Friday, March 29, 2013

The Host of the Southwest

Do you hear that sound? That's me jumping up and down at how happy The Host made me.

A very brief glance at reviews from critics and non-critics would show that not everyone agrees with me. But I say, all the more reason to quickly put down my thoughts on what I liked about this movie. The top section should be spoiler-free, but I'll go into a couple more details after the jump.

While the trailer emphasized the sci-fi action side of the movie and while that is one side of it, as a whole this isn't an action movie. (If you want action, go watch The Avengers again, enjoy yourself, and don't bash The Host: The Avengers practically put me to sleep.) It also isn't a romance, despite a few kisses. It's sci-fi, but it also takes place largely in a desert. You see what's emerging here? All the careful balances that I see in the book translated into the movie.

It's very much a psychological movie (not in the Black Swan way), asking questions about humanity and identity and human relationships. While perhaps not all of those relationships get developed in great detail during the movie, I think what matters is that they're there: this particular story is about how Wanderer and Melanie interact. Other characters are only in addition to their story.

Visually, I adored the desert of New Mexico standing in for Arizona. I just felt so at home; maybe that's why I enjoyed the movie so much. I was smiling broadly at all the landscape shots (except the sandy one: was that too sandy?).

Audio isn't always something I notice or focus on in a movie, but I noticed it here, perhaps because it had so many components. Melanie's voiceovers worked well; it was genuinely disturbing when she first spoke, and then later became rather natural. The score was great: I appreciated the choice in the type of instruments and the more organic, less pop approach. Just having the song by Imagine Dragons for the credits is enough. Sound editing also helped move emotion through the scenes in conjunction with the actors' performances--which were also good. Saoirse Ronan, I initially didn't think you looked quite right for the part, but you really did it.

If anyone is worried about just getting something more like Twilight, don't be. Just as the books are separate and different, so are the movies. They have certain traits within them that might make them appeal to the same people, but it's also entirely possible to not like one but like the other. So if that association happens to be holding you back, don't let it.

Of course, if I'm nitpicking, there are things to comment on. I've already seen criticism of the style of the souls' wardrobe/cars/etc. I somewhat agree. Their look made them a little Battlestar Galactica and took away from the fact that the souls try and imitate how humans lived, especially given that we were missing all the little scenes of souls going about their daily lives.

There were scenes/bits that I missed. There's almost no interaction between Jared and Ian. Wanderer found Uncle Jeb too quickly, from the audience's perspective; we also didn't have that wonderful sense that, as their body dehydrated and wore out, Melanie and Wanderer became closer in mind and bonded in an important way. Wanderer explains much less about the other worlds. We don't get to see how annoying Lacey is after they take the Seeker out of her. Etc.

But those are all things I can still go back to the book for. I feel like, with this movie, everyone understood right away that because of how the book is written, the movie would have to be very different. And since it's always a different experience to watch a movie than to read a book, I think that that acknowledgement ultimately helped this movie out.

Oh, yes, and I was very curious who was playing Wanda at the end: if that info was available before, I didn't go seek it out, which made it a complete surprise. When Melanie was holding out the mirror, I was just as curious as Wanderer. Then who do I see but Emily Browning. That's an exciting cast choice, especially if Wanderer is also in the next two installments (which I would sort of hope, but you never know, do you?).

So. I'm happy. Are you happy? Am I just happy because I'm an Arizonan? If I am, then so be it--I'm still excited.

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