Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Twilight Fatigue

Ready to have your mind blown? I actually kinda liked a movie based on a Stephenie Meyer book.

No, really!

Naturally, it wasn't any of the absurd Twilight movies - for which I hold nothing but disinterest in at best and contempt for at worst - but Meyer's sci-fi story The Host that actually shows the upper limit of her imagination. Released in 2008 as the first of a proposed trilogy, the basis for the story - an alien invasion in which not only our world but our minds are invaded by alien consciousnesses - makes for a much more interesting tale than sparkly vampires and idiotic love triangles. I've always been a sucker for post-apocalyptic tales, and while The Host doesn't have the nuclear fallout or crumbling infrastructure of such stories, its human element was what I was looking most forward to when I visited the theater that day.

You won't look human for long...
Saoirse Ronan plays Melanie Stryder, one of the last human beings left on planet Earth. In the future, we have been invaded by an alien race known as "Souls", parasites that invade the minds of people and wipe clean the human identity, replacing it with their own while they live out the lives of our bodies. The only indication that they're no longer us are the bright blue eyes that make them easily recognizable to others. While surviving the initial invasion alongside her little brother, Melanie is soon captured and implanted with a Soul that calls itself "Wanderer". Wanderer is tasked with retrieving memories related to a human resistance that continues to fight back. But fueled by thoughts of her family and loved ones, Melanie manages to maintain her sense of identity and forces Wanderer to escape and try to find the other humans before the Souls can.

Guess which one is ombrophobic!
There's one part I left out of the above plot description, and that's the complex love story that Meyer ineffectively plugged into the story as Melanie's primary goal (over, you know, survival). Before Melanie was captured, she met a young named Jared (Max Irons) and the pair started up a relationship that was rudely interrupted by the whole "alien embryo" thing. When she (as Wanderer) rejoins the humans, not only is she immediately rejected by Jared (who doesn't realize that she is still in her own body) but is approached by another young man, Ian (Jake Abel), who grows attached to Wanderer's personality. Yes, it's another love triangle, although taking the disparate personalities into effect it's more like a love Fermat's Last Theorum. As a narrative tool it's silly and ridiculous and completely ham-handed in its implementation.

First she's being hunted by Nazis, now she's hunting humans.
Thankfully, romance is not Melanie/Wanderer's only motivation. Director and screenwriter Andrew Niccol has worked on his fair share of science fiction (Gattaca, S1m0ne and In Time), and it shows in the rest of The Host's story, which takes a wonderful sci-fi concept and clearly understands the difference between human drama and dramatics. While some things might never get explained (just how did a species of benevolent space caterpillars invade our planet anyway?), Niccol does the smart thing by focusing not on the invasion but of the aliens who struggle to identify with this new species that they have subjugated. The universe the movie opens up has more potential than many sci-fi flicks in recent memory, and is one of the bigger spectacles in a film that doesn't really spend its money on extensive production design. The sets that are in place might be low-tech, but do a good job of creating both modern and tribal worlds for the planet's two factions.

Why didn't the aliens just develop contact lenses?
The acting isn't bad either, though its at times brought down a notch by weak dialogue and mediocre scenes. The trio of Ronan, Irons and Abel are all solid presences, and the talented Ronan is at her best when conversing between her two very different mindsets. They might at times be hilarious, but while others see that as unintentional, I see it as a conscious rise in the levity in an otherwise dour tale. Humor notwithstanding, there are talented actors among the cast, with John Hurt, Frances Fisher and Diane Kruger lending their veteran talents. I firmly believe that without these people, The Host's performances would damn it to infamy on the level of Atlas Shrugged.

Like most women, she's of two minds about EVERYTHING.
As long as you can forgive or otherwise ignore the ill-conceived romance story and the fact that it comes from the same author as Twilight, there's a lot to like about The Host. It's got a decent story, good acting, and doesn't embarrass itself in the visuals department either, thanks to Niccol's eye behind the camera. It's by no means a must-see, but it does represent a decent standby in a year when there really haven't BEEN many must-sees thus far. I feel like I say this a lot right now (and hopefully that will change soon), but as long as your expectations are low, there's no reason not to enjoy this straightforward release. If you still aren't sure it's worth a trip to the movies, it definitely WILL be a fair rental option in just a few months.

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