have Condon, who began his career with cult horror classics like “Strange Invaders,” there to carry the film across that line.
Will Bella survive the birth? Will Edward resent his child if it kills his beloved wife? Can Jacob prevent a full-on vampires-vs.-werewolves war if this mixed-breed child is born? These and other soapy questions are answered, with enough cliffhangers to keep the faithful rabidly awaiting “Part 2” next year.
To his credit, Condon takes this risible material as seriously as possible and makes the proceedings as stylish and creepy as he can. There’s a nifty flashback to Edward’s murderous rampage in the 1930s (complete with a “Bride of Frankenstein” shout-out from the man who made “Gods and Monsters”), and just like directors ranging from Robert Altman to Lars Von Trier, Condon knows how to get the most out of a wedding sequence.
The floral canopy will make the young girls swoon, and the director finds the notes of genuine romance (when Edward and Bella kiss, their audience disappears, leaving them as the only two people on earth) and humor (the toasts are hilariously awkward).
Pattinson and Stewart have proven themselves to be interesting screen presences in non-“Twilight” projects — the jury’s still out on Lautner — but all three of them remain in their usual groove of blank-faced mooning about. Some YouTube jokester will eventually be able to create montages that are 15 solid minutes of Edward looking pained, Bella furrowing her brow, Jacob flaring his nostrils, etc.
Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Jackie Brown”) gives the film a palpable lushness, in locations ranging from the forests of the Pacific Northwest to the beaches of Brazil, that matches the heroine’s fecundity, and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas has selected a terrific array of pop tunes, even if some of the lyrics get a little heavy-handed in matching the onscreen action. (While Bella’s pregnant, there’s some singing about little arms and little legs, while another tune crams the ongoing “lion and the lamb” motif into our ears.)
Based on the squealing adolescent girls (of all ages) in attendance at the L.A. press screening, the brain trust behind the “Twilight” golden goose have once again hit all the right buttons to keep the fans happy. And even if Bill Condon couldn’t completely overcome the inanity of the franchise, he can still proudly hold his head up high at the Director’s Guild cafeteria.