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Dec 07

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 – Hysteria in the White Wisteria

Part 4 of the Geek Actually multi part opinion piece about the films of “The Twilight Saga”

Greetings, Gentle Reader. We are united once more for the nuptials and tumultuous first weeks (?!) of the Swan/Cullen union, herein known as The Wedding.

Our polished poo-dora bead is all grown up and now an incandescent diamond; one that has been cut so brilliantly as to be blindingly faceted. My eyes! My eyes!  Ah well, whatever – spoilers lie beyond and I do have the insight to realise that this review is particularly recap heavy. Proceed at your peril.

Where do I start with this paradigm shifting cinematic event?  I feel I should approach it as one does a glossy, high-end fashion magazine. We shall call it… Twilight 4.1- Bluesteel Magnum Edition’! The cover lines promise much, including the consummation of the ultimate love affair. Then we have the latest in wedding couture and travel and lifestyle tips. There are music reviews, food ideas and much, much more.  Yes, it is a thick and somewhat weighty tome – looks fabulous and I can’t wait to flip through the pages… But we had better start with some profiles, because people tend to wade in without looking up the index.

As we are now in film 4.1 there is a fair amount of assumed knowledge, so I will supply a little glossary of terms and back story so as to ease the journey of any newer, and perhaps even more Gentle Readers.  Plus it will help you get my jokes…

Imprinting is when one of the Quileute Tribe of La Push werewolves finds their “second half”. The wolf commits to the person they imprint to and does anything to make that person happy. If they’re the same age, they become lovers. If the person they imprinted on is younger they become the equivalent of a big brother(?) to them until the girl gets older (the wolf won’t age until then) and they can start a romantic relationship. Wolf Pack rules also state that no wolf may cause harm to another wolf’s imprint. (Hmmmm… as my kids say these days ‘sounds like a bit of a Peddo!’! Not to mention the transition from ‘brother’ to ‘lover’ status – can we spell ‘incest’ everybody?)

The Vampires of Stephenie Myer’s world are ‘envenomed’ and the Cullens consider themselves vegetarian as they ‘hunt and feed’ off wild animals such as deer, bear and mountain lions. This venom is also the mechanism used to ‘turn’ a human into a vampire. 

The Treaty states that the Cullens are allowed to live in relative peace provided they did not set foot on La Push ground uninvited or ‘turn’ or kill another human.  If these terms are violated, the Quileute werewolves had the official right to hunt them down.

Yes, we open with the obligatory Bella voiceover pondering; ‘so when do you become an adult and leave childish things behind you ‘(tick). So far; so derivative. And yes, the usual taking absolutely no personal responsibility for anything, including your BVFF Alice, doing all the wedding arrangements INCLUDING BUYING YOUR FROCK!! (Tick). What would be the equivalent of a vampire bridesmaid bridezilla?

Then Edward pops in whilst she is packing the night before The Wedding and confesses how once, after resenting Carlyle for changing him into a vampire, decided to ‘act out’ by going on a murder spree.  But he only ate murderers and other baddies because they were feral and therefore not endangering the normal ‘good people’ species (kind of really puts the ‘cull’ into Cullen, eh).  But Edward does feel ‘guilt’ and wants Bella to know about his ‘past’.  But apparently Bella is OK with all this because in her head there is an equation that goes something like this.

Hungry vampire (HV) eating human beings (hb) is evil (E), however if human beings are evil they don’t really qualify as human beings (Ehb=-hb), therefore hungry vampire eating evil human beings is fine and doesn’t really count. This equation can be expressed as follows [(HV>hb=E) (HV>(-hb=E)= 0 fatalities and OK by me! ]  Bella doing the whole self-subjugation and rationalising away everything incongruent with what she wants, thing again? (Tick)

And then Bella, the dirty bugger,  gets into bed in her clothes after Edward and bros go off ebulliently into the night a’huntin’ in the woods, thereby taking the Bucks night concept to a whole new ew!

I need to comment on Bella’s dream… and we know it’s a dream because it’s a different frock to the one in the trailers and you wouldn’t want to mess that one up. Besides this one is sleeveless and absolutely everyone does sleeveless these days.  Then we have the bodies of dead guests, artfully and carelessly strewn,  designed as a representation of a wedding cake- a premonition, it would seem. This scene inspires me to hold my face in a representation of Munch’s Scream (again) as it manages to be simultaneously gruesome and ridiculous.

I want to take this point to say that I am well and truly ‘Team Charlie’.  I love that man.  He is truly the ‘Candy Man’ of this whole franchise.  However instead of taking a sunrise and sprinkling it with dew, Billy Burke takes this shallow role and makes it authentic and plausible and I guess Charlie is my touchstone in these films, the only true point of identification that I have.

I sincerely believe that The Wedding sequence alone will change the course of wedding planning history.  I predict that if the nurseries and florists start planting now, they will have some small hope of supplying the white wisteria alone required to furnish these weddings for at least the next decade.

As ever the choices for the soundtrack and score are excellent.   The music swells into some truly wonderfully mawkishly, romantic songs (yeah, I’m a softie! So what!)…  Get ready for ‘Turning Page’ and ‘A Thousand Years’ to be played at weddings everywhere for about the next…. thousand years, I guess. Although I do wonder at the lovely, lilting yet odd little offering called ‘Flightless Bird, American Mouth’.  And I will be forever grateful that Twilight has introduced me to the joy of Bon Iver. See?  There are no wasted experiences.

The Wedding setting was collaboration between everything we have come to expect from the Twilight stylists and Lothlorien (Lord of the Rings).  It was so breathtakingly beautiful. The guests (young and old, alive and dead) were both colour coordinated (shades of purple, pink, beige and grey) and all really, really incredibly good looking. Watch out for The Wedding wannabes in coming issues.

The ceremony and snogging and cheering and everything else go on so long, it feels like real time. You have the mandatory bit of humour at speech time, bitchiness, along with double entendre and subtexts, not to mention family fussin’, fightin’,  and a-feudin’ all adding to the authenticity of the occasion. Come to think of it, it was in real time!  God knows my feet were killing me at the end; I just had to kick off the old sling backs and vomit behind the wisteria.

Jacob turning up at the wedding for a dance and about the third tanty for the film thus far, is causing me to lose patience with him. Upon reflection, there are more male tantrums and hissy fits in this film than you would ever find in the dorm of an all-girls high school.  I swear to God their menses were in sync.

Next stop Rio de Janiero, thence all stations to honeymoon central, the new game changer for romantic destinations for our travel and lifestyle feature. This place was STUNNING!  The house, the beach, the furniture, The Everything!  I think they are cunningly using all this visual fabulousness to try to distract us from the lack of plot coherence.

So now we get to The Sex right?  Hmmmm, not quite. Well, yes, there was much snogging and a cute bit where Bella (whom it would appear DIDN’T EVEN PACK HER OWN BAGS AND THEREFORE NOT KNOW WHAT HER NEGLIGEES WERE LIKE) let alone where her toothbrush was, is trying to make herself, as we like to say in our family ‘personally dainty’!!  So more snogging, fabulous location shots and now The Sex? No? A bit of playing of The Chess perhaps… then we have ‘The Moonlight Swim’.  OK. Right, down to The Sex… finally.

The next morning we see the trashed bed and room and many, many, many feathers cutely wafting about a bruised but happy Bella and that is fine by me.  But then the Edward-driven ‘ick’ starts.  God, how I hate the ambivalent and downright bloody strange messages from this film.  Edward has now decided to refuse The Sex because Bella is hurt.  Perhaps Bella likes rough trade, Edward, so shut up, get over and on with it.  …and he defaults back into brooding/huffing/poncing off mode and I am becoming more than mildly disturbed.

Cut to La Push, Puppy People and Politics and we have our noses expositionally rubbed into the mess they are making about Imprinting and The Treaty being broken and Bella’s impending SK-II vampire make-over… And Jacob’s fifty-fifth tantrum for the film so far. All that drama and yet, so slow…

Meanwhile back at best little honeymoon destination ever, we explore the first of our up-to the minute Twilight Food TrendsBella ever-so-slightly undercooks some chicken, and, before you can utter the immortal words of my sister; ‘does this chicken look pink to you?’; cue vomiting, pregnancy and a great product placement for Tampax, prompting a precision airlift back to Villa Cullen that Airforce 1 would envy.

The pregnancy rapidly advances in addition to the first of a million uses of the word ‘foetus’.  What about Zygote; Blastocyst; Embryo; or dare I even say; baby.  And the pacing of this film feels like this pregnancy is advancing in ‘real time’.  Now a small amount of self-disclosure here.  I have had twins.  And I tell you most solemnly, that babies are the true-life vampires.  And yes, they kick buggery out of you from the inside.

So I was hoping for some intrepid and noble behaviour from baby Mama Bella and I suppose I wasn’t too disappointed. But then Edward and Jacob do more whining, huffing off, sulking and tanties (but statistically Jacob is winning) and Bella is looking like shite.  She is, as ever, having the men she depends on, rack off because it’s all too hard. However, Edward once again has managed to isolate Bella from the one man who loves and cherishes her and would care for and support her.  I speak, of course, of Charlie. The other characters haven’t had a lot to do in this film other than shift ‘Wood-Elf Style’ furniture and either stand around either looking glamorous, tense, or intensely glamorous.

Now let’s discuss the Bella pregnancy special effect- possibly the most harrowing and confronting of the whole movie. I really hope it is a special effect, otherwise we can expect a new and improved bout of eating disorders worldwide.  Bella looked skeletal.  I assume it is the same SPFX used in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, because it looked horrifying and I really hope it was a stunt body.

I want to reflect on the balance of the action sections whereupon the conflict with the wolves escalates and the excellent SPFX opportunity of these sequences is squandered by the woefully muddled and weird mind-meld dialogue that was supposed to indicate schism in the ranks and Jacob’s defection from the pack.

I could barely keep up with it all, as back and forth we go – Jacob out, Seth and Leah are in. More Imprint chat (telegraphing much?) and Bella shows us how to up the Food and Entertaining ante by partaking of the O+ive Boost shakes.  As her bones snap like pretzels, amidst more political lines being drawn to raise tension and stakes, we  have some vampire vs. wolf rinny-ranny-run action to get supplies, towels and hot water… and plenty of it and (no? Isn’t that what they all do in film birth scenes?)  everything is just getting more  and more muddled, and in spite of all this excellent action… the… film… drags… on…

Foetus names. Renesmee… yup, yup, yupity yup.  Although Bella thinks it is a boy, it simply must be a girl because Foetus is immortal and will live forever with this most appalling of names. Simply uttering this name causes Bella’s spine to snap backward in a most spectacularly gross manner and labour to commence.  We have ‘Venom’ shots into Bella’s spindly, bruised sternum thereby emulating adrenalin injections to hopefully facilitate Bella’s change into vampire status, caesarean births via vampire teeth and a segue into the Big (oh, nooooooo!! it’s too late, she’s already…) Death Scene.  But cranky Rosalie is less cranky now because yummy Foetus, Renesmee, makes her feel all clucky.  Well, after Rosalie gets over the initial urge to chow down on her.

Cutting to the chase now, as Jacob, having decided to kill Renesmee, slips and falls into ‘Imprinting’ instead.  So all bets are off and I am vaguely impressed by how they skirt the whole ‘Peddo’ issue by emphasising the protector/brotherly role instead. Hmmm, nice save? Not quite. I don’t understand how they can pursue the ‘Imprint’ thing and yet ‘The Sex’ ‘twixt consenting adults/spouses is all kinds of weird. So the wolves go home because it’s ‘Hos before Bros’ in wolf world.

OK, so bringing it on home, the CSI-style interior SPFX are rather spectacular, with all the ‘venom’ shooting through the veins and the bones knitting. And Bella undergoes the SK-II transformation before our very eyes with the final frame being full face, close-up as she opens her RED EYES!  It was quite cool. Really cool in fact. So, Gentle Reader, don’t exit the cinema straight away, although your bladder may be signalling you otherwise.  There is a bit of Volturi spoiler work that is vaguely amusing from the lovely Michael Sheen (still makes a better werewolf if you ask me), although not necessary, as you can pick it up on YouTube.

So after all this, do I like the film? I can’t honestly say. Using our magazine analogy, it looks glossy and beautiful;  promising everything (even smelly little perfume testers that you wouldn’t put on your worst enemy); in fact I believe Twilight will continue to influence our society (much in the same way ‘Jaws’ forever changed the public perception of the beach). The music is wonderful as are the sets, the fashions and furnishings.  But somehow it all feels so hollow, crammed full of advertisements and little or no substance.

Stephenie Myer, I do not understand you. Your thought processes are so alien, so totally foreign to me, that I just despair. As ever the plot continues to deteriorate, the dialogue… I have no words to describe it (how’s that for irony?). I worry about the messages it gives to impressionable young girls about relationships and interactions with boys and men.

And I am going to postulate something controversial here, but maybe the Twilight series should be studied in school as is ‘The Truman Show’, only as some sort of cautionary tale. I don’t believe the whole phenomenon will just ‘go away’.  It has been embraced so wholeheartedly by the target audience which (as The Wiggles have long since realised and exploited to great effect) is self-renewing. Big sisters will hand the books down to little sisters and cousins and BFF’s. I think the only hope is to somehow get all the young girls who love this franchise so much, to employ some sort of critical analysis so that there will there be any hope of salvation.

But the participants genuinely give it their all, I admire their integrity if not their performances; I guess my best descriptor is that visually, it is the equivalent of Christmas Day. It takes forever to arrive, it’s over the top, way too rich, overindulgent and then you feel bloated after it’s all over. Was it worth it? I guess I’ve come this far and, flaws notwithstanding, I’m looking forward to seeing through to the end.

- Robyn Smith

Robyn is now in standby as she waits for the release of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2″ at least she gets to recover for awhile until it comes out next year. If you enjoyed her column make sure you leave her a comment below. You can hear Robyn on Film Actually episode 66 for our review of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1″ by clicking here.

Read Part 1 - Polishing The Turd That Is The Twilight Saga Part 1

Read Part 2 - Twilight: New Moon – The Puppy People Strike Back

Read Part 3 - The Twilight Saga: Eclipse – Rules!? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rules!

Robyn Smith seeing Breaking Dawn Part 1