Movie Review: Stephenie Meyer’s The Host

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:

melanie 1

 

 

 

 

instead of

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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

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she turned out to be

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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.”

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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.

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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.

Movie Review: In Time

How would you feel if your commute home cost you an hour of your life? Or, a cold drink at the end of a busy work day, two? Well Andrew Niccol, mastermind behind movies like The Truman Show and a special favorite of mine,  Gattaca, explores this very concept – time as a form of commerce – in last fall’s SciFi/Action/Thriller flick, In Time.

After pushing it to the bottom of my viewing list while it was in theaters, I finally had a chance to catch it this weekend on PPV. And despite casting Justin Timberlake as the movie’s main character, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie and now feel a glimmer of hope as I again begin to countdown the release date to Niccol’s adaptation of one of my favorite books in the last five years, the shockingly good SciFi/Romance/Thriller by Twilight mastermind Stephenie Meyer, The Host (due in theaters March 2013).

Despite Niccol’s mastery of creating stories set in the future – futures where technology, genetic superiority and societies obsessed with classism –  I have been admittedly hard on his pending adaptation of The Host. But since my criticism is largely due to the movie’s casting and yet bad casting was at play with In Time, yet I still loved it, I will give The Host another shot. Simply put – Niccol outdid himself with In Time and I am now more confident than ever, despite the actor, a good story is still a good story.

In Time’s story is one of unfathomable premise. Really, it blows the mind. Set in a future where humans are genetically altered to stop aging after age 25, after which they are given only one more year to live, In Time explores a world where time is the new form a money. Time is used to pay for everything, and even traded with others.

Now to be clear, I am not a fan of the “aliens are invading” or “what’s on the dark side of the moon” SciFi thrillers. But I do love those that explore a future where everything we pride about our advancements in science and technology are actually what flip the world as we know it, on its head. Look at The Matrix. That’s a perfect example of the promise of technology gone horribly askew – a world where technology takes over. Minority Report is another one. A future where police are able to arrest murderers before they commit their crimes, yet it’s a future where the law is dictated by science.

In Time is in line with some of these favorites of mine, coupling something as complex as a genetically enhanced human race alongside something as simple as time, to create a movie that is just totally out of control. Just when you think you have your mind wrapped around the concept,  living every hour as if it were the last, because in the In Time world it very well could be, the movie flips you upside down, challenging you with a new question: what if you had enough money to put enough time on your clock that you would live forever? Would you?

Mindbender!

The adorable Amanda Seyfried (Red Riding Hood, Chloe) is even kind of creepy in this movie, her trademark long blonde locks hidden under a blunt cut dark wig. And Cillian Murphy (Inception, The Dark Knight), does his part as one of the movie’s protagonist’s – The Time Keeper – a man who at any moment can take your time away. But it all works – the pseudo-celebs and unknowns – and in the end, you find yourself totally entertained, totally questioning what you just saw, and unable to not ask yourself the age old question – if I only had one day, one hour left, what would I do with my time left?

Check it out. You won’t be disappointed. And if you find yourself just totally tripped out, take a twenty and use good ole fashioned cash to buy yourself a drink. You might need it – and it won’t hurt to know that all it did was deplete your wallet, not your clock.

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn – Part I

I don’t know folks. I’m having a difficult time. Not because my mind is brimming with too many thoughts and I don’t know where to start, but because I simply do…. not… know…. where… to… start except these three words: horrible, awkward and creepy.

I was a fan of the book so I knew what to expect. As I said in a previous post, I have been waiting for this to hit theaters for many reasons. At the end of the day the brooding characters, awkward dialogue and bad make-up and weaves make for a good time, and I look forward to it. I was anxious to see how director Bill Condon translated the book — which tackled more mature themes than the previous three — to film. In my mind I thought it would be a good chance for the franchise to grow up and put a good movie together, finally.

I was wrong.

Terribly wrong.

The trailer is the best and only part anyone should watch. Save yourself the 1hr and 39m.  Or, go read the book again and save yourself the heartache of seeing a book you enjoyed, skewered.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe young adults will like seeing the heroine get the boy, finally, and have a dream outdoor wedding no one could afford. Or maybe young girls will think twice about getting pregnant so soon in life after seeing the hard choice Bella has to go through. Or hey, Maybe Rio will see a rise in tourism thanks to the beautiful Isle Esmee. All I know is this.

What was good – short (under 2 hours at 1h 42m),  Bella’s wedding shoes  (gorgeous), the climactic moment when her heartbeat stops and she wakes with red eyes (admittedly a little cool) and the end (when it was over and I was able to get out of my seat and shake my head wondering just what in the hell I sat through).

The soundtrack is good, featuring artists such as Joy Formidable. Their song “Whirring” is a fave of mine.  But in a nutshell, it was horrible. Nothing comedic about this movie as in the others where come on, let’s face it, a love triangle with a vampire, werewolf and human is nothing but, and I was disappointed. Horribly disappointed and I want my money back.

Love eternal

It’s impossible to not get caught up in the excitement this week as finally, this Friday, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 hits theaters and fans get to see what they have anxiously waited for over the past three years: the wedding of Edward and Bella, and the drama that comes along with being pregnant with a half human/half vampire child.

Ever since the last installment of Stephenie Meyer’s insanely popular series hit the shelves on August 2, 2008, readers have scratched their heads wondering how the movie would adapt not the wedding (which I have to admit in the trailer looks stunning), but the bed shattering, feather scattering wedding night, as well as birth scene to end all birth scenes.

I have admittedly been very, very hard on the movies so far. But I’m not alone. It’s not the story. The screenwriters have literally lifted the dialogue from the books and put them on film. There’s not much they have had to do. No, it’s the awkwardness of the actors delivering the dialogue that was meant for books and with their lack of real acting chops and inability to lift the story from the books and bring it to life. It’s painful and as such, they’ve become somewhat of a tradition among my friends and I. We go, we laugh, we get hissed at by prepubescent girls – it’s great fun.

I will also admit however, that while yes, I laugh at the movies, I have every one on DVD and have been known to watch them without laughing. So there, I am a walking contradiction. I’m not afraid to admit I have a love/hate relationship with the series. But there’s an easy answer why. Why I stayed up for a week straight to devour every book, one after the other, and why I have waited in line to see the movies on the day they come out ever since the first film. And it’s not Edward’s hair or Jacob’s abs or the killer soundtracks, cause really, they are good you have to admit. Nope, it’s none of that. It’s much simpler. Are you ready?

The answer is love. Plain and simple.

When it boils right down to it I am in love with love. “Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love” (Sex and the City, “An American Girl in Paris: Part Deux,” 2004).

So, thankfully the movie has birthed (pun intended) a song that is fitting to the theme of the kind of eternal love that really only a vampire relationship would allow. The whole neither one of you would ever die thing being key to that arc. The simply beautiful “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri is not high energy as you may be used to hearing from me, but its simple and sweet, and the video is a great combination of just enough movie cheese and crystalline vocals to make it worth watching.

Casting for The Host Movie Continues..and It’s not Good

If there was one book I was completely and totally surprised  by it was The Host.  Written by Twilight’s Stephenie Meyer, I was admittedly skeptical of the story. Touted as a sci-fi romance for adults I bought it half knowing it would suck me in the same way Twilight had, but also half knowing I was probably in for the same “I’ve only known him for one day but I love him and can’t see my life without anyone but him” kind of story. (Hey, when you’re only real time to read is in the tub, post 1 am  or on business trips, you get whatever will take you away for a few hours, even if it is a story about an immortal love triangle.)

Despite my skepticism, I gotta say from the moment I opened the book I was hooked because damn, that Meyer can tell a story.

The Host was definitely different than Twilight and because of this, fans I know of the whole werewolf/vampire world Meyer created didn’t completely love the novel. At the core of the plot is an alien race called souls, which take over the bodies of humans in order to take over Earth and create an all loving, no pain feeling world. So yeah, that’s a bit different than beautiful immortal men, falling in love with damsel in distress ladies, and not exactly a story that makes you remember your first love, or what it was like to feel those first emotions of your first love. (Sigh…) No, it was about aliens invading earth and taking over our bodies like body snatchers, which meant of course at first I hated the main character, the soul named Wanderer, who inhabited the body of the other main character Melanie.

But damn (#2 if you’re counting), if that clever Meyer didn’t twist my feelings and make me fall totally in love with the character and understand her. Much in the same way George Lucas did in Star Wars with Darth Vadar  — come on, who didn’t feel sorry for the guy as he lay there, legs cut off, mourning what he thought was the death of his wife and unborn children — or author Thomas Harris (Hannibal Rising), which explored the childhood of Lecter and unfortunate series of events that led to his role as a cannibalistic serial killer. Not that I condone that, because hey, I don’t ever think yum, a leg.  But, knowing what happened to him I now understand how he wound up that way. I no longer scratch my head in wonder. Again, say it with me now, I understand.

So despite its supposed fourth grade reading level and somewhat generic love scenes (“Gasoline and an open flame – we exploded again”) I absolutely love, love, loved The Host, even after my third consecutive read, and was stoked when I heard 1) it was part of a planned trilogy, and 2)  they were going to make into a movie. Movie news however has not left me exactly excited. Even though Andrew Niccol’s is at the helm (Gattaca), Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Hanna) has been cast as lead role of Melanie/Wanderer, which if you read the book, is just not what I envisioned. Despite her acting chops (did you see Hanna? My god, crazytown!) I’m not identifying with the lead character visually, and now, from what I read on Screenrant, not identifying with the several young men being  considered for the roles of Melanie’s boyfriend, Jared, as well Wanderer fan” Ian O’Shea, either. Variety says “Jai Courtney (Spartacus: Blood and Sand), Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), Liam Hemsworth (next year’s The Hunger Games) and Max Irons (Red Riding Hood)” are up for the role of Jared. And “Jake Abel (the Percy Jackson movies), Dane DeHaan (True Blood), Tomas McDonnell (Prom), and Augustus Prew (Charlie St. Cloud)” as Ian. Sorry, but NONE of these guys sound like Jared or Ian to me.

Maybe I should have expected this. I didn’t read Twilight before seeing the first movie. I saw it with friends, on a whim, when we were up for a good laugh. But after seeing the first movie and being convinced by a friend the books were DEFINITELY better and I must read, I read all four books and was glad she had been right and disappointed I let the movies cloud my perception of the books. It is a good story and Meyer sucks you in. You can’t  help it.  They are top sellers for a reason. Sorry literati – it is what it is. It might not be high end colloquium, but the stories do what any story should – pull us in, make us feel as if we’re part of the story, and take us away, even if it is for a few minutes. But now, seeing the decisons casting directors are making for The Host movie, fear they’re heading to another tragic Twilight cast. Or maybe that’s what they want. They did rake in the cash.

I think after all of my excitement for The Host movie I will have to hold back from seeing it. I just can’t let poor casting and another teen angst movie ruin my perception of what is one of my favorite books of the past year. Casting is still in process and the movie isn’t set for release until 2013. Maybe things will change by then. I don’t know. Sometimes books just shouldn’t be made into movies.