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SAN DIEGO - Every year there is a film that ends up bombing with the 6,500 plus San Diego Comic-Con attendees in Hall H. This year's first casualty in that notorious category is Stephenie Meyer's "The Host."
Based on Meyer's 2008 novel of the same name, "The Host" has been adapted for the screen and directed by Andrew Niccol. The Oscar nominee is best known for helming and conjuring up the minor Sci-Fi classic "Gattaca" and for writing the screenplay for "The Truman Show." After a major misfire ("S1mone") and an underrated box office disappointment ("Lord of War'), Niccol had something of a comeback last year with "In Time." The Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried futuristic thriller didn't strike gold domestically, but it was a major hit overseas grossing $173 million worldwide on just a $40 million budget. Now, Niccol has collaborated with Meyer on bringing another potential franchise to the screen with "The Host."
Set in the near future, the film centers on Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), a young woman who (at least for awhile) is able to avoid being taken over by "The Souls," a parasitic alien race that has pretty much wiped out the human race (or at least their minds). A small group of rebel humans are trying to defeat "the souls" and save humanity. And for most of the audience who hadn't read the book, that premise was sort of clear based on the 10 minutes or so of scenes shown Thursday afternoon at the Con. Maybe.
Let us digress though. The news regarding Meyer and Niccol appearing at the Con was supposed to be a surprise, but instead was leaked a few days ago by a major industry outlet. Even though an hour had been allotted for "Breaking Dawn," Summit and the Con organizers allowed Meyer to take some time at the end of panel to talk about "The Host." Meyer gushed over Niccol before he hit the stage giving him more praise than any filmmaker on a "Twilight" movie has ever received from her previously (something Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz, David Slade and Bill Condon must be overjoyed to hear). So, she clearly sees this as her baby. The director noted that even though production had just begun they wanted to show some scenes from the picture as a special treat for the Comic-Con faithful. We're assuming the filmmakers thought this would be an exciting moment for the audience, but they may be overestimating the book's crossover appeal with the "Twilight" crowd because there was very little reaction to Niccol's announcement or the footage itself.
The first sequence - which we assume is near the beginning of the film - finds Melanie at what must be a "Souls" headquarters. The Seeker (Diane Kruger) asks her who she is and Melanie - obviously possessed by a soul - refers to herself as the "Wanderer." (First red flag: you have a problem when an audience of "Twilight" fans giggles at that line). The Seeker and the Wanderer then proceed with a conversation that recounts Melanie's story. How her father killed himself to avoid a soul infestation allowing Melanie and her brother to escape the aliens. The Wanderer then recalls how Melanie meets another "free" human, Jared Howe (Max Irons), and while even in the midst of this strange battle-less invasion they some how fall in love and find instant happiness together. As the audience watches the scenes, we hear Melanie (Ronan's voice) as a voice over in The Wanderer's mind letting us know Melanie is still fighting the alien's takeover of her body.
Eventually, there is a time jump in between the preview scenes and both Melanie and Jared have joined a band of free humans including Jeb Stryder (William Hurt going all cowboy on us) and Ian O'Shea ("Percy Jackson's" Jake Abel). It's unclear if her brother is part of this group as well, but we have to assume he is. At some point, the Wanderer enters Melanie (we know this because her eyes now include white halos) and Ian wants to strangler her and kill her so the "souls" can't find them (how they would is unclear). Jeb intercedes and says she won't be killed on his land. There is then an awkward jump to some very badly choreographed chase scenes where the rebels are trying to avoid capture on a desert highway. We know the Souls are after them because they drive silver race cars (possibly Lotus Evora models) and wear white suits. The sequence was supposed to end on a cliffhanger, but there was little tension in what made it to the Hall's big screens.
Some of the most noteworthy problems on display in the footage included the hokey voiceover of Melody in her own head, the silly Eurotrash aesthetic of "The Souls," some very uninspired action moments and set design that went minimalist in the most uninteresting way possible. Why the producers and Open Road thought this would be a good idea is perplexing. Any competing studio executive would never let this sample of footage be screened in an attempt to generate buzz.
Even based on Meyers profitable track record, it is surprising that actors such as Ronan, Hurt and Kruger would come on board "The Host" if they didn't believe it had potential be more than your average Sci-Fi melodrama. These are rarely actors who take paycheck roles and it's clear "The Host" is not a big budget endeavor for Open Road. However, there was nothing in the quickly cut scenes that sparked more than a polite reaction from the Comic-Con crowd. What has to be more disheartening for Meyer, Niccol and Open Road, is that these hardcore "Twilight" fans are part of the audience they hope will migrate to the new film series and help fuel a big opening weekend. Niccol's involvement also allowed for some optimism that a movie version could overcome the critical drubbing Meyer's novel originally received. You can never judge a movie without seeing the finished product, but the best Meyer, Niccol and the mini-major can hope for is that everyone forgets the presentation by the weekend and they spice things up in the editing room.
Hey, anything is possible, right?
"The Host" opens nationwide March 29, 2013
Everything: Comic-Con 2013
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