Despite mostly solid reviews, I decided to pass on Life in theaters, and seeing it at home proved to be a mostly satisfying experience that no doubt would have been even better on the big screen. This is yet another one of those outer-space thrillers which has Alien written all over it, although I wouldn't be surprised if a good portion of its viewers considered it superior to the concurrent Alien: Covenant which seemed to upset even more fans of the series than Prometheus even when they both came from director Ridley Scott. Regardless of any echoes to that aging franchise, Life proved itself to stand on its own, adequately building tension and delivering in terms of thrills with confidence. Docking on Blu-ray with with a nice selection of extras courtesy of Sony, Life is sure to please science-fiction fans even with its familiar trappings.
Upon completion of an eight-month mission to Mars, the International Space Station is now headed home with some soil samples collected from a probe. A total of six astronauts make up the crew: two Americans (Jake Gyllenhaal & Ryan Reynolds), two British (Rebecca Ferguson & Anyon Bakare), a Japanese systems engineer (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the Russian Mission Commander (Olga Dihovichnaya). It is Bakare's exobiologist who is able to extract a single cell from the soil samples which soon morphs into a multi-celled organism. During communication with school children on Earth, they adorably decide to name the organism Calvin; at first, it's an astonishing discovery which the crew approaches with fascination and caution. However, as Calvin increases in size and intelligence, it proves to be quite an antagonistic and malevonent creature which, naturally, wreaks havoc on the ISS crew as they journey back to Earth.
If you go into Life with an open mind and forget about any cinematic inspirations, the film does succeed in grabbing the viewer and never loosening its grip. Screenwriters Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick previously gave us the hilarious action comedies Zombieland and Deadpool (in addition to writing those films' future sequels coming out in 2018); they are not joking around with Life however, despite the presence of Ryan Reynolds, who's quite likable and surprisingly sympathetic as the flight engineer who becomes Calvin's first victim. Still, the rest of the cast are equally strong, with the standout being Rebecca Ferguson as the quarantine officer. Sure, the characterizations themselves are rather hollow and lack any real depth or development, although it almost doesn't matter as the real star is Calvin: a slimy octopus-like organism which slithers its way around the station with terrifying abandon and mysterious motivation. Devotees of the Alien franchise can make all the comparisons and complaints they want, but I found Life to be very entertaining, if nothing more; like Calvin itself, the film doesn't overstay its welcome and moves at a more than palatable clip.
- BLU-RAY SPECS & EXTRAS -
Sony is far from being my favorite studio nowadays considering their financial desperation and product placement addiction, yet they still know how to reward one on Blu-ray and Life is, for the most part, no exception. The digital sheen tends to mute the colors resulting in a drab, clinical image although considering the intense, moody tone it works in the film's favor. The 2.39:1, 1080p resolution is fairly standard but strikingly clean all the same, but what really elevates the Blu-ray is the superlative DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless audio track; there are also 5.1 Master Audio tracks in French and Portuguese, along with 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in Spanish and Thai. One of my favorite aspects of the film was Jon Ekstrand's booming score which reportedly pays homage to the legendary Bernard Herrmann; as someone who loves Herrmann's work, however, I never would have detected the connection. The sound design and effects are simply impeccable, and they really give you a sense of the extreme vulnerability of living and breathing on the space station. Subtitles are provided in nine different languages, although the dialogue is easily heard and never technologically daunting.
As far as extras, they are the usual hot-and-cold sampling of featurettes, deleted scenes and an Ultraviolet digital copy. The 6 deleted scenes (totaling approximately 6 minutes) are entirely negligible. The interviews with director Daniel Espinosa, all 6 cast members, producers David Ellison & Dana Goldberg, the screenwriters, real-life medical space scientist Dr. Kevin Fong, real-life geneticist Dr. Adam Rutherford and some other crew members are all interesting enough to make the trio of featurettes worthwhile. Running roughly 7 minutes each, the behind-the-scenes featurettes focus on creating the illusion of a zero gravity environment, the art & science behind Calvin as a creature, and generating terror in an outer space thriller; among other things, the cast members talk about their interpretation of the script and director Espinosa expounds on the goal of creating what he calls “science reality.” Finally, there is some “astronaut diaries” which are some faux recorded crew confessions which are quite inane and unnecessary. In the end, as a genre exercise, Life is perfectly fine but it's surely no classic; I would recommend a rental or stream before investing in Sony's Blu-ray, although it's worth it for those who enjoyed the film.
- ABOUT THE AUTHOR -
Stone Gasman has been addicted to cinema ever since he was a child, becoming hooked on Chaplin, Hitchcock and Wilder by the time he was 10 years old. The film which changed his life was The Best Years of Our Lives, the 1946 winner for Best Picture and eight additional Oscars, which ultimately inspired him to join the US Navy. He is now a disabled veteran residing in New York City.