The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is on a course to make more than $140 million this weekend in the United States alone. Twilight has been a fantastically successful franchise of books and movies. And yet even as the first three movies made hundreds of millions of dollars, I puzzled over how Stephenie Meyer’s fourth book, Breaking Dawn, could ever be translated into a movie. Forget Renesmee, the quickly aging half-vampire baby of Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart), who is a central character, charming everyone she meets. And put aside that Jacob (Taylor Lautner) essentially falls in love with Renesmee by “imprinting” on her when she is a newborn – which was just too awful to contemplate seeing with my eyes.
What I thought would be the biggest challenge was the book’s utter anticlimax of an ending, when the good vampires and their wolf friends line up to confront and possibly war with the mean vampires, the Volturi. As my friend Denise Martin once described it in “10 Reasons Breaking Dawn Should Not Be Made Into a Movie,” “Did I say war? I meant peaceful gathering in the forest.”
Yes, nothing happens in the climactic scene of the books. The characters all talk, and then everyone goes home, and that’s the end. Bye, Volturi, nice to see you! Moviegoers would riot. As a reader, I nearly rioted on my couch.
So how would Melissa Rosenberg, the screenwriter who has written all five movies, and director Bill Condon deal with this particular and disastrous problem? And would Meyer, who retains control over Twilight and has to approve any deviations, allow them to fix it? Here is where the spoilers begin. Stop reading if you care!
Here’s how the scene unfolds. As in the book, Alice Cullen (Ashley Greene), who is psychic, approaches Aro (Michael Sheen), who can read minds. But instead of Alice's effort being the path to peace, as it is in the book, a huge battle ensues, with many of the main characters dying (Carlisle, Jasper, Leah, Seth, and all of the evil Volturi). Set on fire, beheaded, and worse! It is a fantastic, violent, visually stunning, fun sequence – and truly shocking to anyone who has read the book.
That it then suddenly ends and we see that none of those deaths actually happened, and Alice was merely showing Aro what would occur if he messes with them, elicited loud laughter – some positive, some negative, I imagine – in the screening I saw. Personally, I loved it.
I spoke with Rosenberg on Friday about how she approached Breaking Dawn.
KA: Breaking Dawn was published in August 2008. You had already written the first Twilight movie, which came out a few months later. When you read it, you thought… what?
MR: I thought many things. I was compelled. I could see that there was definitely one, if not two movies in it. I could see that the second half was actually going to be the easier of the two because there’s a very strong action engine pushing all the way through. I was worried about the first half. I really didn’t know how I was going to approach that. I actually didn’t jump on board immediately because I wasn’t sure I could do it.
MR: Creatively, politically.
KA: Oh yeah! Oh yeah. Let’s talk about that for one second – that was nearly a deal-breaker for you, the anti-abortion theme in the book?
MR: Absolutely. It absolutely would have been a deal-breaker if I couldn’t figure out how to do it in a way that didn’t violate my belief’s and Stephenie’s. That was a dilemma. The story of the first part of the book – it was the pregnancy. I was, like, how am I going to do this? If I’m going to adapt the book, I have to tell that story. I wanted to do it, I wanted to stay with the franchise. I spoke to my sister-in-law, a former ACLU feminist lawyer: she also found these books. She gave me the way in. In my life, I’ve made the choice not to have children, but she has two. She said that what often gets lost in the abortion debate is that having a child is a choice. And I was, like, wow, oh, hold on a second: it became that Bella is choosing to have this child. When I could see it from that point of view, I realized I could do this.
KA: The whole Bella character is very different in the books. I could talk to you at length about that, but I will summarize by saying I hate her in the books and like her in your movies.
MR: That’s a very conscious choice on our part.
KA: I cracked open my copy of Breaking Dawn this morning and counted the number of pages of the showdown scene: 68! And nothing happens. Nothing! They just talk. In a field. When you were reading the book the first time, how did you feel about that as the big finale?
MR: Before I signed on, and before Stephenie had even given the rights to Summit to do the fourth book – she was debating whether she wanted to give them the rights, because she knew you couldn’t do that ending. She knew that it wasn’t cinematic. But she was afraid it would turn into something that wasn’t the book. That it would have to be so altered in order to be cinematic that she wouldn’t want to do it.
We were up here in Vancouver having a steak dinner, just socially, it wasn’t a work dinner. And we started talking about it, and neither one of us can remember whose idea it was to do this for the ending? It may have been her, she may have said, I have a terrible idea. Not so terrible! I started getting really excited about it. It was at that moment we realized that was the solution to it.
KA: The “terrible” idea being it’s all a vision of Alice’s?
MR: Yes, exactly. Alice shows Aro what will happen if he makes the choice he’s about to make, which is to reject her proposal. That’s actually very much in the book, you just don’t see it because it’s not Bella’s point of view, and the books are written from Bella’s point of view. From Bella’s point of view, all she sees is Alice hold Aro’s hand. But because it’s a film we can go inside that experience.
KA: In an interview with Vulture, Bill Condon said you sold Stephenie Meyer on the idea. Not correct?
MR: It happened before Bill came on, so I may not have actually told him about that moment. I love that he’s giving it to me, but it actually was a shared moment between Stephenie and I. I sat down and wrote it out, but we both came up with it together.
KA: Tell me about your relationship with her. You sound like you're friends.
MR: We are! Which is funny, because we’re political opposites – she’s a Mormon housewife, and I’m a hippie from Northern California. The very first movie, I was worried. Because I thought she was going to somehow subsume my creative process and just take over, and be limiting me in every corner. And I’m sure she was concerned I would butcher her child.
KA: I saw a press screening, but there were also radio contest winners there, meaning big fans. The entire theater was screaming and laughing with each death. What’s your ideal reaction to the battle?
MR: That’s pretty much it. When we went to the premiere on Monday, everyone in the theater, from the first death on, was shocked and horrified. It goes on this kind of violent ride, and then the truth is revealed. And the screams were bigger than ever. I think Bill did such a tremendous job with the shooting and editing of that whole sequence. Damn, the pace is just unbelievable.
KA: I confess I was totally surprised by the whole thing. But if you’d killed, like, Edward, I would have figured it out. How did you decide who to kill?
MR: My approach to it was the very first person who’s killed in the vision has to be someone who incites the war. Who is the most impactful to die? And that was Carlisle. The minute he’s dead, the minute he’s set on fire, the entire band launches into it. I tried to kill a bunch of people. There are a couple of choices: who’s going to die, how are they going to die, and who’s going to kill the bad guys. I had a much longer sequence initially. Everyone was dying. It just became unwieldy and slowed the pace down. I know I sat there first and just killed people.
KA: That you did!
Note: This conversation has been compressed.