I really wanted to like the screen adaptation of The Host – a book I devoured when it first arrived, reading back to back three times before I was able to put down. You loyal readers know this about me – I’ve written about my passion for the story and excitement for the movie more than a few times. So really, it should come as no surprise that I did indeed see it this weekend (four years in the waiting, I could not wait another day!) and while I didn’t love it, I didn’t exactly hate it either.
I think when you love a book so much it’s impossible to hate the movie, really. While on one hand the movie almost always seems to fail to live up to expectations because nothing can possibly top the images and feelings the writers’ words stirred in the readers’ heart and mind. On the other, seeing the story and characters you loved come to life a thrill, even if the acting is horrible. As in the case of Twilight – I devoured those books too, and it was fun seeing that story come to life, even though the acting was ghastly. Net net – while I love seeing my favorite reads come to the screen, it usually takes a truly amazing movie to really bring it to life, at least for me.
I don’t want to dissect the movie; it feels a bit like talking behind friends back. But, in the spirit of a movie review, I will highlight a few areas that I feel compelled to discuss.
1. Talented Saoirse a miss among the lovely Diane Kruger, eye candy & William Hurt
Since news first hit that Andrew Niccol had plans to adapt the book for the screen, I, along with other fans, eagerly awaited word on who would be cast in the main roles of Wanderer, Jared, and Ian, and of course, how they would portray the thoughts of Melanie, the body Wanderer inhabited. If you aren’t familiar with the story, let me quickly break it down for you: Earth has been taken over by an alien race called Souls. A peaceful group, they have invaded the bodies of humans, turning our society (one they see as violent and full of pain) into one of peace, kindness and honesty. Because the story’s narrator is a Soul called Wanderer who has been placed in a human (what they call Hosts), a girl named Melanie who refuses to fade away, it creates a main character that is two voices, two distinct characters, in one body.
While there is no doubt Saoirse Ronan is fantastic young actress, more than capable of pulling off the role of Wanderer/Melanie (see her in Hannah? Wow, crazy!), in this role for me, it wasn’t a fit. Melanie is supposed to be tall, athletic, with olive skin and dark hair. Additionally, she is supposed to be from Arizona not Louisiana – a component, that besides one shot that takes place overlooking a Bayou, seemed to be irrelevant.
While Wander’s nature is not one of violence or physicality, when Melanie commands her own body, we see the athleticism in her. Also, Melanie’s understanding of the desert Wanderer finds herself lost in is actually pretty important in the book, which is why being from Louisiana makes no sense at all. Her knowledge of the deserts in the Southwest helps Wanderer live when she finds herself wandering (no pun intended) for days on end, without water and in excruciating temperatures, in search for Melanie’s love and family. It is Melanie’s smart thinking telling Wanderer what she should do to survive that saves Wanderer from death.
Think about that for a moment: an alien is invading your body and every hour that passes, falling deeper in love with the man you love, and wanting your family to be theirs; your precious memories visible to them, at the same time, also becoming theirs. Wouldn’t you just let it die out there in the desert, even if it came at your death too? I know I might, especially if the alien’s life could lead others like them to your loved ones’ door. So, deciding to help the alien which has taken over her body is a key moment in the book, and the chapters around Melanie and Wanderer in the desert critical, as they lay the foundation for a friendship between the alien and the soul of the Host she has invaded, Melanie. This in itself is pretty powerful and incredible.
Also,the voice over of Ronan (how Niccol gave Melanie a voice – in the book we read her thoughts, in the movie we hear them) was more Valley Girl than tough girl who would do anything to get her man back. Not to mention, the voice over were small quips, which there are in the book, yes. At the same time, there are some pretty deep conversations between Melanie and Wanderer that bring the reader through the evolution of their relationship, and I felt this was marginalized in the movie. There was no sense that Wanderer loved Melanie, willing to die so she could have her body back, nor any sense Melanie loved Wanderer, willing to let go of her body so Wanderer could remain and be of better help to those she loved.
So, in the end, the casting of Saoirse, despite her talent, was a miss. What do I think Melanie should have looked like? Well, I and other fans think it should have been:
Diane Kruger, however, was an incredible Seeker – a Soul whose main job is to find any remaining humans. While in the book the Seeker is described as being tiny, with short dark hair, Diane Kruger was the perfect actress for this role. So while my mind always pictured The Seeker to look like this
she turned out to be
and it wasn’t so bad.
Also, I loved Max Irons (yes, Jeremy Irons’ son) as Jared and Jake Abel (I am Number Four, Percy Jackson) as Ian. It didn’t exactly suck to look at them for two hours. I do think their screen time was wasted on gratuitous shots of their very pretty faces, instead of exploring the emotional connection between the two characters and Melanie/Wanderer. That could have upped the ante on the movie and really hit at the story’s core story line.
Lastly, William Hurt as Uncle Jeb was exactly as I pictured and a perfect cast.
2. The fabulousness of “lab technician couture” in a dystopian future
Gattaca and In Time are among some of my more favorite dystopian themed movies, the look and feel of those films fitting into what Variety calls (in their review of The Host) “lab technician couture.”
I’ll admit, when reading The Host, I never thought about the clothing style of the new Soul inhabited earth. Meyer had described them as always in black, so my imagination pretty much just thought of well, black. But costume designer Erin Benach did an outstanding job using Theory, Zara and custom white suits to bring the style of the Souls in charge (like The Seeker and her colleagues) to life. Styles on the alien occupied Hosts included vintage bridging modern look (think of Don Draper heading to Hawaii on vacation) on the men, and cropped pants and sweaters on the women. Silver Lotus sports cars and motorbikes completed the look of the Soul run future Earth, while natural, earth tones that blended into the Arizona desert, helped to give the humans the feel of a group at war and in hiding.
3. Exploration of what it means to be human and the indomitable power of love
One of the biggest reasons I thought a film adaptation of The Host may be hard, is the complexity of emotions and psychological journey in the main characters; subtle nuances in how they think and act that frankly, would be hard to translate to film. It’s one of the main reasons why I loved the book so much – the journey Wanderer and Melanie go on together and the journey I went on with them, loathing Wanderer at first for taking over Melanie’s life, falling in love with her beau and family, only to in the end, come to love her Host as a sister, choosing her Host’s life over her own. It’s pretty powerful in the book and on screen, the strength of their connection was lacking.
Also, the story of Wanderer and Ian was powerful in the book – he falling for her because of who she is, not what, nor the body she inhabits. As Ian says in the book, “It’s not the face, but the expressions on it. It’s not the voice, but what you say. It’s not how you look in that body, but the thing you do with it. You are beautiful.” That emotion, that chemistry between the two fell completely flat on screen.
And then there was the great story line many of us were anxious to see unfold on screen – Jared and Melanie, and the incredible sexual tension between Jared and Wanderer, he wanting and loving Melanie, knowing she is inside of her own body somewhere, while at the same time knowing its Wanderer in control. I love this relationship triangle because they go through a lot int he book, and even though Wanderer is living in the body of the girl he loves, Jared too, comes to care for Wanderer. “You are the noblest, purest creature I’ve ever met. The universe will be a darker place without you.”
There are so many more relationships the book version of The Host explores. They’re all important as they relate to all of the different relationships we can have as humans. All of them – man and woman, mother and child, friend to friend – they are all important and at the heart of one of the book’s core themes: what it means to be human, and the transformative power of love. On screen they were brushed over, the movie choosing instead to instead focus on the Seeker’s search for Wanderer, not the journey she goes on while in hiding – learning to love, and essentially, become human. I understand why – it makes for a good Sci Fi flick, but I think lovers of the book will be disappointed.
My two cents? If you haven’t read the book go get it now and read it, and don’t worry about seeing the movie in theaters. Save yourselves a couple of bucks and rent when it comes to DVD.
Couple cool things to look forward to, however: the Souls when out not in their Hosts are breathtaking (IMHO) and exactly what I thought they would look like. The song used in the movie trailers (“Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons) is used during the end credits and one of my favorite jams at the moment. And, finally, the movie ends just like the book, teasing us that a sequel is possible. In February, Meyer confirmed a sequel is in the works, part of a three book trilogy that would be called The Seeker (book 2) and The Soul (book 3). It’s been almost 5 years since the first book, so think I will dive in again for read #4, in preparation for said sequel (wouldn’t it be genius marketing to announce its arrival in stores this summer once the flick has left theaters?) and in attempt to remember all of the subtleties that drove me to love the book to begin with.