Friday, November 18, 2011

Breaking Dawn, Part I: Twilight Saga (2011)

Well, the drawing point for this installment in the famous Twilight Saga series was the marriage and honeymoon of Bella and Edward. Those scenes didn't disappoint. They were visually beautiful and the emotion was truly touching.

Overall, I have no real complaints about the film, except that if I hadn't read the books and lived thousands of pages with these characters, I don't think these movies would actually make me feel anything. No action movie lover would gravitate towards these films. The fights, especially one confrontation that involves talking CGI wolves, are downright laughable. The only reason to watch is for the relationships and the screenplay only gives you a sketchy outline of those, compared to what you get in four volumes of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Pattinson, Lautner and Stewart are not the actors to bring unspoken subtext to their portrayals either.

You've heard of scratching the surface, but the crippling guilt that Edward feels at having impregnated Bella (perhaps fatally) is barely a smudge in the movie, much less a sccratch. Edward has an angry scene with Bella, where he blames her for choosing not to end the pregnancy and leaving him, but his abject sorrow and self-blame is not apparent. His fear of hurting her during the honeymoon is not obvious either. Yes, there is dialogue when he sees her bruises, apologizes and decides not to risk hurting her by sleeping with her again, but it's just words and movement, not real PAIN. That's what the movie lacks: angst, fear, hurt. The books are far from classics, but they do give you enough substance to let your imagination create real pathos throughout the stories. By contrast, the movies leave your imagination hungry for more emotional depth.

Still, there's a nice moment in the sex scene where Bella says to Edward only, "it's okay," which explains a lot about how his unspoken fear is tempered by the firmness and assurance in her voice. On rare occasions, a few frames can convey what it could take a book pages to describe.

On the other hand, sometimes the froth and brevity in the movies make it easier to tolerate some of the books more annoying plots. Lautner's Jacob is somewhat less annoying that Meyer's. One still wishes that Bella didn't have a secondary romance going on with the wolf, rather undercuts the main love story. Although the book references Wuthering Heights, it doesn't realize that the reason Heathcliff and Catherine's doom cut through our hearts, is because Heathcliff was Catherine's only love. Cathy never told Heathcliff, "I love Edgar, but I love you more." Romeo and Juliet belonged only to each other. Juliet didn't think that both Paris and Romeo were her soulmates. I would have preferred an exclusive duo like that rather than the threesome Meyer's gave us.

If the movies do anything worthwhile, it's to mitigate a bit of the Edward/Jacob/Bella triangle. When Bella fingers the bracelet Jacob gave her on the eve of her wedding, it's easier to pretend that her feelings for the wolf are strictly platonic in the theater, while the book, unfortunately, insisted that they weren't. On the other hand, the movie does make us suffer through her post-wedding dance with Jacob, while his mouth rests on her bare shoulder and he openly agonizes about Bella and Edward consummating their marriage and Bella hurts for him. Wonder how it feels for the groom to witness this (in Jacob's mind, if not with his own eyes). Honestly, Edward usually seems like an also-ran in Bella's heart and mind.

Life in America was certainly violent 100 years ago. In Eclipse we learned that when Carlisle turned her into a vampire to save her life, it was because she'd been gang raped by her fiance (an upstanding banker) and his cronies and left for dead. This go round, Edward recalls how decades ago, before he'd sworn off blood, he'd drunk from an assailant who was about to attack a woman in a movie theater. While Rosalie's flashback was in the book, Edward's wasn't. Obviously, there's always been crime but I don't think it was as blatant at the turn of the century as this story would have you believe.

It's not hard to believe that Rosalie would be raped by her fiance. Knowing that "unchaste" women would be social outcasts, men raped them to ruin them in the eyes of society and make sure no one else would want them. It was a means of both physical and cultural domination. But would the fiance actually gather his colleagues (other respectable businessmen) to join in the rape? Women could be ruined via rape, but back then, honor was a two way street. Poor women were helpless and expendable, but because Rosalie came from a wealthy family herself, she would be avenged. If caught, the men who attacked her would have been put to death by their very own neighbors, if not by the authorities. So, I don't think you'd really get five honorable citizens waylaying a debutante, especially not on the good side of town. But back to the present day . . .

Much has been made about the movie's birth scene. Compared to what you can see on tv these days, they aren't too graphic. It is a little irritating that Edward has to leave Bella dying on the operating table to go fight with wolves. That never happened in the books. Besides, the film ignores the fact that vampire venom kills wolves, so one hairy bite and any real fight between the two would be over very quickly. But the director's propensity to inject violence where it never existed in the novels, portends poorly for Breaking Dawn II. I think Stephenie was sending a message when she plotted a non-violent finale. Movie producers will never be content to sound such a peaceful bell.

As for Jacob and Renesmee, It was interesting that Jacob and Leah said that (wolf)people who have imprinted on their soulmate have only been deceived by their genes into thinking that they are happy. The books did leave me feeling that if you are chemically drawn to someone and feel like you "never had a choice" but to be with them, it's someone less romantic than love born of free will. Although, it won't mean anything in the plot, I was surprised that the movie dialogue touched upon this perspective.

When the baby is born and Edward holds her, the CGI effects that create her wide eyes are genuinely impressive. She truly is an entrancing infant, without looking alien or artificial. Indeed, her eyes look more realistic than the adult vampires' do. When Jacob imprints on her, a voiceover tells us that he will be everything she needs, friend, brother, protector. He doesn't mention that wolves usually hook up with the people they imprint on, making his infatuation with the child somewhat less creepy.

The movie ends right after the converted Bella opens her eyes. I was hoping the conclusion would involve a more meaningful moment. Those last seconds, when Bella's eyes flash open with preternatural speed -- cut to black -- were more fitted to a sci fi flick (even an It's Alive horror story) than a love story. But that's why it's called "Part 1" after all. The first installment was satisfying enough to leave me looking forward to (if not exactly bloodthirsty) for the second.