It fell a hair short of the franchise record, but The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1 had the fifth-best opening weekend in movie history with $139.5 million. Although Breaking Dawn scored positive notices from a few critics, including Slate’s Dana Stevens, it also earned the series’ lowest score on Rotten Tomatoes. But if ever there was a critic-proof series, this is it. The 44 percent drop off in box office revenues from Friday to Saturday suggests the extent to which the opening grosses were driven by hardcore fans for whom even 24 hours was too long a wait. There have been plenty of efforts to explain the franchise’s appeal—please, tell me more about these “Twilight moms”—but rather than theorizing from afar, I thought it would be more revealing to examine the films in situ, amid the fans who turned out for an eight-hour marathon of the first three films, leading up to the midnight premier of the fourth. What follows is a minute-by-minute record of the experience, interrupted only by bathroom breaks and a mild case of the sniffles. Beware: Spoilers abound.
4:06 p.m. In voiceover, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) intones, “Dying in the place of someone I love seems like a good way to go,” as a soft-focus deer leaps through the forest, an early sign of the series’ obsession with self-sacrifice and/or self-annihilation.
4:09 With Bella’s mom on the road with her ballplayer beau, Beau, Bella relocates from Phoenix to the tiny, rain-sodden town of Forks, Wash., to live with her police-chief dad, who’s made a few home improvements in preparation for her arrival. “I put up some shelves in the bathroom,” he says hopefully. “Right,” she sighs. “One bathroom.” A fleeting exchange, nicely expressive of the gulf between bachelor dad and teenage girl.
4:10. Enter Taylor Lautner as Quileute Indian and future werewolf Jacob. He and Bella were friends as children, but it’s been years since she’s spent any time in Forks.
4:13 As the self-involved dim bulb Jessica, Anna Kendrick injects a flash of humor and intelligence, doing a superfluous spin as she walks away from Bella in gym class.
4:14 Our first glimpse of the Cullen children, four preternaturally good-looking teenagers who, unbeknownst to all, are vampires. It takes place in the site of so many significant high-school events: the cafeteria.
4:15 Enter Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who’s like James Dean reincarnated as an albino stick figure. The movie does the swooning for us, the guitar in the score quickening as an angel chorus swells.
4:18 Bella and her dad meet for dinner at his usual spot. A close-up as he and Bella reach simultaneously for the ketchup, their colliding hands underlining their mutual discomfort. Another small but poignant moment.
4:22 After an awkward first meeting, Edward and Bella are reunited as biology lab partners, and the sparks quickly fly. Seldom has the word “anaphase” held more suppressed longing.
4:28 We meet Dr. Cullen (Peter Facinelli) the preposterously blond head of the Cullen clan. He looks like he should be doing rounds on a soap opera. Does any M.D. use this much styling product?
4:31 Edward watches over Bella as she sleeps. In the dark of the theater, someone mutters, “Creepy.”
4:36 Edward asks Bella, “What if I’m not the hero? What if I’m the bad guy?” Apparently a century-plus of life has still not clued him in to the timeless appeal of tortured bad boys.
4:39 Our intro to the local Quileute population, who in addition to being werewolves, apparently really dig Twizzlers.
4:49 Edward and Bella grab a meal, their first quasi-date. “I can read minds,” he says, scanning restaurant patrons as the camera pans over them. “Money. Sex. Money. Cat.” The last falls on a dreadlocked dude who sighs contentedly at the thought of his four-legged friend.
4:55 Adept in the ancient art of Google, Bella has sussed out Edward’s undead nature and confronts him with it amid the mossy trunks of ancient trees.
4:57 Edward steps into a patch of sun to show Bella why vampires avoid natural light—not because they’ll burst into flame, but because it makes their skin shine like diamonds. As goofy as this rewrite of established vampire mythology is, I’m impressed by the way the movie’s underpinnings seem to emanate directly from the libido of a 14-year-old girl. It’s not that vampires are undead monsters who can’t bear the purity of sunlight, but that they’re so special they can’t let anyone see.
5:00 “You’re like my own personal brand of heroin,” Edward tells Bella. “I don’t know if I can control myself.”
5:03 “I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him,” Bella says. Although Stewart’s muttering and mannerisms are definitely 21st century, there’s something preliberation, almost desperate, about the way she attaches herself to a being she, and we, barely know.
5:20 Bella’s mom asks her, “Are you being safe?” a nifty double-entendre that underlines the series’ reworking of normal teenage concerns. It ain’t Joss Whedon, but it’ll do.
5:21 Half-clothed on her bed, Edward and Bella nearly succumb to temptation, but he hurls backward, exclaiming, “I can’t ever lose control with you.” They love and desire each other, but they can’t give in to their fleshly appetites because it’s just too dangerous. A pro-abstinence masterstroke.
5:23 Perhaps I’ll change my mind after four movies’ worth of lip-biting, but so far I’m sticking with my contention that Stewart is a good actress, one whose unfiltered portrayal of teenage lust and discomfort feels almost distractingly real in Twilight’s low-camp context. That said, she’s much the same out of character. When I see her onstage or in interviews, it’s hard to suppress the desire to upbraid her like some finishing-school matron: “Don’t slouch! Stop fidgeting! And smile!”
5:25 The Cullen family unites to play their superhuman version of baseball, with the crack of their bats masked by an oncoming thunderstorm. Better than any other, the sequence exemplifies the movie’s overlap of supernatural fantasy and young-adult tropes: It’s like Degrassi Vampire High.
5:28 The trio of vampires who’ve been slow-mo stalking the Cullens throughout the film finally catch up with them. You can tell the males are evil because one has dreadlocks and the other a scraggly ponytail. They’re the kind of boys your mom warned you about. Redheaded Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) seems like less of a present threat, but she’ll surely be back.
5:40 Ponytailed vampire Cam Gigandet has kidnapped Bella’s mom and lures Bella to a dance studio in Phoenix, where as a child she learned to plié. He sinks his teeth into her arm, but Edward sucks out the vampire venom, preventing her from either dying or being changed. It’s Edward’s first taste of Bella.
5:50 Prom. Edward and Bella dance under a gazebo outside the school, with music wafting across the air. The camera pulls back to show Victoria watching over them, her lips curling into a smile as the credits roll. Stay tuned.