A Stephenie Meyer book without pouting vampires? It might sound difficult to believe, but in 2008 the Twilight author set aside the trials and tribulations of the innocent Bella, the blood-craving Edward and the beautiful werewolf Jacob to write The Host. When it was revealed that this was to be a sci-fi novel featuring - you've guessed it - a love triangle, there was excitable chatter promising that Meyer would do for aliens what she'd achieved with vampires. The results were slightly less enthralling. Predictable romance played out over 617 pages? Check. Angsty young adults battling with their emotions? Absolutely. After the initial wave of enthusiasm, it was quite clear that Meyer had distilled all these themes to far more successful effect in the Twilight trilogy. The Host was bound for footnote status in Meyer's spectacular career. Until now.
This week, the US magazine Deadline reported that Saoirse Ronan, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar after her impressive work as the mistaken, whistle-blowing girl Briony in Atonement, has signed on to star in the film adaptation of The Host. Announcing this now is something of a canny move, with the film industry schmooze-fest Cannes opening tomorrow, and Meyer and the producer Nick Wechsler are travelling to France to drum up some buyers for the movie. That they actually have a famous lead actress, currently wowing audiences in the action thriller Hanna, should now entice a distributor to take the bait after a few rather problematic years in development.
First, Andrew Niccol (The Truman Show, Gattaca) fashioned a screenplay with the approval and involvement of Meyer, and was expected to direct the film himself. Then he dropped out to helm Now, the forthcoming sci-fi thriller starring Justin Timberlake. The Nanny McPhee Returns director Susanna White took over, before pulling out, too. Currently, The Host is director-free.
Such industry shenanigans do suggest that The Host is a rather more tricky undertaking than adapting the Twilight series. Both stories rely on human drama rather than outlandish special effects, but while it was quite clear in her more famous trilogy who was the vampire and who was the werewolf, in The Host it's a lot more complicated. Ronan will play Melanie Stryder, one of the last humans on earth battling the Souls, who invade human bodies and rather rudely erase their personalities. When Stryder is captured by these aliens and implanted by a Soul called Wanderer, she proves to be rather more adept than most in refusing to surrender her consciousness. The problem the book struggled with is that Stryder and Wanderer are effectively two people in one body - so just how the film will make it clear whether we're watching the human or the alien will be its greatest challenge.
Still, once they get past that, there's cheesy melodrama to wallow in: Wanderer becomes enraptured by Stryder's memories, has strong feelings for her boyfriend and brother and hatches a plan to find them. The intriguing part being, we never actually know whether this is Wanderer becoming more human or just the remaining parts of Stryder's infected mind trying to find lost love. Such tension!
Although not quite enough, it seems, for Meyer to get around to publishing the much-mooted sequel to The Host. All of which rather suggests she didn't have quite as much fun with aliens as she did with vampires. But more indirectly, Meyer has made aliens the new teenage heartthrobs. The desire from studios to find "the next Twilight", now that the vampire craze appears to have run its course, led to the recent teenage flick I Am Number Four. Alex Pettyfer played a smouldering teenage boy - who is actually an alien. In fact, the release of the barely disguised Twilight clone Red Riding Hood means it's not just aliens that now appear to be fair game. Characters from dark fairy tales are too.
So it will be interesting to see how The Host fares - although since it lacks a director at the moment, we won't be holding our breath. But Stephenie Meyer's armies of expectant fans will hardly go hungry in the meantime: the film adaptation of the last in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn, has been broken into two parts and will be released in November 2011 and 2012. By which time, judging by the cyclical nature of such things, aliens won't be the new vampires. Vampires will, no doubt, be the new vampires. And Stephenie Meyer will be laughing all the way to the bank.
* Ben East