Friday, 29 March 2013

The Host (12a)

The power of love, Mr Lewis once wrote, is a curious thing. It can make one man weep, another man sing, and a woman with a highly successful vampire franchise under her belt write a science fiction book.

Which is fine. Didn't get on with Stephanie Meyer's Twilight books (first one got thrown across the room a third of the way in, when the previously strong and independent female character took one look at pretty boy and went all weak at the knees), but hey, this is a different kettle of badgers. And the premise is a good one.

On the surface, it's a story of an alien species (souls) implanting themselves in the human race, taking over the planet and seemingly making things better. Obviously, not everyone's a fan, and there's a resistance movement. All sounds a bit Terminator, but that's not a bad thing.

And in Saoirse Ronan's Melanie/Wanderer (she has one of the souls put in her), we have a strong female lead. One who can hold her own against the boys, and will fight everyone and everything to get back to help save the ones she loves. So far so good.

And the trailer hinted at fast-paced action, tension, drama, tussles, struggles, fights for survival. Again, all good.

What we got was a pedestrian plod of a movie that has so many messages about love, relationships, the state of humanity it almost forgets it's also trying to be Romeo and Juliet. With two Juliets. And two Romeos.

Now, on the face of it, snail-pacing aside, it's not a bad film. It's not terrible, horrible, no one does anything bad... it's just not very good. And that actually makes you feel sorry for the cast. All they can do is their best, and follow the directions of Andrew Niccol (who also wrote the screenplay, which I suspect is half the problem - we're a bit in woods and trees territory). And they do OK.

Ronan is great, capturing the inner conflict of a woman who's listening to her old self while the new owner is trying to follow the rules. No one else's characters are particularly well drawn, with both the male leads (played by Max Irons and Jake Abel) seemingly lifted from Dawson's Creek while  William Hurt's Jeb could have wandered in from True Grit. Which actually makes more sense than you think.

Things start to unravel though, if you do anything stupid like actually think about the film.

For a start, it can't decide if it's a love story or a sci-fi story, and so does neither very well. Then there's the whole issue with calling a parasitic alien race 'souls'. A race that improves its human hosts by making everyone truthful, polite, honest and good. Things are improved if you have a soul, got that? Subtle, isn't it. These are clearly issues with the source material.

Where Niccol starts to go awol is with his script. His dialogue sounds like it was written by a 12-year-old, while the whole things carries with it a hoped-for weight and worth that it frankly fails to carry off. Lots of moody looks, thoughtful stares, we're dealing with big issues here folks and don't you forget it. We're dealing with the WHOLE OF HUMANITY. And four people in love, obviously, only with three bodies involved.

Then there's the score. From the off it's made to feel saccharine, every scene sounds like an emotional event, big sweeping orchestration telling you that you should be feeling lots of, well, stuff. The problem is, though, that when you fill a perfectly normal scene with musical hormones that effectively mean nothing, where do you go when there's real stuff to feel. If the basics are at 11, there's no 12 to turn it up to.

Then there's the pacing. I may have mentioned this already, but it needs mentioning again. Everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - is played out at a crawl. Slow would be an upgrade. Even the high-speed car chases are tedious. And not very fast. And this is a big problem, because what this film does is bore you.

I suspect the plan was to play it slow, build the tension, draw you in and have you enthralled and captivated - but it doesn't. It's boring. And then it's annoying. And then it's still not over, which is even more annoying. And boring. By the end I didn't even have the energy to be annoyed any more. I just wanted to get away from it as far as humanly possible.

Without my soul, obviously.

But there are positives here. As mentioned, Ronan puts in a great performance, it's well shot, and Diane Kruger is a good baddie (I know, the alien lot are meant to be nice, but she's not. And no one thinks to ask why. I know...), and the final message amongst the messages is vaguely uplifting, but overall it's a mess.

And it's not subtle. At one point, Melanie's brother cuts himself with a scythe during harvest time (yes, harvest time. In a cave. In the desert. A cave in the desert that happens to have its own raging river. Got a problem with that?). And it's going to be bad. How do we know? Because the lingering shot focused solely on the rusty dirty blade tells us so, that's why.

Elsewhere, the female empowerment movement gets a shout-out with a scene that tells you women are in control. She's saying yes, but he being the perfect gentleman (like all horny teenagers are) is saying no. We must wait. But she is in love, and it's her choice, and she wants to do stuff. And she's OK with that.

Good message, don't get me wrong, but it would have been more subtly delivered if it had been painted onto the arse of an elephant, which then sat down in front of the snogging couple on the sofa waving a flag saying 'it's ok, it's her choice'.

I'm reliably informed that Stephanie Meyer's book, The Host, is good, and I'm sure that in the right hands there's a good film to be made - but Niccol doesn't have those hands, and this isn't that film.

Note: I'm the one who's read the book and told him it was good. Thing is if I hadn't read the book I wouldn't have been able to fill in the various gaps in the film - upshot, the book is really good but the film, admittedly, was overly long and a bit lacking.
Erica (work experience).

1 comment:

  1. Good review Kahn. This is poorly acted, the story is a sloppy mess, the characters are boring, the romance feels completely out of place, the special effects suck and worst of all, nothing happens in it.