THE HOST (Andrew Niccol). 124 minutes. Opens Friday (March 29). See listings. Rating: N
You can add Andrew Niccol's name to the roster of artists defeated by the challenge of adapting a Stephenie Meyer book to the screen. He's just as helpless at bringing The Host to life as Chris Weitz, David Slade and Bill Condon were at breathing life into the stiff vapidity of Meyer's Twilight saga. (And, no, I will not pretend that Catherine Hardwicke is an artist.)
A sci-fi romance set on a near-future Earth where most humans have been taken over by alien symbiotes - and where one symbiote finds itself at war with the restless conscience of its body's previous owner - The Host demonstrates that Meyer understands science fiction about as well as she does vampires and werewolves. She uses this intriguing premise to set up a long, dull love triangle in which the being called Wanderer (Saoirse Ronan) winds up rejoining the family of her human body, Melanie Stryder, and finds herself drawn to Melanie's former boyfriend (Max Irons) and a hunky rival (Jake Abel) who loves her for her soul.
Niccol is no stranger to fantastic premises - he wrote The Truman Show and directed Gattaca and In Time - and he sets up some interesting visual elements, including a mirror motif and a sharp contrast between the crisp but bland fashions favoured by the possessed and the more rustic wardrobe of the handful of survivors.
But he's undone by Meyer's static narrative, which tops the Twilight books in its love for scenes where characters stand around talking about how important it is to stand around talking about things. It's awful.
Further impeding my ability to take the movie seriously for five minutes is the howlingly bad idea of representing Melanie's constant presence through Ronan's disembodied voice-over, which requires the actor to spend long stretches of screen time standing still pretending to hear a voice in her head.
I can understand Niccol's not wanting to repeat devices like Battlestar Galactica's Head Six or Quantum Leap's mirror gimmick, but his solution simply doesn't work; neither he nor Ronan can make it compelling; it just leaves us realizing how utterly silly the whole premise is. And that's before we get to the risible finale.
As the leader of the human resistance, William Hurt at least seems to be having some fun with the fact that neither Meyer nor Niccol has the slightest idea who his character is supposed to be, and Diane Kruger is appropriately stiff as a symbiote who tries to help Wanderer adjust to life inside a human before becoming her relentless pursuer.
But they're only able to distinguish themselves because they're cogs in an indifferent machine. Trust me, you don't want to see them this way.