Craig's Movie Breakdown: The Host
on 2013-03-28 13:36
Prepare to do a 180, or maybe even a 360, on Stephanie Meyer’s writing skills, her novel “The Host” is a completely different animal than her “Twilight” books and just may have you doing a double take as you read it. This “human sci-fi” tale has all the love and sweetness one might expect from the author but it also offers a provocative look at what it means to be human. Anyone interested in the sci-fi classic “Gattaca” will have a bit of excitement as they look to see what writer-director Andrew Niccol can do with this material; both are very similar in that they’re about characters who have been made outcasts by science, and each looking for a place in the world. It will not hurt that the film stars Saoirse Ronan, a talented young actress who has been fantastic in everything from the adaptation of Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”, action drama “Hanna”, and the adaptation of Alice Sebold’s super-natural drama “The Lovely Bones.”
The earth has been taken over by peaceful aliens known as souls, glowing little octopus things that healers can place into the bodies of human hosts, which the souls can then “body-snatch” and occupy. You know a body is occupied by the light-blue glow in their eyes. Wanderer is one such occupier, taking the body of Melanie (Ronan), a young girl who tried to escape by suicide but is still very much alive. Even after the insertion Wanderer realizes that Melanie refuses to leave the body. When the Seeker (Diane Kruger) realizes that Wanderer can’t handle Melanie, she orders Wanderer be removed to a more willing body, which sends Melanie/Wanderer escaping to the caves of Melanie’s Uncle Jeb (William Hurt) where her boyfriend Jared (Max Irons, son of Jeremy Irons) and little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and quite a few remaining humans are holed-up.
Well, if anything this whole experience has changed my view on Stephanie Meyer some. “Twilight” is still a string of bad ideas but I believe it’s coming from an author who’s striving for something unique. Anyway, it would appear here that Hollywood is still trying to aim Meyer at the tween-set but this time I hope at least a few of them are offended at a movie that ignores provocative questions about humanity’s ills, body snatching for the sake of peace on earth, and the things that make up a family unit for the sake of some ADHD inspired-nothingness with a bit of bland hunky-romance thrown in.
Niccol’s main directorial concern just seems to be to keep the thing moving. It moves through the novel so quickly, yet feels slowly-paced and so condensed that nothing from the book is allowed to breathe. The characterizations remain vague, and those are the lucky ones, several characters die in this movie and my only thought when they did was “who are they?” Niccol can also do nothing with trying to translate the gradual bond that forms between Wanderer and her human captors, he is too prone to tell us about emotion rather than show us. Any vulnerability or danger we’re supposed to feel for Wanderer is absent here and apparently Niccol felt that any scene featuring human connection, in a story about human connection, should be removed.
Which brings us to this love story between Wanderer, Melanie, Jared and another cave dweller who falls for Wanderer named Ian (Jake Abel). Where the book makes strong use of Wanderer’s romantic awakening, Niccol just chooses to lay it on thick with passion and watching Ian try to talk with the schizophrenic-like Wanderer or Jared try to determine if Melanie is in there somewhere or not is without question one of the most laughably confusing romances since…well “Twilight.”
I could go on all day with problems with this movie. How this alien race is supposed to be peaceful but all we see are the violent ones mostly and how ridiculous these aliens look in their “Boyz 2 Men-video type outfits”, sleek-looking penis cars, and Apple-store like head quarters. Or the fact that Niccol even had to bother with a car chase, when the outcome of said car chase feels so inconsequential.
I’ll leave most of the actors alone. They’re given short-shrift by a screenplay that doesn’t care about them. But Ronan is on screen for most of it and she can do nothing with it. The kindness, selflessness, and vulnerability of the character are hidden behind a blank-eyed expression, at no point do we feel any sympathy or danger for Wanderer whatsoever and the least we can say about Ronan’s southern accent (for Melanie) the better. Irons and Abel at least look the part of underground cave dwellers but this movie does neither any favors; there were scenes where I couldn’t even tell which one was which, while Hurt could have used some more eccentricity.
But it's Niccol’s inability to slow down and savor the human moments that comes across as the biggest problem. It feels like he’s trying to just get through a really bad screenplay except he’s also the guy who chose to adapt the book in the first place. His film has no suspense, no feeling, no ideas, and barely even any characters. For a sci-fi film that’s more about humanity, there’s oddly none here.