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The Beautiful and Darned

by Ann Morrow on November 22, 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
Directed by Bill Condon

Vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) no longer has skin that sparkles in the sun—now that he’s out of high school, apparently, he’s just paler than the average man of leisure. In a movie franchise that’s all about metaphor, that’s appropriate, because The Twilight Saga has lost its sparkle, too. Breaking Dawn Part 1 (part four in terms of the actual number of movies) is more soap opera than tuned-in teenager analogy, replacing the novels’ symbolic conflicts with melodrama that is more reminiscent of a 1950s weepy than a modern horror-turned-love story.

Even though Bella (Kristen Stewart) is having nightmares about bloodshed, now that her life-changing (or life-ending?) decision has been made—she and Edward exchange vows in the film’s climactic wedding sequence, which occurs at the opening—the danger of getting intimate with a bloodsucker has been handily avoided in a way that guts the whole story of any sense of risk-taking or immortal peril. Yes, the lovelorn Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is still hanging about, threatening Edward and fighting to hold his family of vampire-hunting werewolves at bay, but Bella’s unexpected marital peril really changes the game. Not only is Edward an ethical vampire, he’s also less dead than any undead has a right to be, and his demon seed impregnates Bella. And so the plot centers on who or what is gestating in Bella’s belly (ultrasounds apparently cannot penetrate a vampiric placenta). It’s even sillier onscreen than it sounds, and Bella is even more enervated than she was in the previous films. If it wasn’t for glammy Alice Cullen (Ashley Greene), wedding planner par excellence (the woodland ceremony really is pretty), Bella might not have had the stamina to walk down the aisle.

What’s most disappointing in this adaptation of the first half of the last book is the directing by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters), which is indistinguishable from the last two installments. It could’ve been expected that he would find a cinematic parallel to Stephanie Meyer’s writings on a par with Catherine Hardwicke’s direction in the first Twilight, but he doesn’t: The sudsy angst over Bella’s difficult pregnancy grinds on until the concluding crisis, with all concerned, vampire or werewolf, admirably restraining any indication that their nattering dialogue doesn’t even qualify as camp. But at least the werewolves are more believable than they were in New Moon, thanks to cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth). And so the tide has turned: The werewolves, with their tribal intrigues and truer-to-form shape-shifting, are more dramatic than the vampires, and are the only reason to look forward to Breaking Dawn Part 2. Because really, is anyone breathless with anticipation to see vampires changing diapers?