(Published in the April edition of Sage)
From Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, The Host is a science fiction romance novel that introduces an unseen alien race known as Souls, which take over Earth and its inhabitants’ bodies. Adapted and directed by Andrew Niccol, the film version, released this month, follows 17-year-old Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) who has been taken over by a Soul known as Wanderer. Melanie refuses to just fade away, however. When Wanderer starts hearing Melanie’s voice inside her head and experiencing memories of her brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and boyfriend Jared (Max Irons), she sets out to risk everything to find Melanie’s loved ones, as she struggles to put aside the strong human emotions that are refusing to let her cooperate.
Having read and finished The Host novel only days before seeing the film, I was eagerly anticipating the release of this adaptation. Despite enjoying the novel, however, The Host was the biggest disappointment of 2013 so far, and it is the worst novel adaptation I have seen yet.
Let’s put aside that the novel is written by the author of Twilight for a second, though I will note that I am a fan of both the books and films, because the only thing worth mentioning that these stories share are a potential love triangle that once again gets in the way. For one thing, The Host is much better written. The book itself not brilliant, and we already know that Meyer’s writing style isn’t masterful, but it was an enjoyable read as the story is well-developed and there are a lot of details given about the number of futuristic worlds that Wanderer has experienced.
The only major downside of the book is the lack of threat and acts/desire for revolution. The souls are all too friendly for them to take any real action, and the humans are too compassionate to want to fight back; it’s a typical flaw in Meyer’s writing as she seems incapable of putting her characters in any danger. Because of this, The Host once again gets all too caught up on love to have the impact that a dystopian novel needs. Whilst I did like it, it was this lack of action against the Souls that meant I couldn’t love it, as nothing extreme happens or is built up to despite how thick the book is.
On its own, the film doesn’t work at all. It’s not that The Host is an unadaptable story because it could have been done brilliantly, and I had high hopes with it being adapted by Andrew Niccol. In Time wasn’t the greatest of films but the dystopian future was set up brilliantly, and everybody loves The Truman Show. Having written about two alternative worlds already, it was easy to presume that Niccol would have handled the screenplay for this effortlessly. Alas, he did not.
The adaptation, instead, is a complete mess. With very little done right, I just can’t get my head around how nobody involved saw how badly they were dealing with Meyer’s work. It could have been as big as Twilight if they wanted it to be, since being adapted from a Meyer novel alone is where a large part of the audience is coming from. With potential sequels being discussed, as well, the film had the chance to introduce compelling characters that a younger audience could have invested in. Unfortunately, I’m not sure even these naive minds will be hoping for more.
As an adaptation, The Host constantly strays from its original source, with the biggest flaw straight away being that the futuristic world isn’t given enough explanation. Whilst the film begins well to open up how and why this has happened to our planet, it never expands past these first few seconds. The book may lack any action, but what it does do right is fill the dialogue with Wanda’s experiences, detailing her previous lives on other planets to give some background information about why the Souls invade these planets at all. In the film, however, none of this is discussed. Seeing these different worlds would not only have been a visual treat (having species live in fire, under water, and on ice), but it would have made the dystopian future believable. Instead, it all comes off as rather pathetic, especially with its diverted focus on “love conquering all”.
Admittedly, films that have been adapted from a book always feel a lot flatter in comparison, but I have never seen it done quite this badly before. Not only does the film miss out many of the important aspects of the novel, from a character named Walter whose death has a big impact on Wanda, to the interactions between her and those of her kind as well as the friendships she makes in the caves, with the Doc, especially, taking a back seat, the film also changes many of the scenes it chooses to pinpoint. From small factors such as the Seeker waking up at the end of the film and not knowing who she is, to the conflicts around Wanda which meant that she had to sneak out to find Jamie’s medicine because nobody trusted her, these changes were almost and always unnecessarily constant. They weren’t always a flaw as it made the story more dangerous, killing off a couple of additional people because Meyer didn’t have the strength to, but it derived itself from the novel so much that the trailer alone was confusing.
Instead of playing on the novel’s strengths, the film was more of a bullet point list of the main events, never expanding on anything to give it any meaning. The worst example of this was the end of the film, when Wanda wanted to kill herself to give Melanie’s body back and give Earth a chance of fighting back, not wanting to return to another planet because she couldn’t bear it without the people she had begun to care about herself, something she had never experienced before. This may have been easy to pick up from some of the dialogue, but it was also made to seem irrelevant, much like many of the events that happened beforehand.
In the end, and a lengthy 125 minutes later, even less happened in the film than it did in the book. Without the action that it needed to be a good science fiction film, The Host, instead, was more of a love drama, and a bad one at that. Unlike Twilight, which put a heavy focus on the leading relationships, the chemistries between Melanie/Wanda and Jared and Ian were more or less in-existent. It was easy to presume that the film would play on these romances to entice the young, female audience, but it was yet again handled so terribly that even that didn’t work. Despite how often the characters pleaded their undying love, there was no apparent reason for them to have any genuine connections, therefore leaving the emotional scenes to constantly fall flat. With just an awful lot of kissing in the rain, the romances seemed forced, instead of being the acts of love that were needed to spark a revolution.
The reason I was interested in this film at all was because of Saoirse Ronan in the lead role. She’s one of my favourite young actresses and is incredible in films such as Hanna, Atonement, and The Lovely Bones, but not even she could have saved this. Whilst her performance made it slightly more bearable, it wasn’t a role that I enjoyed. She did well with what she was given, but the script was silly and the voice-over came across as cringy. If this was dealt with better than Ronan may have made this film work but, instead, I found myself sighing every time she had something to say, so I couldn’t even come away proclaiming my own undying love for her.
Max Irons and Jake Abel were well cast, too, but their characters lacked any depth. Instead of being two men who wanted to fight for what they loved, and their entire existence, they were mere figures for Wanda and the annoying voice in her head to kiss when things got a little tedious. The same can be said for the rest of the supporting cast, as many of them weren’t even given any screen time. Aside from Jeb (William Hurt) and The Seeker (Diane Kruger), who were actually quite dimensional characters, the rest of the cast were pushed too far back for us to care about any of them, despite how likeable they could have been.