Tuesday 28 May 2013

The Host, reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek

Don’t expect another Twilight. In her hugely popular Twilight Saga, author Stephenie Meyer perfected a strategy that compelled people in droves to purchase her books (over 100 million copies sold worldwide) and then convince their partners to accompany them to the films. Meyer’s formula involves two young men vying for the heart of a female protagonist, while outside forces threaten that triangle.

The Host (directed by Andrew Niccol), the film inspired by Meyer’s first post-Twilight Saga novel, relies on a similar strategy. However, the characters, the threat and the action in The Host are diluted in comparison.

Aliens that resemble glowing bugs have rid the Earth of violence and hunger by commandeering human bodies (i.e. hosts). A few humans have managed to evade the invaders and go into hiding. Not a new concept. However, what is new is that this body invasion film makes little mystery about who’s human and who’s not. If the eyes glow, they’re aliens.

After she is implanted in a human body, the alien who calls herself Wanderer discovers that her host, Melanie, isn’t going to give up her mind without a fight. While Wanderer’s emotionless colleagues encourage her to use Melanie’s memories to help them track down other humans, Melanie pushes Wanderer to help humans. The film relies on voiceover to reveal what Melanie is saying to Wanderer. So Wanderer has to speak to show that she’s talking. Though inescapable, the technique loses much of the intimacy of the novel. Also, there’s something inherently silly about voiceover, which is partly why it works so well in a film like Warm Bodies, and is less effective for the purportedly serious The Host.

The majority of the film takes place in a cave in the southwestern U.S. Here Wanderer and Melanie carry out their struggles with a group of humans led by Melanie’s uncle Jeb, the “benign dictator” of the underground community. As Jeb, William Hurt affects a Patrick Swayzesque sense of sagely calm. This could be the first and last philosopher named Jeb.

It’s also in the mountain where the filmmakers fall short of the potential within Meyer’s formula. Melanie wants to convince boyfriend Jared that she is still somewhere in her body, while Wanderer falls for Ian, despite his initial attempt to strangle her. A complex dynamic. Here is the chance to really flesh out these young men, to make them passionate and driven like their Twilight predecessors. No such luck. Jared has none of the eccentricities that make Edward so compelling, and Ian is to Jacob Black as a gnat’s exhalation is to a tornado.

Additionally, the aliens’ means of locating Wanderer are a bit underwhelming. A race of aliens that has managed to conquer nine planets relies on desktop computers, sports cars, motorcycles and helicopters to locate their prey? Moreover, the silver vehicles, glass and steel buildings, exposed concrete walls in minimalist interiors, and white clothing give one the impression that these aliens base their society not on their planet-conquering ingenuity, but on Hollywood’s sci-fi clichés.

Perhaps the worst problem of The Host is the dialogue, some of which seems to have been culled from greeting cards. One of the most flagrant offences occurs in a flashback during which Melanie and Jared arrive at a carpe diem conclusion regarding the consummation of their relationship. The aliens are coming, Melanie points out, so we better get going! Only she does it in a sickeningly sentimental fashion.

The Seeker is the (female) leader of the alien pursuers. Compared to Arro, the enchantingly peculiar lead bad guy in Breaking Dawn, The Seeker is as memorable as a snowflake in a desert.

The Host isn’t great, but it doesn’t quite deserve the critical excoriation that it received. Though the concept of a human communicating with an alien occupying her body isn’t new in literature (read Frank and Brian Herbert’s 1986 A Man of Two Worlds), the idea has not been explored in film to a great extent. Perhaps there’s a reason for that. Or maybe the next attempt will learn from this film’s shortcomings.

Like Minority Report, though far inferior and probably much less prescient, The Host disperses several interesting ideas throughout the film to keep the viewer engaged. Take the inner-mountain wheat field that gets sunlight from mirrors embedded in the rock above it. Or the grocery store (pragmatically named “Store”) with brand-free goods that customers simply pluck from the shelves, then take without paying.

From an American perspective, perhaps the most appealing advance is the aliens’ healthcare system. No waiting. No paperwork. No insurance. Just a quick spray and you’re healed. One wishes that such a spray were available for The Host.—DOUGLAS J. OGUREK (www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com)

No comments:

Post a Comment