Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dull sci-fi romantic thriller like Twilight lite

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Stephenie Meyer achieved fame overnight with her supernatural Twilight novels and films. But immortality? As the makers of Livestrong yellow wristbands or High School Musical can attest, that's harder to come by.

The film based on Meyer's latest, The Host, blends teen romance and sci fi. In its strange new world, advanced, peaceable extraterrestrials have commandeered the minds of Earth's human population. This case of global possession has a benign face. Earth 2.0 is without war, hunger, greed and cancer. Humans retain their physical form, dress impeccably, drive silver luxury sports cars and live in elegant modernist digs.

Unfortunately, the aliens want to ease Homo sapiens aside permanently, convinced that they can do a better job of running our planet.

An alien intelligence named Wanderer inhabits Earth girl Melanie Stryder. Even after she's implanted with her new "soul," defiant Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) doesn't knuckle under. Her will and awareness survive, gradually revealing thoughts and memories to Wanderer (Wanda for short). The battle to control Melanie's body is a psychic pillow fight, with Ronan voicing both sides of the running argument in her head. Like mismatched bunkies at sleepaway camp, they squabble, then learn to coexist, ultimately forming an emotional connection.

Melanie convinces the resistant Wanderer that they must flee to the desert cabin of uncle Jeb (William Hurt) and aunt Maggie (Frances Fisher). Evading the alien security chief Seeker (Diane Kruger) and her crew, Melanie/Wanda discover remote caves sheltering the handful of remaining humans. Among them are Melanie's boyfriend Jared (Max Irons) and his fellow freedom fighter Ian (Jake Abel), who falls for Wanda. With two identities in a single body, our heroines find themselves in a two-way love triangle, then a three-person love quadrangle. And Bella Swan thought she had a tangled love life!

Writer/director Andrew Niccol (The Truman Show, Gattaca) does a capable job with the physical aspect of the production. The sleek environments the aliens inhabit evoke a sense of purity that is both soothing and creepy. They shop at a place titled "Store" where goods are abundant, but displayed in sterile packaging with no visual differentiation between items. The humans' spaces are wet (soggy waterfront cabins) or arid (southwestern rock formations). There's a battle of cold Design Within Reach conformity vs. shaggy thrift-store diversity in every shot.

But there's only so much value that Niccol's slick presentation can add to Meyer's shallow material. Ace stuntwork notwithstanding, the movie lacks a sense of danger and urgency.

I wouldn't put money on this mishmash of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Love Story scoring with fantasy fans.

-- Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Other voices

Excerpts of select reviews of The Host:

The Host is top-heavy with profound, sonorous conversations, all tending to sound like farewells.

-- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

The film may as well be titled Stephenie Meyer's Waiting Around.

-- Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

Twilight of the Body Snatchers, without much urgency or sexual heat.

--Roger Moore, Movie Nation

Makes Edward and Bella look like Harry and Sally.

-- Matt Pais, RedEye

If nothing else, the movie serves as an excellent substitute for the book: better art direction and a quarter of the adjectives.

-- Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 G8

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