Saturday, 19 November 2011

Twiathlon - From Twilight to Breaking Dawn Part 1 - My Thoughts

On Thursday night I took part in the first ever Twiathlon. A series of screenings, running worldwide in the lead up to the release of the penultimate film in the Twilight Saga - Breaking Dawn Part 1- the preceding 3 films were screened back to back before we got to see the new movie at midnight.

Writing as someone who enjoyed the first three books - utterly hating Breaking Dawn for reasons I will get into later - and having a some what mild opinion of the films to date, I decided that the best way to see the new movie was to do it with real fans, the kind of people who would sit for 10 hours straight and watch the quadrilogy unfold.

I did this for two reasons: firstly, that I wanted to see exactly how the “Twi-hard” fan base would react to the films, rather than simply how I myself reacted to them, and secondly because if I was going to sit through Breaking Dawn, knowing what I knew of the story, I wanted to at least have some enjoyment first, and the first few films are nothing if not harmless fun.

So, at 4:30, I sat down in a packed cinema, fangirls (and maybe like 4 or 5 other guys dotted around) surrounding me, and the lights dimmed for the first film.

My impressions, as they have always been, were that the first is by far the weakest Twilight film to date. Kristin Stewart just feels wooden and soul-less, and Robert Pattinson is a shadow of the actor he can be when he performs at his best - if you compare this performance to say Remember Me, or even to a lesser extent the third Twilight: Eclipse, this performance leaves an awful lot to be required, and its because of this that the film just doesn’t really work for me.

For the fans though, this was clearly a return to a world where they feel at home. From the cheers and woops as Edward first appears to the loving sighs which accompany Jacob’s first appearances, this first film definitely felt like it got the most reaction from the fans throughout the evening, and it’s clear that for people invested heavily in this narrative, this is the true cornerstone of the text.

In the break which followed Twilight before New Moon got underway, I caught the tail end of a conversation taking place behind me, between one of the fans and her boyfriend, explaining the scene in Breaking Dawn in which Edward (and it pains me to say this, as its just revolting) eats the baby out of Bella’s womb.

The guy straight up refused to believe that such a thing could happen in what is of course a 12A film, and said she should stop making stuff up. Of course as it turns out: she wasn’t. But again: more on that later.

As far as New Moon goes, I had in fact forgotten quite how much I like the film. After the rather awful R-Patz showing in the first film, he was blissfully missing from much of this second outing, and the relationship which grows between Jacob (who is the far more interesting of the two lead male characters), and Bella is heartwarming and well judged - even if we know it can never last.
Again, maybe it was simply that I was with an audience who were rapt throughout, but it just felt impossible not to get swept up in the atmosphere, and get drawn into the story in a way which I can say I’ve never experienced watching a Twilight movie before.

It is also the film which first introduces us to the Volturi, and to Jane, the slightly psychotic and entirely sadistic vampire who can bring pain to anyone just by thinking it. While they are sorely underused later in the series, the sequences towards the end of New Moon in Voltera are some of the very best the series has to offer to date.

Next up it was the turn of Eclipse. Both my favourite book and favourite movie (indeed the only one I saw more than once in the cinema), in the franchise, we finally see the love triangle between Jacob, Bella and Edward come to a head.

Intertwined around this is a well written, and frankly very dark given the nature of the story subplot about an army of new born vampires, some scenes from which genuinely look like they have come right out of a real horror film, rather than a teen-lit love story.

David Slade - who has dealt with vampires before on 30 Days of Night - has found a great mix of the two stories to bring out what is actually a very good movie indeed, and one which seems almost out of place in the franchise as a whole: it is simply in a league of its own in comparison to the two movies which have come before it.

Finally, as the clock struck 12, and to tremendous cheers and applause, the lights dim a final time and the reason we’re all here finally makes it’s way onto the screen, as Breaking Dawn Part 1 gets underway.

Now, it is important before I talk in detail about the film to explain my prejudices against the movie based on my reading of the novel.

This is a book which includes, in no particular order: violent sex; paedophilia - as well as the character assassination of one of the best characters in the series - ; a baby being EATEN out of it’s mother’s womb after the baby breaks its mother legs and back and nearly kills her; a pregnant 18year old girl having to drink blood so as not to waste away and die ; among countless other abhorrent, and frankly disgusting things.

These are things which, in my mind, do not belong in a book aimed at young teenage girls. This is a book which features things which would not feel out of place in an 18 rated horror film, and things which are in no way suitable for the younger audience at which Stephenie Meyer aimed her novel.

So the question is: with all of these ingredients involved: how can a film get through with only a 12A rating, and even if it could: can the film possibly be any better than the frankly horrific book?

In a word: Yes. Yes it can be better than the book The style and the way it deals with a lot of these frankly impossible and even ridiculous instances is at times flawed, but Breaking Dawn Part 1 is, as an adaptation of THAT BOOK, turning that book into a film suitable for 12 year olds, is far from terrible.

Kristin Stewart stands at the heart of the piece this time around, really taking control of the screen, and in every scene she’s in - from the wedding, to a heartbreaking sequence where, as she wastes away into nothingness, she looks at herself in a mirror, realising how much weight she is losing, and yet remains resolved to carry the baby to term - you cannot help but feel like she is in the driving seat.

Up until this point in the franchise she has always felt like the weak link, held up by Lautner and Pattinson, but here she actually holds her own impressively.

There have been a lot of really terrible reviews of this first film, and to a large extent I’d say they are pretty unfounded. It is probably actually the best of the films to date - except possibly for Eclipse - and while certainly in it’s second half procedings do enter the borderline insane territory, it should be remembered that what we’re watching is a Vampire film, and by definition therefore a horror film.

The horror elements shining through seem to fit so much better here than they ever did in the book, where the series was squarely a romance until this final chapter: the films have dealt with the horror roots much earlier, and have built more naturaly to a point where some of these sequences fit. It feels as though the films found the balance that the book could not, by bringing these subtle horror vibes throughout, while not sacrificing Bella and Edwards love story.

Indeed when Edward finally eats the baby out of Bella’s womb as she seemingly flatlines on the table, it is actually stylistically very well handled, showing you just enough to know what you’re seeing, but not too much as for it to be as graphic or as blatant as it felt reading the book.

That is not to say it is a perfect film. Jacob imprinting on Renesmee still standing out for me as the one sequence in the whole series which really is beyond disgusting and was handled with as little dignity here as it was in the original text (although I’m sure we’ll see more as that subplot evolves in Part Two.)

Jacob has - as I have alluded to - always been one of my favourite characters in the series - and the idea that Meyer could find no better way to finally close of the love triangle once and for all than to fob Jacob off ON BELLA’S DAUGHTER is painful to watch, as the creepy paedophilic undertones of it all just wash over you as you view it. Infact I am getting the shudders just thinking about it.... *ugh*

All in all though, Breaking Dawn Part One is, as far as an adaptation of what I would have deemed to be an unfilmable novel goes, surprisingly entertaining. It combined all the elements of the series into the just the right melting pot, and while there are certain elements I still wish they could change, the film is nothing like the train wreck it could so easily have been.