By Bryan Alexander
When the movie version of Stephenie Meyer's best-selling novel The Host opens Friday, the Twilightsaga author's followers will sink their teeth into it to see if it's worthy of welcoming into their universe.
They should brace themselves for an alien experience.
Banished is the vampire-werewolf-human love triangle that launched four books and five movies that have netted $3.3 billion in box office. Gone are the previously unknown actors thatTwilightturned into international superstars: Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart.
There isn't even a bloodsucker to be found in the futuristicThe Host. Yet Meyer says she has found her niche with her 2008 sci-fi work.
"Science fiction is actually more me and my reading experience," she says. "I never really read any vampire books before I wroteTwilight, that was the weird thing. Aliens are actually right up my alley."
The million-dollar - actually, billion-dollar - question is whether thisother otherworldly story is right up the alley of her fans. They'll be introduced to a new trio of young, beautiful actors: Max Irons, Jake Abel and Saoirse Ronan. And with Meyer as the creative force behindThe Host, the anticipation is high, even though the project was never conceived as a potential blockbuster franchise.
"Twilightwas this amazing phenomenon. As a result, anything that Meyer's name is attached to, there are these automatic big expectations," says Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. "She has shown what she can do. But I don't know ifThe Hosthas the same momentum."
Literary success and the voices ofTwilightfans would have dictated that Meyer stay on the path she created with that series as she began to write new material in 2006. But she went in an entirely new direction.
"Writing for other people doesn't appeal," Meyer says. "I feel bad I cannot make everyone happy. I'm a mom. I have the guilt instinct that kicks in. But I really have to write the story I want to tell."
That story is of a strong, spirited human girl, Melanie/Wanda (Ronan), who is taken over by an alien host as part of a world invasion.
TheHostmovie has some clear Meyer trademarks. Her characters have brilliant eyes (human hosts' eyes turn bright blue, similar to the wild vampire eyes fromTwilight). There is also averycomplicated love story.Twilight's triangle has been replaced by Ronan's character's split personalities (alien and host human) each falling for separate human resistance fighters (Abel and Irons).
"It's a love quadrangle," Meyer says. "There's a reason I have a love triangle in Twilightand the complicated love in this story. It's because it's an interesting problem to write about. And you have to solve it."
Meyer relied on screenwriter and director Andrew Niccol to bring her novel to the big screen without even a supportingTwilightplayer in the cast.
"It was a conscious choice to separate the projects," she says. "We kept it its own animal. We're widening the family."
To help bring her new actors intoTwilight-fan households, Meyer hit the road recently, visiting locations around the world. World promo tours were commonplace for theTwilightactors, but the addition of a celebrity author was new.
"Twilightwas its own machine. It didn't need me on the front lines. It was doing fine," Meyer says. "This (movie) feels like it needs me a little bit more. You want to go out and make it work."
She jetted to Paris, London and Madrid before joining her cast in major U.S. cities. She had a day off during the San Francisco leg so she could throw her husband, Christian, a surprise 40th birthday party. During a Los Angeles screening, the normally reticent Meyer introduced the film to fans.
"This is not normally my thing," she admits. "But I see people starting to connect with these actors."
Sarah Ksiazek of TheHostMovieNews.com says she is noticing mixed success in the full court press.
"You have this love story and Stephenie Meyer," she says. "But It's kind of weird - it's not the rabid fandom that's all-consuming likeTwilight.I don't know how it's going to transfer over. But we'll see when it opens."
Kara O'Grady of TwilightMoms.com says her website has thrown its full support toward the project. She believesThe Hostwill catch fire.
"But it's going to be a slow burn. Once it drops, everyone will fall for Max, Jake and ...oh, my God, what's that actress's name?" (That's Saoirse Ronan).
Meyer says she is not worried about meeting box-office goals. "I don't have expectations. It's not my job to worry about that," she says. As for any movie sequel, there are no official plans, and Meyer calmly says it's out of her hands.
"It's all up to how things go down. I don't have a number," she says. "There might be a number. But nobody has told me."
Her only priority is finishing the exhausting film publicity and getting to work on the much-delayed follow-up book. "I plan to lock myself in my office and just write," she says. "But life has a way of mocking my plans."
Whatever happens toThe Host, however, Meyer insists she's going to have the last laugh.
"I feel like I've reached the point where I'm good. I've got what I needed from this story. And I'm proud of it," she says. "And that makes me happy."