Last weekend Kathy and I watched the movie The Host on Netflix. It’s based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer, whose name I just found out has no A’s in it. This movie is yet another example of why you (or at least I) shouldn’t read other people’s opinions of a movie, TV show, or book, or even peek at the average rating at a place like Amazon.com, IMDb, or Rotten Tomatoes, before checking it out yourself. Luckily, I didn’t, so I had no idea how down on this movie most people were, even though I knew it was based on a Stephenie Meyer novel that Kathy quit reading early on and that her friend finished but disliked. Sometimes a low rating can lower your expectations so much that you enjoy it more than you expect, but other times it can make you expect badness and notice it more acutely than you might have. This is especially true if you read negative reviews first and hear what specific criticisms people have.
I love science fiction more than any other genre, whereas Kathy couldn’t even finish Hyperion. (I mean, seriously, Hyperion! An all-time masterpiece of science fiction! Everyone should like that! At least she liked Ender’s Game, though I still haven’t been able to talk her into reading Speaker for the Dead.) Even so, this movie was her choice. We tend to take turns choosing what we watch, and she chose The Host this time. For obvious, Stephenie Meyer–related reasons, this was more of a “her” movie in our Netflix queue, though given its premise and the fact that it is science fiction and not fantasy, it should have been a movie that I’d be expected to like more than she would. It’s kind of funny, though, and a good thing, that we both end up liking most of the movies that are chosen by only one of us. Some recent examples are Moneyball (mine), What To Expect When You’re Expecting (hers), and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (hers). A good example of a movie only the chooser liked is The Messenger (mine). Oddly enough, I think two other Saoirse Ronan movies were liked less by the chooser than the other person: I didn’t think The Lovely Bones (hers) was all that bad, though I certainly have no desire to watch it again or buy it; and she might have liked Hanna (mine) a little more than I did, though I don’t think either of us will want to see it again. I also seem to remember Kathy liking Rare Exports (mine) more than I did. In these three cases and possibly others I can’t remember, the chooser’s relative dislike of a movie was probably related to their high expectations, which was why they chose it. See? Always have low expectations!
Many movie critics and fans are probably still waiting for the deeply talented Saoirse Ronan to headline a high-quality movie, but I think The Host fits the bill. I understand the widespread criticism that the movie is slow, plodding, and low on action, but I was not bored or indifferent during a single scene. It isn’t an action-packed movie, but I think that’s fine because that’s not what it was meant to be and not what it needs to be. The movie didn’t feel too long or dragged out at all.
A second common criticism is Stephenie Meyer–related: the love rectangle is not compelling, it’s too young adult-y and teenage girl-y, it’s too infected with Nicholas Sparks sappiness, and the two boys are not given enough depth or characterization to make us feel strongly about it. I also understand this criticism but disagree with it more strongly than with the first one. I didn’t think it was too pandering to a teenage-girl audience; I merely thought it was depicting what a teenage girl in Melanie’s situation might go through. I should mention that the four characters in this love rectangle are Melanie, the alien that inhabits her and controls her body (“Wanderer”), and the two aforementioned boys. I did think that Melanie’s reasons for wanting Wanderer to do this and not wanting Wanderer to say that to the two boys, as well as her brother and uncle, were not explained and fleshed out as fully they could have been, causing a little frustration and confusion in me, but this was the only aspect of the movie I found frustrating.
The third common criticism I encountered in reading the reviews after I saw the movie was that the dialog between Melanie (from inside her own mind) and Wanderer (using Melanie’s actual voice) was unintentionally funny and atrociously written. I strongly disagree. I’m no professional movie critic and know nothing about how to write movie dialog, but I found the dual-personality aspect of Melanie/Wanderer well written and expertly performed. I thought Ronan’s acting, the script, and the directing perfectly depicted the conflicted nature of a mind struggling to assert itself—to exist—and an alien struggling to justify its actions and reconcile them with its sense of morals. Other than the overall science-fiction storyline, Ronan’s portrayal of this inner struggle was the highlight of the movie for me. But maybe it could have been even better if that struggle was less about boys and more about deeper ethical and psychological issues.
The main reason I’m even writing this post, now 800-plus words in, is to respond to a truly vacuous, clueless, bafflingly stupid statement by Claudia Puig in her review of the movie for USA Today. The premise of The Host is that an alien species has invaded and populated the Earth by taking over our bodies and our minds. When an alien does this, the human host is effectively killed; their mind ceases to function if not exist altogether, and the body is controlled by the alien. The alien can access all of the host’s memories, which is especially useful for finding rebels who would prefer not to be killed and their species exterminated. The thing is, a rare human will have a strong enough psyche to rebel against its possessor and stay alive, as Melanie does. Usually when this happens, the other aliens just remove their comrade and kill the rebelious host or possess the host with a stronger, more ruthless alien. Only a few small pockets of living humans remain, in hiding or on the run. But according to Claudia Puig, these rebelious hosts and the insurgents who have avoided parasitization altogether are being irrational and primitive, because look at all the progress the aliens have created!
Like Twilight, the action is slowed by too many dull-eyed stares meant to be smoldering. A bigger problem is that the aliens are an exceedingly pleasant bunch who have rid the world of its problems. What’s not to like? The human rebellion comes off like a bunch of hillbillies angry for no justifiable reason.
I’ll repeat that in case your mind was too blindsided and dumbfounded by such idiocy to process it: An alien race wants to exterminate the human race and is damn close to doing it, and the humans who resist this eventuality are “hillbillies” who are “angry for no justifiable reason.” It boggles the mind. One is liable to sit agape in horror and depression at the psyche that could conjure such an opinion—at the types of real-world leaders, ideas, and solutions Claudia Puig would endorse and the horrors we would have to inflict upon our fellow humans to achieve her ideal order. It’s like she perceives “progress” and “peace” as some nearly tangible, identifiable things that have value on their own and should be strived for at all costs, regardless of who is doing the striving and who is benefitting from them. She must have had the same scornful reaction to all that pesky resistance the Borg face from all those hillbilly humanoids who like their species they way they are. She must not have objected to the Borg’s assimilation of the human race at the beginning of Star Trek: First Contact and must have been equally annoyed and confused at the Enterprise for going back in time and foolishly trying to stop it. There is literally no difference between the Borg and the aliens of The Host, except superficially. I never thought I could lose all respect for someone as a person from reading a mere movie review, but I never thought I’d read anything so contradictory, so insulting, to rational thought in a mere movie review.