The Host is a beautifully gripping story of love, family, sacrifice, and a bewitching display of human emotion. In Stephenie Meyer’s 2008 best-selling novel, The Host, she goes back to her roots setting the story in her home of the Arizona desert. However, this world isn’t filled with sparkling vampires. No. Mankind has become imprisoned in their own bodies when the world becomes successfully invaded by peaceful parasitic aliens called “Souls”. Andrew Niccol was chosen by the author to adapt her original novel for the screen. He managed to capture every aspect of the book, and with his sci-fi background (Gattaca) he was definitely the man to write and direct Meyer’s innovated tale. In my opinion, The Host shows how much Meyer has matured in her writing and ability to relay themes to a more broad audience. For those who rolled their eyes at Meyer’s other series, The Twilight Saga, don’t be too quick to dismiss this one.
As a huge fan of the book I had massive expectations for this movie. I knew going into the film that the creators had to condense a 600-page novel into a two-hour movie with a limited budget. As a result, many of the fans favorite scenes and characters were sacrificed due to the time constraint. What I was most anxious about was how they were going to pull off the main characters when two separate species are sharing one body. If you’ve never read the book I’ll explain further – in the not too distant future, the world is peaceful, there is no hunger or disease, no crime, no terror, but the catch is aliens have inhabited nearly every single human being. Only a few pockets of human resistance have managed to evade implantation. Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is part of the resistance, and has been on the run for years with her little brother, Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and the love of her life, Jared Howe (Max Irons). When Melanie finds herself trapped by “seekers”, aliens who seek out the last of the humans, she desperately throws her body out of a window to keep from becoming a “soul”. The attempt to end her life was futile with the souls ingenious medicines, and what she so desperately tried to prevent becomes Melanie’s reality. Her body is now home to a millennia old alien called Wanderer.
These are not your typical aliens. They aren’t here to harvest and destroy mankind but to perfect it. The “souls” do not know hate or anger, they mean no harm, but have inconveniently committed worldwide genocide. They are tiny, silvery, centipede type beings, with thousands of antennae, but without a “host” body they are helpless. Wanderer, or Wanda as she is nicknamed, is an extremely old and knowledgeable alien. Never in her life has she experienced the type of emotions that humans possess, nor has she encountered an intensely resilient but present host in her lifetime. She just wants to do her duty to get information that “The Seeker” (Diane Kruger) has requested about the resistance, but Wanderer starts to sympathize and care for Melanie. The two form a common interest when the irritating seeker (Kruger) threatens to extract Wanderer from Melanie for not doing her job to fight the “host’s” blockades. Wanderer takes a page out Melanie’s book as they flee from The Seeker’s inquiries.
As I said before, I was concerned about how they were going to work the dual personalities, when most of the book Wanderer and Melanie have internal conversations. I think the film suffers in the beginning with Ronan’s prerecorded dialogue. It would be quite confusing for anyone who has not read the book when you first hear a suffering scream from Melanie within Wanda’s head. Before filming started Saoirse Ronan prerecorded herself so she could easily to do scenes as an earpiece fed her Melanie’s lines. Most of that dialogue is used in the film with only a few parts here and there tweaked in postproduction. I think by not redoing all of Melanie’s dialogue was a poor choice on Niccol’s part. At points it is very hard to connect with the inner dialogue, and Ronan’s southern accent was inconsistent throughout the film. Even though I wish they would have gone back and redone all of Melanie’s lines you get used to the duo’s conversations as the movie picks up, with audiences even laughing at some of Melanie’s opinions.
For the fans, many of them will be missing some key characters. It’s nothing to be too concerned about though with the well developed main and supporting characters. You forget about the missing pieces as the movie smoothly progresses and focus on the cast’s dynamite performances. I have to give props to Ronan, who took on playing two people in one body. Albeit I didn’t care much for the voiceovers, but Ronan did a fantastic job portraying a “soul” and a human. From the very beginning you empathize with both Melanie and Wanda, and as the girls advance on their journey after evading “The Seeker” you can’t help but root for both of them.
Love conquers all. It’s one of the biggest themes Meyer conveys to her readers, but it’s not just romantic love, it’s familial love too. As the duo flee from The Seeker, Melanie starts to distract Wanderer with memories of her little brother (Canterbury) and Jared (Irons). The memories and emotions are too much for Wanda as she declares she loves both of them, too. In the book, I was captivated by the sibling’s relationship, but in the movie some of that maternal love is lost in the beginning taking a back seat to the passionate romance with Jared. I didn’t at all mind watching Melanie’s memories of Jared unfold on the screen, it might have been a bit too mushy, but you won’t hear a complaint from me. Melanie keeps hammering Wanda with her memories when there’s a struggle with the two personalities as they flip the car right in the middle of the Arizona desert. Exactly where Melanie had wanted to lead them. Love conquers both girls as they set out to find the last pocket of resistance.
Getting to the core of the movie, we are introduced to a slew of new characters plus a beautiful new setting. Melanie’s Uncle Jeb (William Hurt) is the epitome of a crazy old conspiracy theorist, but he’s been the saving grace of the resistance housing many humans under the system of caves he stumbled upon in the desert. I can’t tell you how perfect Hurt is in this role. He’s brilliant, and exactly how I imagined him in the book playing the role of a crazy genius effortlessly. His character will be beloved by both male and female audiences alike while Jeb’s sister, Maggie Stryder (Frances Fisher), will not have such a warm welcoming with her hateful tendencies. Uncle Jeb takes in Melanie/Wanda, against the cave residences’ wishes, when we come to find out he’s also housing Jared and Jamie. Max Irons is faultless in this role. You feel and pity him, but then hate him for treating Wanda so poorly. He slaps Wanderer when they first meet and you can just see the love, anger, and suffering Irons admits for his character. He has the masculine energy Jared needs for his role as a leader. Then we meet Ian O’Shea (Jake Abel), at first he’s against Wanderer, even tries to choke her, but as the story progresses Ian starts to see that Wanda is not a threat to anyone but herself. Abel plays Wanda’s love interest making up the “love box”, a term Abel himself coined, bringing to the screen a well-rounded individual. I was worried book Ian would not translate well to the screen, being as that Stephenie wrote him to be a very sensitive and understanding human. Niccol and Abel’s portrayal of Ian is of a much more tougher individual. He’s still sensitive, but has the ability to be a commanding presence. Just by these actor’s performances I was surprisingly pleased I preferred a few of the scenes in the film than to the book. Watching the romantic struggle unfold was just as fulfilling as reading it with this magnificent cast.
The biggest selling point for this film would be its Sci-Fi and action facets. Stephenie wrote the book as if the aliens didn’t change much when they invaded Earth, but what Andrew Niccol brought to the project made our world a bit shinier. “The Seekers” are in all white and their machinery is as slivery as their alien bodies. I think the men in our lives will appreciate the thrilling chase scene Niccol added; explosions, blood, and guns will have you on the edge of your seat.
I don’t want to spoil anymore, but I would just like to say bravo to the creators and cast of this film. It exceeded my expectations with just a few minor flaws, but encompassing every emotion I had when reading Meyer’s novel. The sets and scenery were beautiful, along with the amazing score to tie everything together so perfectly. The Host will have you believe in what is most important in your life, and come out with a new understanding of this strange world.