April 25, 2013

The highest and the lowest of all the worlds: How ‘The Host’ compares from book to film

The Host is precisely what you would expect from Stephenie Meyer, bestselling author of Twilight. Like Twilight, The Host has a supernatural premise, which is overshadowed by a dominant, romantic theme. Like Twilight, it is written from the perspective of a young female lead, in an accessible, young-adult style.

Like Twilight, there is one, central, unwavering love story. Two young lovers are for a time kept apart because of their core biological make-up. By continuing their love, they risk placing the other in danger.

In Twilight, the seemingly insurmountable obstacle is that Edward is a vampire, and Bella is a human. Vampires should consider humans as a food source, and humans should be chilled to the core when in a vampire’s presence. And yet, they fall in love.

In The Host, Earth has been taken over by a parasitic alien species. Wanderer, one of these aliens, or ‘souls’, comes to love the human partner of her host, Melanie. Jared is still human, and although Wanderer should have no empathy for the human race, she comes to value the life of this human life above any of her own species.

But Edward tries to stay away from Bella in Twilight, and Jared despises Wanderer even though he is still in love with Melanie (who may still be alive inside of her). Cue the love triangle. In Twilight, Bella has Jacob the werewolf. In The Host, ‘Wanda’ has Ian, the compassionate human who falls in love with her ‘soul’.

Stephenie Meyer knows how to write a good, mushy romance. The Host is brimming with fantasies from the mind of Melanie, and the dreams of Wanda, and the desires of Ian, and the tormented pain of Jared. The romantics out there will be satiated with lines like:

“After all the planets and all the hosts you’ve left behind, you’ve finally found the place and body you’d die for.”

“I wondered if death was strong enough to dissolve something so vital and sharp. Perhaps this love would live on with her, in some fairytale place with pearly gates.”

The book can be a bit repetitive. In showing, in detail, how Wanda fares with the humans in the caves, many of the chapters focus on Wanda’s nervous trips down dark corridors, and days spent working tirelessly to make bread or harvest the fields. There is also intricate detail on how the humans manage to live in exile: How they wash and take care of other, essential ablutions, and how their sleeping arrangements are made. Although it might sound a bit monotonous, this level of detail does succeed in pulling you deeply into the story.

One area that could have benefited from a good editor is the use of the same phrases to explain Wanda’s facial expressions and physical reactions. Whenever Jared touches her, it feels like fire. When she thinks about the Seeker, she feels nauseous. When Ian touches her, she crinkles her nose. Through the narration we understand these descriptions to be necessary, as Wanda is learning how her new body works. But I think the reader gets the point quite a while before Meyer believes she has made it.

In all, I enjoyed The Host. It is a very suspenseful read that seems to move with pace despite the repetitiveness of life in the caves, and Meyer succeeds in making you feel for the characters. It is the kind of book that you will rush through, only to regret your haste when it’s all over.

The film doesn’t endear you in the same way. The way that the filmmakers have adapted the pseudo science fiction-love story is very Bold and the Beautiful meets Body Snatchers. It’s all a little bit corny, and very Twilight.

My sister is a good barometer for the cheese factor in films. The way she audibly sighed throughout this movie was similar to her involuntary reactions to Anna Karenina.

Saorise Ronan’s breathy voice is reminiscent of her ghostly character in The Lovely Bones, where very sentence is made to sound ethereal. As the film wore on, I became impatient for the resolution. Whether Wanda took over and Melanie died, or Wanda gave in and Melanie returned, I didn’t care, so long as Wanda could show more than a vacant, confused expression, and we didn’t have to hear Melanie’s passive-aggressive voice-over any more.

In the book, Melanie’s influence allows Wanda to experience real some emotion – if it weren’t for her eyes, you could mistake Wanda for being human. But this wasn’t conveyed in the film, as the emphasis was on presenting Wanda as clearly ‘alien’ and ‘other’.

In the book, Melanie’s sarcastic, frustrated inner voice is often very humorous, and is a welcome contrast to Wanda’s sickly sweet view of the world. But in the film, Melanie’s narration from inside Wanda’s mind often comes across as laughingly lame one-liners.

At the heart of The Host – the book, as well as the film – are questions about our humanity. The souls take over earth because they perceive humans to be vicious, cruel, and careless with their planet. But, to the humans, the souls are not saving the Earth – they are taking over the world by force and destroying an entire species.

The message is that, even though there is a dark side to humanity, it is the dark that makes the light so much more beautiful. Love is more powerful amongst human beings, because they understand what it means to hate.

“This place was truly the highest and the lowest of all the worlds – the most beautiful senses, the most exquisite emotions… the most malevolent desires, the darkest deeds.”

Despite its comparatively simplistic approach, the film version does do justice to this overarching theme of the novel. The conflict between the values of the human race and the souls is well presented, and the audience is left to question whether ‘humanity’ is all it’s cracked up to be.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty now, there were some significant changes made, in transitioning this book to the big screen:

  • The film didn’t delve into as much detail about the other planets that the souls have populated, and the nature of Wanda’s past lives. It is still quite clear that Wanda is special, and her experiences unique, but in the film she is not the ‘celebrity’ that she is in the book.
  • By omitting details of Wanda’s past lives, the film also refrained from detailing the nature of the seaweed planet, and the fire planet and the claw beasts, dolphins and spiders. Which I think was a good move. These other planets are supposed to be beyond human comprehension – so to give them a visual representation on the screen would have impacted on this surrealist element of the story.
  • Another early omission is Wanda’s teaching job at the university. In the book she is given the title of ‘Honorary Professor,’ and her contribution to society is teaching other souls about the other planets. In the film, she has no such occupation. She also has no need for a Comforter like she does in the book.
  • In the book, Wanda’s Comforter acts as a counselor who tries to ease her transition into life on Earth. There is not place for the comforter in the film, as Wanda’s struggles are not as strongly felt, and she does not harbour any inner shame over not being able to rid her body of Melanie.
  • Wanda loses some of her intensity in the film. In the book she struggles for months to fight back against Melanie and is disappointed and shamed by her inability to do so. She is also fiercely proud of her past lives. In the film, Wanda is much more reserved and modest, and she doesn’t put up the same level of fight against Melanie.
  • While Wanda loses some of her intensity in the film, the Seeker becomes a much more powerful nemesis. In the book, the Seeker is a short, dark-haired, pixie-like soul, who begins as a source of annoyance and frustration to Wanda, which eventually develops into hatred. In the film, Diane Kruger’s statuesque Seeker is a force to be reckoned with. She is harsh and murderous, and although she might not trigger the same revulsion in Wanda, she does incite more fear.
  • Wanda’s getaway is much more dramatic in the film – the Seekers are lurking outside of her door as Melanie propels her from the balcony and into the pool below. She then attacks a soul, commandeers a vehicle and escapes into the night before Melanie takes control over her body once again, crashing the car in the middle of the desert. In the book, Wanda’s is traveling to see her Healer when Melanie quietly convinces her to seek out Jared and Jamie.
  • Missing from the film are the other examples of the resistant human minds taking back control of their bodies. In the book, an example is the fabled Kevin whose body had to be ‘retired’ because his resistant host made it unsuitable for habitation by such a kindly soul.
  • In the film, Melanie’s Dad shot himself to avoid capture. In the book, he was captured by the souls and he led the Seekers to find Melanie and Jamie.
  • In the book, Melanie throws herself down an elevator shaft to avoid capture. In the film, the elevator shaft is replaced with a glass window.
  • In the book, Wanda was locked away in her small, cavern-like prison for more than a week before she was tentatively ingratiated into human society in the caves. In the film the transition is quicker, and her sleeping quarters are much more humane. Wanda also has a few more run-ins with fists in the book, whereas in the film the physical assaults that she experiences are minimal.
  • The film has no Walter – Wanda’s human friend who dies of cancer and is buried in the desert – and no tribunal for Kyle who tries to murder her.
  • Wanda’s grief at the murdered souls lasts three days in the book, and she is almost comatose as she huddles in the darkest recesses of the caves and mourned the loss of her ‘family’. She only rouses when she is told about Jamie’s sickness. In the film, the mourning period is comparatively briefer, and less dramatic.
  • The way that Jamie hurts his leg is different in the film. In the book, he comes back with the injury after a raid. In the film, it happens while working in the fields inside the cave. The innocent Jamie of the film would never have been taken on a raid. He is more child-like than the Jamie of the book who is well into his teen years.
  • When Wanda and Jared go out in search for alien medicine for Jamie, the means of establishing Wanda’s cover story is different. In the book, Jared rips at Wanda’s face with a rock to obscure her scar and Wanda almost hacks her own arms off with a knife. In the film, the injuries are less brutal, their actions more restrained – Jared has no hand in it, he only watches as Wanda cuts a slice on her cheek and arms with a knife.
  • The incident with the truck accident was created for the big screen. After a high-speed pursuit, two humans deliberately crash their truck to avoid being captured by Seekers. The parallel in the book is a much less dramatic highway scene, where police officers pull over Wanda and Jared’s car, but Wanda is able to talk herself out of the situation and the supply truck passes by unnoticed.
  • Also missing from the film are the long raids that Wanda, Jared, Ian and Kyle go on, once they realise how useful Wanda can be. They travel from town to town constructing new identities, sleeping at hotels, and collecting masses of supplies. In the film, this is reduced to one casual trip to the grocery store.
  • Also missing is the family that Wanda observes at the park – the two souls with the human child, who prompt Wanda’s musing about the potential future of earth with souls and humans living together in harmony.
  • In the book, Wanda swears not to tell her secret – of how souls can be safely removed from human bodies – to any human. But eventually, and after much heartache, she comes to realise that it is the only way to save both species. In the film, Wanda doesn’t anticipate the humans’ want of this information, but eventually offers it willingly and with less sense of personal suffering and sacrifice.
  • The coaxing of the souls out of the human body is also different. In the book, Wanda teaches Doc how to reach his fingers inside the human neck and follow the spine of the soul, before massaging and cajoling it free. In the film, the trick is kindness. All that is necessary is to cut the skin and wait as the soul floats its way out of the body.
  • In the film, once the soul is removed from the Seeker’s body, the human left behind is obnoxious and “difficult”. In the film, she is reduced to a sobbing wreck that is only grateful to be free.
  • In the film there is no Jodi, and no Sunny, and Kyle does not come around and accept that souls can be treated like human beings. There are also no middle-aged healers, abducted to help pass on healing tricks to Doc.
  • In the book, there is a tribunal where the humans argue about whether Wanda should be allowed to leave Melanie’s body, and where she is presented the option of having another host body. In the film, there is no tribunal. The decisions are made without in-depth discussion.

The verdict:

How does the film rate? 2.5/5

How does the film rate as an adaptation? 3/5

Total score: 5.5/10

Book or Big Screen? Book

Coming soon: A comparison of ‘The Shipping News’ from book to film.


  1. It sounds like an interesting series. I will check it out

    book publicity

  2. Wow! You really pull the book and the movie apart! Thoroughly enjoyed your review. And thanks for promoting my Tweet. I do the occasional book vs movie reviews - certainly not the way you do. I'm happy to follow so I can keep an eyes on your posts.

  3. Danielle - I love the depth and quality of your reviews, so I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. It's just a little way to highlight blogs with fewer than 200 followers. Let me know if you want to accept! Thanks - Kristin


    P.S. I promise I am not a scam, a hoax, or a virus.

  4. Hi Shannon, Gwynneth and Kristin. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read - I know it can take a bit of dedication, as I do tend to go a bit overboard and my reviews become quite lengthy :)

    Gwynneth - That would be great, I'll keep tabs on your blog as well and will also keep in touch via Twitter.

    Kristin - That's so kind. I very humbly and happily accept, thank you!

  5. Definitely plan on renting this one! It isn't my usual kind of story but I started the book earlier this year and was finding it quite interesting. Sadly I had to put it aside in pursuit of other review commitments although I plan to finish it soon!