The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011).

D: Bill Condon. DP: Guillermo Navarro. W: Melissa Rosenberg. Starring: Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson/Taylor Lautner/Ashley Greene/Nikki Reed/Kellan Lutz/Elizabeth Reaser/Peter Facinelli/Billy Burke/Jackson Rathbone/Sarah Clarke/Anna Kendrick/Booboo Stewart/Julia Jones/Maggie Grace/Chaske Spencer. (NOTE: Based on Stephanie Meyer’s young adult fiction book of the same name).

Once again, twi-hards from near and far gathered and camped out for this this year’s release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. This is the fourth film, but first part of the conclusion of the star-crossed romance of the human Bella and vampire Edward. And for those of you who have no idea what Twilight is about, I envy you for missing out on this one.

This latest installment jumps right into the wedding day for Kristen Stewart’s Bella and Robert Pattinson’s Edward. This wedding is symbolic as it not only will act as a catalyst to allow the couple’s relationship to evolve out of its chaste state, but represents Stewart’s Bella’s commitment to eventually becoming a vampire like Pattinson’s Edward. But let’s be honest, this symbolism is pretty overt. Almost as absurdly obvious is the shot of author Stephanie Meyer as Stewart walks down the aisle, look for it twi-maniacs. Regardless, unfortunately, the wedding scene (though a beautiful venue) falls rather flat. The chemistry between the other actors seems dishearteningly unapparent with the only memorable moment being when the camera sweeps around the room during the couples wedding ceremony kiss. Revealing that no one is there, and the kiss must make them feel like they are in a world of their own. That remains the only sparkle of true romance for awhile in the film.

Once the couple goes off on their honeymoon, director Bill Condon (2006’s Dreamgirls, 2004’s Kinsey, 1998’s Gods and Monsters) shows his true faults in attempting this project. Almost immediately, every scene is filled with soundtrack fodder. As if the story isn’t simple enough to follow, we now must have a song for every scene to gauge the characters emotions. So much so that by the time the much anticipated sex scene happens you’re over it and the rest of the montages are just laughable. There is also no hope for acting chops to be created for the leads, we’re too deep now. And it is glaringly clear in the first hour of the film that Condon did not know how to tackle such a piece of slow moving story with not much depth or levels besides romance. But can we fault him? Hold on, it gets worse.

Unfortunately for this industry and audience members who had not read the books, the actual twist in the film was revealed during the huge marketing campaign for Breaking Dawn – Part 1. Stewart’s pregnancy revelation on her honeymoon not only changes the course of the story, but of her character. However, with everyone and their grandmothers having known this was coming from the trailers (thus the element of visual surprise is gone) it completely falls flat. The second half of the film has a much different tone to it, but all sense of suspense is still lost. Kudos must be given to the make-up and special effects departments for destroying Stewart’s body so well on screen during the pregnancy. The birthing scenes are logically a mess, but they have their moments of glittering intensity and Pattinson is able to lose his shell for a few scenes. But the rest of the film is agonizingly slow, builds up to the silliest of battles (because the real battle has been saved for the next film) and even sports a power rangers type pow wow of the wolf-clan. Try not to laugh at that one, I dare you.

Without a doubt, this is the most disappointing film (so far) in the franchise. Not only was the audience laughing at it (myself included), but the film felt so disjointed and overdone that it seemed to be taking the mickey out of itself. A director like Bill Condon might have actually hurt the project. His ambition to stylize the film is admirable, but is lost amidst such a slow story. Stephanie Meyer’s final book should not have have been split into two as there is simply not enough substance to warrant it. I actually went home craving Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse. And that is saying something.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010).

D: David Slade. DP: Javier Aguirresarobe. W: Melissa Rosenberg. Starring: Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson/Taylor Lautner/Billy Burke/Peter Facinelli/Ashley Greene/Nikki Reed/Kellan Lutz/Jackson Rathbone/Elizabeth Reaser/Bryce Dallas Howard/Dakota Fanning. (NOTE: Based on Stephanie Meyer’s young adult fiction book of the same name).

The most anticipated release of summer 2010 is here! But whether you were able to camp out for the premiere here in LA or back home at your local theater, twi-hard fever has been dually felt and noted. But it was only back in November that audiences crowded the theaters to see The Twilight Saga: New Moon the sequel to 2008’s successful Twilight. Are you ready for another?

Eclipse picks up right where the last film left off with the most important trio of main actors returning to their roles. Wearing a somewhat obvious wig the whole time, Kristen Stewart manages to keep her Bella simple and eager to learn about the possibility of her new life. As in the last films, Stewart’s own shyness and awkwardness serve her well here. Her chemistry with Robert Pattinson’s Edward is palpable, surely aided a bit by their own off screen romance (or so one would think). With every film we see a better Pattinson acting wise, but his take on Edward may consistently disappoint. Although intense and statuesque, Pattinson still lacks the weight and movement of someone whose over a century old, something I noted in Twilight. Also, his lack of physicality or visual signs of strength has allowed Taylor Lautner’s Jacob to rule over him in the physical and protection of Bella department. An area that has been incredibly hyped up, a love triangle that is present yet not as central to the books as Bella’s type of feelings towards Jacob are more readily known. The story doesn’t hurt because of this emphasis, but sadly has made Lautner’s Jacob seem a little one note and his performance rather too all over the place despite his younger age.

And of course, thankfully, Eclipse is not all about this romance triangle. The best part of the book and now the film is the presence of back stories. Finally audiences, and Bella, get to hear more about where each Cullen has come from, an origin that has shaped their vampire life. This deepens the chemistry and mood of the group scenes and will definitely be a factor in the developing last two films of Breaking Dawn. Jackson Rathbone’s Jasper and Ashley Greene’s Alice are still winning as the young acting standouts of the franchise. Their portrayals feel researched and organic, something some of the cast is unable to tap into (maybe due to the vampire twist?). Billy Burke not included in this as his role as Bella’s father Charlie is still the best casting in the entire franchise. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t have the time to develop the wolf pack or really give audiences perspective into Jacob’s life, something maybe they are saving for the next film?

It must be noted that each film has sported a different director. But these last two used the same director of photography and, of course, used the same screenwriter throughout the series. Rosenberg must be applauded for being able to scrape off all the tangential extras that exist in Meyer’s novels. Similar to Harry Potter films in this way, this franchise has experienced a lot of creative change. However, although different, each film maintains a certain level of continuity and look that is admirable. Specifically both New Moon and Eclipse have embraced the darker, gritter elements of the story that provide excellent contrast to the intense romance of the Bella and Edward story.

On the same vein, it must be recognized that the ‘villain’ of this film is played by a different actress. In both Twilight and New Moon Rachelle Lefevre played the role of Victoria, a red-headed and hot headed vampire with a vendetta against Edward after her own vampire partner, James, was killed. Lefevre rounded out Victoria with a great sense of play, wicked enjoyment and power. Due to scheduling conflicts, as Eclipse was shot right after New Moon was wrapped, Lefevre was ceremoniously fired. A sadness for the franchise as Summit chose this route over working things out (which they obviously did for Anna Kedrick to appear in Up in the Air while also playing Jessica in both films). A sadness because Lefevre’s replacement, Bryce Dallas Howard, plays Victoria with a denseness and gives a one-dimensional performance to a character who is so enraged and grieved that her natural violence manifests itself in an army. Yet if the performance doesn’t anger you, maybe the amount of screen time will as Victoria is clearly in about half a dozen scenes, nothing that couldn’t be rescheduled.

Ultimately, the third book (and now film) will feel very transitional to most audiences. This part of the story exists to merely set up what is to come in the final installment of Breaking Dawn. This does not mean the story lacks moments of weight or interest, but overwhelming this book and film merely reiterates what occurred in New Moon and sets up the conflict of Breaking Dawn. And as the theaters fill up, money is spent, and most of the population basks in wonder and rolls their eyes at the phenomenon, just remember what you liked at that age. And be thankful that this series is all a bit chaste.