Host, The (UK - BD)
Scott McKenzie is starting to regret dumping formaldehyde down the drain...
When the American military dump gallons of toxic chemicals into Seoul’s sewage system, it affects marine life in the Han River so much that a new type of predator is born. Without warning it attacks the people of Seoul, kidnapping Park Hyun-seo, the daughter of Gang-du, a slacker who does his best to stay awake when he’s supposed to be working in the kiosk owned by his father. When the powers-that-be refuse to believe their suspicions that Hyun-seo is alive, the Park family must battle against the military and the monster itself if they’ve got any chance of seeing her again.
I was looking forward to watching The Host, having heard lots of good things about it, with some critics claiming it to be the best monster movie since Jaws. The approach of the filmmakers is to focus on the effect of a crisis on one family in a similar way to Signs, rather than telling the story of the government’s battle with the enemy à la Independence Day. This seems like a good idea and allows for a more human aspect than a regular blockbuster. The problem I had with the story was that the various members of the family are pretty useless, bumbling their way past obstacles rather than overcoming them.
I realise that this is intentional and the comedy in the movie is based around the actions of the main characters, but I didn’t buy into it. Maybe it’s the Korean sense of humour I don’t get, but for large parts of the movie I was left asking why they didn’t say or do the most obvious and necessary things. This may seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but in a movie that has a massive killer fish thing as its main antagonist, the movie should move along quickly like a thriller and the comedy side of the story should be subservient to it, not slowing the action down while everyone goofs around.
Just as a bootleg edit of The Phantom Menace exists without the inclusion of Jar-Jar Binks, I believe there is an excellent fast-paced ninety-minute horror thriller hidden away somewhere in The Host’s bloated two-hour running time. The monster first appears in a genuinely exciting and surprisingly light-hearted attack and the scenes with Hyun-seo in the sewers are among the most suspenseful. The comedy does have its place as well, with a particularly inventive gag involving a coughing fit, a puddle and a passing bus.
The performances of the main characters are rather hit-and-miss as well, with the strongest coming from Ko Ah-sung as Hyun-seo and Song Kang-ho (who has previously worked with director Bong Joon-ho in the excellent Memories of Murder) as Gang-du. The cinematography is something to be admired though, with some inventive framing choices and good use of colour. All this adds up to a movie that has a lot of positive points that make it an enjoyable watch, but for me there were just too many moments that took me out of the movie to fully recommend it.
While the original aspect ratio (according to IMDb) is 1.85:1, and that is how it is presented here. but the quality of the 1080p picture is very impressive. The movie is very colourful and I’m pleased to report that the colours are bright and strong. The only problem with this is that the picture is sometimes so bright that it clashes with the white subtitles, making them difficult to read in some scenes. The detail in the picture is also a major plus, with the smoke and water effects giving eagle-eyed viewers most enjoyment. Maybe it’s because of the high definition presentation, but I thought the monster looked more out of place than I did when I watched this movie on standard definition DVD. The structure of the monster doesn’t have as much detail as the viewer can find in the faces of ‘real’ people. While this isn’t necessarily a problem with the transfer, it did significantly affect my visual enjoyment of this movie.
There are three audio options available in both dubbed English (which I steered clear of) and Korean: PCM 5.1, DTS-HD HR 5.1 and regular Dolby Digital 5.1. The Host is inventive in the composition of its soundtrack, utilising silence and classical music to both dramatic and comedic effect and I have no problems to report with the quality here. Music, dialogue and effects are all pitched at the right level and I couldn’t spot any major flaws. The surround effects are most impressive, with echo and running water adding the necessary detail to the creepy scenes in the sewers.
This disc comes bundled with plenty of extras that will either prove to be exhaustive or exhausting depending on how you feel about navigating round the menus between all the featurettes, which are separated into three sections. The ‘Making of’ featurettes focus on the genesis of the story, which the writer/director thought of as the Loch Ness monster in the Han river via the family aspect of Signs. There is also plenty of behind the scenes footage of shooting on location in the sewers and the rough and ready work done to create some of the physical effects. The ‘Creature’ featurettes add up to the best part of an hour about the design, physical and digital animation of the monster. Of particular interest to me were the shots of the monster’s first attack without the monster, then with the digital model in differing levels of detail. The ‘Cast’ featurettes include short interviews with the main players as they talk about their characters and we also get to see them training in archery and shooting.
The gag reel is also hit-and-miss, including a lot of light-hearted digital animations. There are fourteen deleted scenes but some of them are very short shots of the monster but one does involve a clip of Korean football player Park Ji-sung, who also happens to play for the best football team in the world. An audio commentary is provided by the director and his friend, who chairs the chat, prompting him with questions. This works pretty well and we get plenty of information about the real-life inspiration for the opening sequence and the themes addressed in the movie. The original Korean trailer is also included.
The Host is a slickly produced movie that is definitely worthy of your time if you’re in the mood for a monster movie that’s a little different. However, I found the excessive time spent on the comedy side of the story made the film a lot longer than it should have been. Minor complaints about the subtitles and the monster aside, the movie looks and sounds good and the decent array of extras will be well-received by fans of the movie.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 19th November 2007
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM 5.1 Korean, DTS-HD HR 5.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean, PCM 5.1 English, DTS-HD HR 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Commentary, Making Of Featurettes, The Creature Featurettes, The Cast Featurettes, Gag Reel, Deleted Scenes, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Cast: Kang-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Hae-il Park, Ah-sung Ko, Du-na Bae
Genre: Action and Horror
Length: 120 minutes
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