On a commentary track included on “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1” Blu-ray (Summit Entertainment, $34; also on DVD, $30; in stores Saturday), director Bill Condon addresses the disproportionate hatred the series seems to inspire in critics. “This series is about things women care about and has a woman at the center,” he says. “So there are people who just stay outside of it and mock it.”
And boy, do they mock it. A quick scan of reviews on rottentomatoes.com offers the following tidbits: “Director Bill Condon, prostituting himself, flirts with teen porn.” “A freak show of bodily trauma, with a great gooey gob of pedophilia slapped on the end.” “A freakish hybrid: Part medical horror, part cheesy Victoria’s Catalogue shoot.” “It’s like ‘Roadhouse’ for women.”
There is a supplicant tone coursing through a lot of these reviews – “Please don’t go see this movie!” – and there is bafflement and frustration, too, over what “Twilight” fans could possibly love about these films. Condon’s informative commentary provides some answers. He talks a lot, for example, about the great pressure he felt to get Bella and Edward’s wedding just right, so as to not disappoint readers of Stephenie Meyer’s novels. Helicopters buzzed the set during the filming of that scene, paparazzi hoping to snap a photo of Bella’s wedding dress, which had been kept under tight wraps. When Condon points out the specific shots that show off the gown in detail, they will seem like a revelation to many viewers, especially men: The first time I watched the movie, I had absolutely no idea I was supposed to be paying attention to that dress.
This is typical of the great divide between audiences and critics regarding “Twilight” movies. Even though “Breaking Dawn” earned the most scathing reviews of all the films in the franchise, it still grossed more than $700 million worldwide (“Twilight”-mania cuts across cultural and language barriers). Those numbers indicate there is obviously something at work in “Twilight” that goes far beyond Team Jacob and Team Edward mania. And a lot of men just don’t get it or are unwilling to put any effort into understanding it, opting instead to wonder how is it biologically possible for a vampire to impregnate a woman (news flash: vampires aren’t real!) or take more potshots at the hidden messages Meyer snuck into her books, subtexts that simply aren’t present in the movies.
Tellingly, some of “Breaking Dawn’s” strongest supporters – the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Carrie Rickey, Movieline’s Stephanie Zacharek, the New York Daily News’ Elizabeth Weitzman – were women. I don’t mean to suggest that all female critics liked the movie (Dana Stevens’ excellent takedown of the film on Slate.com is a must-read). But the most eloquent defenses of “Breaking Dawn” were written by women, because the movie is an all-too-rare breed of international blockbuster: A big-budget extravaganza, replete with monsters and special effects (1,400 of them, according to Condon), told exclusively through a female gaze. Whatever you may think of the final product (I hated “New Moon” and “Eclipse”), these films deserve a more thoughtful reception than they are being given.
Condon’s commentary highlights aspects of “Breaking Dawn” you might not have noticed, such as the way he uses Carter Burwell’s score to emphasize the emotions of the characters instead of the action transpiring onscreen (the music during the bloody birth sequence is not the sort most movies would use during such a horrific moment). The director shares bits of meaningless but amusing trivia (Kristin Stewart could play dead without blinking her eyes or taking a breath for 90 seconds at a time), talks about how he sneaked certain things past the ratings board (I didn’t realize Bella’s back snaps in half as she’s going into labor until Condon pointed out the shot), explains why a scene that was highlighted in the trailers didn’t make the final cut and talks about the trims that were made to the sex scene in order to secure an R.
Those scenes are not included on the Blu-ray (although there is a feature-length documentary titled “Love, Death, Birth” about the making of the film, shot in HD, that will be catnip for fans). The deleted footage will no doubt make its way onto a longer “director’s cut” of “Breaking Dawn,” which Condon says will eventually be available. Just because the final chapter in the “Twilight” saga arrives in theaters this November doesn’t mean the series is going to vanish from popular culture.
Deal with it, haters.