Tuesday, April 9, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: The Host

The Host is based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer, America's premiere author, national treasure and creator of the Twilight series. It's written and directed by Andrew Niccol, who wrote the screenplays for The Truman Show and In Time. I guess nobody can hit one out of the park every time at bat. Better luck next time, Andrew.

The premise of aliens invading the planet by taking over our bodies rather than destroying us with ray guns has been done before of course, most notably in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Still, it's an interesting idea that we don't often see. Too bad Meyer does absolutely nothing with the idea, instead deciding to concentrate almost exclusively on the half-baked teen romance aspect of the story.

The aliens, called Souls, are a mass of contradictions. They're constantly claiming to be benevolent and peaceful, yet they arrive here and forcibly take over human bodies, obliterating the minds of their hosts. That doesn't sound very peaceful now, does it? How does this process weigh on the average Soul? Do they feel pity for the minds they kill? Remorse for their actions? Couldn't care less, as long as they have a new body to drive around? Apparently it's none of our concern, as these issues are never addressed.

The Soul's invasion raises far more questions than it ever bothers to answer. For example, in the beginning expository monologue we see that the Souls have inhabited human bodies all over the planet, including in what appears to be Sub-Saharan Africa. I wonder if the Souls who got stuck in bodies there are pissed at their bad luck. Their brethren get to live in fancy high rises in modern cities with all the amenities while they have to live in oppressive heat inside mud huts.

And who the hell implanted the aliens in those bodies anyway? We're shown that the Souls (who look like large glowing paramecium) can't enter a person naturally. Instead of just walking in through one of the human body's many orifices (orifi?), for some reason they can only get in through an incision in the back of the neck. Someone had to willingly assign some of the aliens to these harsh and unpleasant environments.

The Souls proudly point out that they've solved all earthly problems. They've even cleaned up our environment! Yet all through the movie they race around in gas-guzzling high performance cars, motorcycles and even helicopters. These vehicles don't appear to be electric, so somebody must still be refining oil somewhere. There seems to be plenty of electricity in the cities as well. Doesn't the creation of those forms of energy typically harm the environment? Have the Souls substituted fusion for coal and oil?

Regarding their vehicles, the Souls definitely have a sense of style. All their vehicles are covered in a sleek chromed mirror finish (that must have been a nightmare for the camera crew reflected within). I suppose that's to show us that they're aliens.

At one point in the film Wanderer (the Soul who inhabits Melanie, the main human character) walks into a huge Costco-like warehouse store (hilariously labeled "STORE"), loads up a huge pallet with food and supplies and walks right out without paying, as two security guards smile benevolently at her. So apparently the Souls have solved the problem of poverty and unemployment. There're plenty of goods for everyone, free for the taking! Just how in the name of Evil Spock's Goatee did they manage that?

Who's producing all these goods? Do the Souls automatically take over the professions and duties of the bodies they inhabit? Does a Soul who inhabits a lawyer's body continue to practice law, while one in a farmer's body continues to produce crops? Who's generating power? Repairing the roads? Picking up the trash? Are they compensated for doing so, or are the Souls the ultimate Communists, all working for the greater good? All interesting questions that we're apparently not supposed to think about.

One profession for which the Souls have no use: advertising or marketing. As I mentioned earlier, the grocery store is labeled just that-- STORE. Inside all the canned goods have yellow generic labels such as CORN and BEETS.

Wanderer says she's over a thousand years old and implies that Melanie's isn't the first alien body she's inhabited. So are the Souls like locusts? Do they live on a world for a time and then leave? What happens to the human host bodies when the Souls move on? Do the billions of bodies just drop dead where they stood? Or do all the bodies just stand around as empty, mindless husks? Does the population's original consciousness come back? Again, apparently none of our concern.

Lastly, Meyer claims she thought up the storyline for The Host to relieve her boredom during a trip from Phoenix to Salt Lake City. From this point forward we must all as a nation vow to do everything we can to entertain Stephanie Meyer at all times and make sure she never becomes bored again.

The Plot:
An alien race called "Souls" initiates a soft, gentle invasion of Earth, ending war and famine and cleaning up our environment. Oh, and they forcefully inhabit the bodies of humans, which kills the minds housed within. Surprisingly some humans take exception to being kicked out of their own heads and organize a resistance.

A Soul named Wanderer is implanted into our heroine, the improbably named Melanie Stryder. Unlike most implanted humans though, Melanie somehow manages to retain her human consciousness, resulting in a body with one too many brains inside. Melanie then struggles to find a way to regain her humanity before being permanently evicted.

Pros:
• Well at least Stephanie Meyer only wrote one of these books, so there won't be an endless series of sequels.

What's that? Hold on, I'm getting a bulletin here... she said what? Two more books? Son of a bitch!!!

Cons:
• It seems a bit counterintuitive to me to start the movie by showing the heroine get implanted. I assume were's supposed to care about Melanie and what happens to her, but it's hard to do so when we've only seen her for less than two minutes. Yes, we do get some glimpses of her previous life later on in the form of flashbacks, but I think it would have been best to introduce her to us, let us get to know her, and then implant her with an alien.

• Because this is a Stephanie Meyer story it has to feature a love triangle as Melanie/Wanderer has two guys slobbering over her. Actually in this case I suppose it's a love square, since one of the guys is in love with Melanie and the other with Wanderer.

• Once Melanie's body is taken over we can still hear her thoughts via voiceover, while Wanderer always speak aloud. This results in some unintentionally hilarious moments as Wanderer/Melanie argues with herself.

• The Souls claim to be peace-loving and tranquil, but Seeker (the Soul whose job is to track down humans) seems to be quite an asshole throughout the film. She's relentless in her quest to discover the last group of humans, continuing her search long after the other Souls have given up. Humans, it should be pointed out, who've done nothing to the Souls and are trying to simply exist. She even kills one of her own kind in pursuit of the humans. There's an explanation for her behavior in the final reel, but it's a pretty weak one.

• Wanderer/Melanie walks into the desert (in heels!) looking for her Uncle Jeb's secret cave hideout, hoping he can somehow help her. He finds her passed out, her face exhibiting what appear to be second degree burns from exposure to the intense sun. A day or two later her face is miraculously and completely healed. Maybe the Souls excrete aloe or something?

• When Uncle Jeb finds Wanderer/Melanie he sees that she's been implanted. Instead of killing her like he should, he decides to bring her back to the secret cave hideout. He sort of mumbles some lame excuse about saving her because she used to be his niece. This is totally unacceptable. This man is responsible for the safety of dozens of people-- possibly the last remnants of humanity for all he knows-- and he risks their lives by brining her to their hideout! Unbelievable.

He does blindfold Wanderer/Melanie, but so what? How does he know she doesn't have some kind of tracking device on her? Or that she's telepathic and broadcasting her location with her mind?

By the way, Uncle Jeb is played by William Hurt, who can look a lot like Jeff Bridges when he wants to. In fact I thought he was Jeff Bridges for a few seconds.

• That is one magical hideout the humans have for themselves. It's supposedly located inside an extinct volcano and inside it's got a kitchen, dormitories, a makeshift hospital, storage units, a garage and even hot springs for bathing. It's even big enough to house a wheat field that appears to be a good acre in size. At one point they even talk about harvesting the EAST wheat field, implying there's more than just the one. How freakin' big is this TARDIS cave anyway?

• Uncle Jeb tells Wanderer that her name is too long and he's going to start calling her "Wanda" in order to save time. Yep, now that he doesn't have to say that one extra syllable he ought to be able to till another acre of wheat a day.

• Why is it that whenever Jared and Ian go on a supply run where they'll be among the aliens, they dress like they're from the 1950s? Twice they do this and both times the guys are wearing fedoras, sunglasses and linen shirts.

• Doc, the human's resident physician, attempts to remove the Souls from several implanted humans with disastrous results. Neither human or Soul survive the procedure. Later Wanderer shows him how to safely remove a Soul-- by coaxing them!

Wanderer makes an incision in the back of a human's neck and hilariously she kind of tickles the skin with her fingers, drawing the Soul out much the way you'd call a dog or cat over to you.

So... did this particular Soul want to come out of it's host body right then? Did it have a choice, or are they powerless to resist a good coaxing?

• Why the hell is Bokeem Woodbine in this movie? He appears at the end (as part of the human resistance) for literally three seconds, and then the credits roll. Seriously, he walks into camera range, says one line and that's it. Three seconds. Four tops. Did he owe the director a favor?

An intriguing sci-fi premise that's unfortunately buried by a sappy teen romance. I give it a C-.

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