‘Life’ (DVD/Blu-Ray) Review

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Our Rating

Stupidly named aliens6
6

In space, no-one can hear you snore…

A group of astronauts on the ISS intercept a probe carrying soil samples from Mars, only to discover life hidden within. And it’s far from friendly…

It’s a dangerous business, this space exploration. In the same year that Ridley Scott felt compelled to remind us of the horrors that await in the depths of the unknown in ‘Alien: Covenant’ (basically a bleach-blond Michael Fassbender spouting philosophy), ‘Life‘ presents us with a much more Earth-bound dilemma, as a multi-national group of astronauts dicking about on the International Space Station are tasked with retrieving a probe from Mars that is, for reasons never fully explained, heading to Earth at some speed. On board this probe are samples of Martian soil that need to be analysed, preferably in the safety of quarantine several hundred miles above the Earth. That will be easy, right? That sort of thing never goes wrong… Once analysed, the samples reveal signs of life, in the form of a microscopic single-celled lifeform, which the crew promptly revive. Initially it’s all wonderful, as the lifeform multiplies, growing into a multi-celled organism that proves surprisingly intelligent and adaptable (it even gets saddled with the name ‘Calvin’ by some school children). However, after an accident causes Calvin to seemingly die, a revival attempt unleashes a hitherto unseen hostility in this new creature that puts all the of the crew at serious risk. So far, so familiar…

Life‘ comes to us with serious clout behind it. It’s directed by the Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, a rising name in Hollywood who also brought ‘Safe House‘ and ‘Child 44‘ to the big screen. It also features a strong international cast headed by Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal, and ably backed up Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dykhovichnaya. Add to that a script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the ‘so-hot-right-now’ writers behind Zombieland and Deadpool, and you surely have all the ingredients of a sure-fire hit, right? Well, no. As a matter-of-fact you don’t. Perhaps it’s all those heavy ingredients, or perhaps it’s the overwhelming sense of familiarity, but ‘Life’ just never gets going. I think, for me anyway, it’s the sense that I’ve seen it all before, and usually done better, that made this such a disappointment. People in peril on a spaceship? Try ‘Alien‘. A multi-national crew in peril on a spaceship? What about ‘Event Horizon‘. A multi-national crew in peril on a spaceship right next to Earth? I think you’re looking for ‘Gravity‘. Setting this particular story aboard the ISS is clearly meant to convey a sense of real-world grittiness and reality to the story, although it’s worth noting that the year is never clearly established, and the ISS in the movie is clearly a lot bigger and more technologically advanced than the current one. We’re clearly aiming for some ‘near future’ vibe. That said, the station itself still has plenty of plot advancing issues. For instance, why does that quarantine room, with it’s impressively complicated locking mechanism, still have small holes in it’s ceiling that organisms can, and indeed do, escape from? It’s almost as if the people that built it have never seen a movie before…

The human cast members are not exactly better served by the script either. Everyone of them, at some point, makes the sort of dumb decision that, admittedly, drives this sort of story along. Reviving the creature in the first place doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, at least not to my unscientific eyes. They have literally no idea what will happen if and when they can wake it up, so when they do, and it all goes horrifically pear-shaped, it’s hard to feel that much sympathy. There are also plot points that are left frustratingly unresolved, such as the fact that Gyllenhaal’s character has broken the record for time spent in space. An exploration of the physical and mental toll this might take on a person would have been useful in setting up later plot developments, but instead it’s never referred to again, other than a vague reference to him ‘belonging in space’, which makes him sound more like a wasted festival goer than an astronaut struggling to maintain a grip on reality. Similarly, a decision to make Bakare’s character disabled (he has no feeling or movement in his legs) seems initially like a positive step, until a later plot development left me questioning that initial reaction. It’s also worth noting that the film as a whole is rather light on humour, save for a few wisecracks from Reynolds. While I accept that the subject matter is far from funny, a joke or two here and there would have helped lighten the mood considerably.

I should stress that ‘Life‘ is by no means a bad film. The visual effects, for instance, are superb. The ISS is magnificently realised, and is filled with the sort of technology that the real NASA can only dream of, while other smaller details resonate as well, such as Bakare’s disabled limbs. Bakare himself is able-bodied, although you will be convinced otherwise. And despite the limitations of the script, the cast are all very good, inhabiting their roles fully and believably. Particular mentions should go to Reynolds who, despite the afore-mentioned wisecracks, dials things down considerably and reminds us what a good dramatic actor he can be, and Ferguson, who is rapidly growing into one of Hollywood’s most in-demand leading ladies. While she initially seems like the boring, by-the-book member of the crew, as things escalate out of control she’s about the only person to maintain their composure, remaining convinced they can salvage the situation right until the end.

If you like this sort of thing (and many do) it’s well worth a look, but be warned: you will see nothing new or particularly ground breaking. It’s an interesting story certainly, and probably much closer to what humanity’s actual first contact with an alien species will be like (anal probes don’t count) than anything on ‘Star Trek‘. The problem is, it’s all been done before. And much more enjoyably. So see ‘Life’ by all means. Just see everything else first.

About author

TheMetalHead

Long-time fan of all things geek-related. Comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, Warhammer, video games, mythology, you name it, I probably like it. This also extends to pro-wrestling and heavy metal, hence the name. Particular loves would be the Star Wars sage, Game of Thrones (books and TV), Judge Dredd, Assassins Creed, and many more. Born and raised in Essex by parents who have broadly supported these passions over the years, so much so that they now share many of them.