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(L-R) JUDITH SHEKONI, TRACEY HEGGINS, KRISTEN STEWART, ROBERT PATTINSON, CHRISTIAN CAMARGO, PETER FACINELLI and CASEY LaBOW star in THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN-PART 2.Ph: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP© 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC.  All rights reserved. (L-R) JUDITH SHEKONI, TRACEY HEGGINS, KRISTEN STEWART, ROBERT PATTINSON, CHRISTIAN CAMARGO, PETER FACINELLI and CASEY LaBOW star in THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN-PART 2. Ph: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

spoiler alert

The Story Behind Breaking Dawn’s Twist Ending

The final Twilight film, Breaking Dawn - Part 2, came out last night at midnight, and it's so chock-full of big, outrageous moments — a bloodthirsty Kristen Stewart attacking a mountain lion in mid-air, for example — that it will have fans buzzing about it well beyond a huge box office debut. But the biggest, boldest moment in the movie? The one that's guaranteed to be the most-debated, most-discussed moment of the entire franchise? Well, that one requires a Spoiler Alert to talk about … and we met with director Bill Condon for the inside scoop on how it came together.

The most ardent Twilight fans have known for a while now that Condon took some liberties with the third act of the film, since the trailers are selling a giant battle sequence that pits the evil Volturi (principally repped by Michael Sheen's Aro and Dakota Fanning's Jane) against all of our good guys. Stephenie Meyer's final Twilight book, though, has a climax that isn't nearly so action-packed: When the Volturi arrive in Forks, determined to murder Edward and Bella's new daughter Renesmee, Meyer sets up the beginning of a big confrontation … and then everyone talks it out, the Volturi learn that Renesmee is a harmless human-vamp hybrid instead of the outlawed, 100 percent vampire child they feared she was, and everyone basically goes home.

Up until Breaking Dawn - Part 2, the Twilight films have been as faithful to Meyer's books as Edward is to Bella, so this ending presented a problem: Was there any way that a mild, talky finale would play as anything but an anticlimax after four movies that had been building to this important moment? And so, a gigantic battle sequence was conceived — "To me, it's like an eight minute musical number," said Condon — but even that doesn't reveal the whole twist.

Because that new battle? It starts with a shocker: After clairvoyant Alice (Ashley Greene) unsuccessfully tries to persuade the baddies to stand down by taking Aro's hand and pleading her case for peace, Aro and Peter Facinelli's Carlisle leap at each other in mid-air (this movie has more mid-air clashes than the cut scenes of Ninja Gaiden), and when Aro lands, he's got a smile on his face and Facinelli's decapitated head in his arms. It's the ultimate lean-forward moment for Twilight fans: They just killed Carlisle! And even more good guys perish in the literally head-twisting melee that follows, including teen wolf Seth (who falls to the blunt psychic force administered by Fanning's Jane) and Jackson Rathbone's Jasper. Finally, after the remaining good guys manage to rally and defeat nearly all the remaining villains, Bella herself gets the upper hand on Aro, coming after his decapitated head with a flaming torch …

… and that's when the action suddenly zips back to that moment where Alice took Aro's hand. You see, that whole battle sequence ending in Aro's death? It was all a visceral vision of the future that clever clairvoyant Alice passed to Aro in that moment: Proceed with your plans, and it will mean certain death. Shaken, the evil vampire retreats, and the good guys win, free of casualties. It's the ultimate have-your-blockbuster-cake-and-eat-it-too moment, since fans get a gigantic third act battle scene that never really even happened.

"The reason why I think it works is that it’s within the universe of what Stephenie created, and it could as well have been the way it went down in that book, you know?" explained Condon. "You understand why she wouldn’t have spent all that time writing a battle, but again, it honors the ultimate outcome." But was the filmmaker nervous about engineering that rug-pull of a twist? "All the time. All the time. It was always a risk … the worst thing would be if people felt pissed off, like that season of Dallas where it was all a dream."

Still, even if fans debate the ending for years to come, it's clear that Condon is fully on Team Twist. Bring up the biggest kills in the sequence, and the filmmaker (whose affinity for horror was indicated back in 1995, when he helmed Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh) starts giggling, a mischievous glint in his eye. "When I got involved, it was just a sentence, 'There’s a battle.' But then it was fun to actually come up with it. That was, I would say, the biggest thing I worked on for two years." And the most fun part? "Deciding who to kill!"

"It was the ones that would have the most impact," said Condon, grinning. "Obviously, all the bad guys get wiped out and that’s satisfying, but as for the good guys, I think the first one I wanted to kill was Seth. The idea of using that pain on an animal, I think that’s more powerful because we’ve seen Jane do that to other creatures before, other vampires and humans. And then the ones you don’t expect like Carlisle and Jasper, you know, those were the ones that would have the biggest 'oomph' and surprise."

Condon credits screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg with selling Meyer on the twist — "She was totally behind it" — and says that so far, Twilight fans seem to be loving the fake out. He would know: Condon revealed to Vulture that before each movie comes out, Summit calls upon a carefully selected test audience of 75 Twilight super-fans to watch the film in its roughest form, a method that bypasses the traditional test screening audience while also ensuring that the series can get the sort of nips and tweaks that will satisfy faithful Twi-hards. Condon laughs as he remembers the huge outcry from the faithful when Facinelli's unkillable Carlisle met his maker.

"And then when they realized that it was just Alice’s vision, there was a gasp, then there was this laughter of relief, and then there was applause," says Condon, giggling again. "And I was like, 'Whew, we’re going to get away with it!'"

Photo: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP/Summit Entertainment