By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

Breaking Dawn never breaks down.

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Instead, it holds up its end of the bargain for the Twilight series and its loyal fans, as The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 surfaces as the first-half of a finale with a one-year intermission.

The romantic, modern-day vampire drama that kicked off the big-screen series, Twilight (2008), cast quite a spell, which is why we’re now four movies in out of five.

(3 stars out of 4.)

The ponderous first sequel, The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009), dipped slightly in impact, but not so much as to remove the wanna-see factor from the next sequel, the ultra-romantic, revenge-driven The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010), which not only restored the glory of the original but presented the series’ strongest metaphor yet for teen angst and offered the most accomplished performances yet from the three principals.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, which will be followed in a year’s time by Part 2, is (taking a page from the Harry Potter series) the first half of the final book — a 2008 best-seller, massive at 754 pages — in the series of supernatural horror-romance novels for young adults by Stephenie Meyer.

Breaking Dawn finds human Bella and vampire Edward — played, as if you didn’t know, by Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson — on their mixed-marriage honeymoon in Brazil, having postponed their decision to transform Bella into a vampire and thus join Edward’s extended, never-aging family.

Before long, Bella discovers that she’s pregnant.

And the more Bella shows, the more emaciated she becomes, so concerned and desperate Edward turns to Bella’s rejected romantic suitor, Jacob, played again by Taylor Lautner, a werewolf who is estranged from his tribe.

Bella then experiences a nearly fatal childbirth when her half-vampire daughter Renesmee joins their family.

Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey, Gods and Monsters), who’s new to the series’ directorial chair and shot this and its successor back-to-back, tries to follow suit and fit in, aiming to please the series’ rabid fans, whom we’ve come to know as Twi-hards.

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And he delivers, inviting them as guests at the Bella-Edward nuptials and playing to their familiarity with the material with a surprising amount of unforced humor.

But once again, the film is let down by patently fake special effects, thus immediately undermining the overall illusion every single time that the wolves appear.  And especially when they speak, which they should never do.

If the level of CGI work isn’t improved by the time the next installment surfaces (one promising to contain more than its share of effects-heavy action sequences), the flight of this popular series could be in for one very bumpy landing.

Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who has scripted all four of the Twilight films, sets the table for the series’ conclusion with a narrative that moves slowly and sometimes seems dramatically undercranked.  To some degree, the level of urgency is diminished because of Breaking Dawn‘s place in the series’ progression.

That is, we know throughout that resolution will remain a long way off and that this is part of a connected and continuous double feature.

Still, the irresistibility of youthful passion remains the controlling metaphor of the series, as film number four takes its rightful place alongside its predecessors.

As for the three leads, they have certainly inhabited their roles long and often enough to make them feel lived in, even if they sometimes seem to be ever so slightly on automatic pilot. Playing it safe in this way in a blockbuster series aimed at adoring fans may ultimately be the wise approach, but it also diminishes the film’s capacity for surprise and stimulation. But not to anywhere near a fatal degree.

And give Condon and Rosenberg credit for finding exactly the right place to end Part 1 and trigger the anticipation campaign for Part 2.  This neat trick of releasing two halves of a story with the ending of the first part as a dynamic launching pad for the many-months-away second part is executed as slickly as it was in Kill Bill.

So we’ll bite into 3 stars out of 4 for the penultimate PG-13-rated installment in an understandably and deservedly popular fantasy series. Because The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 is so well handled and ends so effectively, this should be a very tough wait and a very long year for Twi-hards.


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