Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Music by Jon Ekstrand
Cinematography by Seamus McGarvey
Film Editing by Mary Jo Markey and Frances Parker
Puppeteer Tom Wilton
How often does one leave a film starring a cast of Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominees and think, I should have gone to see the Power Rangers? Yes, I went to the opening night of LIFE and the thought keeps going through my mind that I can never get those 143 minutes back. What a waste. Not only a waste of my time, but a waste of a tremendous cast. With multiple Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, nominees, among other honours, it would seem impossible to produce a project like Life. Blame the script or the direction, but the film wasn’t worth the effort.
A crew of beautiful people are on assignment in the International Space Station waiting to be probe by Martians. No. They are waiting to intercept a Mars probe that has been forced off its programmed course and must be caught as it rolls past or it and the samples it has harvested will be lost forever. (My plot had you more excited for a moment, didn’t it?) These samples are of the utmost importance to the Space Program; the catch may endanger the Station and the lives on board but it is worth the attempt.
The hope and goal of retrieving the samples: examine and find signs of life beyond planet Earth. They are ecstatic at first until they see the lifeform is growing faster and larger for which than they had taken precautions. Even worse, it is intelligent, very intelligent. Such beings, they realise, were responsible for exterminating all other life on Mars. Now, it plans to wipe out the crew and reach Earth where it will have an almost unlimited hunting ground. Unless, the crew can destroy it.
If you have watched a film in the last forty years you will find the comparison to Alien inescapable. Life is far from the first film to “borrow” the plot from Ridley “Smoke & Fog” Scott and Dan O’Bannon’s masterpiece of science fiction and horror that snagged Sigourney Weaver the first ever Oscar nomination for a woman in an action movie. It is the kind of movie that every time you flip through channels and happen to catch it, you are ensnared until the end. A dangerous alien loose on a space vehicle with the crew in danger. The amazing coincidence of the plot similarity is where the comparison ends.
Alien is a “jump” film, the kind where all kinds of people instantly levitate from their seats at the boo! moments. There are squeals and eeks! at the appropriate moments, and there are so many of those. In every showing there were people covering their eyes or burrowing their face in somebody’s shoulder. That was one ugly and lethal creature. The entire movie was intense from start to finish. It is one scary ass experience.
Now, Life… Well, maybe some audience members jumped; I was too busy checking the time every few minutes. If Life were only as frightening as advertised it might have had a chance at overcoming the other flaws in the film, but the alien just didn’t reach that level. Every supposed scare was telegraphed from light years away. THE alien was terrifying just standing still, not attacking the doomed crew. This alien isn’t horrific in medias blitz. Shout-out to Patrick.
To make any movie great, to reel viewers in, characters have to grow. There was a chance for great development of the characters and their relationships in Life; with such small cast in a contained set it would seem almost impossible not to learn more. Sigourney Weaver didn’t get the first-ever Academy Award nomination for a woman in an action film for being a stock, wooden character. By the time the end credits roll the audience knows no more about Sho Murakami, Ekaterina Golovkina, Hugh Derry, and the others and what the connections between them might be than when the posters first went up. Contrast that with last year’s Arrival, a near-perfect sci-fi film, that delivered an equally fascinating first-encounter story and human love story unlike any on the silver screen before.
When the aliens in Arrival are onscreen, they are astonishing, overwhelming, and take your breath away. When Amy Adams is the focus, there is a constriction in the chest that doesn’t go away until hours after leaving the theatre. If this seems a purely personal reaction, be aware it was echoed by many men and women with whom I discussed the film. It’s best described as an excellent alien invasion story with deep emotional impact.
Aliens, astronauts, military, civilians, space vehicles, tight spaces (literal or metaphorical), tension, and growth — one of these films doesn’t belong here… With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant, Despicable Me 3, It Comes At Night, and Wonder Woman coming up, save the ten-plus dollars or pounds you would lay out for this lifeless yawner and get ready for what might be the good stuff.