The novelty of discovering life on Mars wears off quickly for the astronauts in Life
It’s difficult to imagine a world in which Ridley Scott’s Alien does not exist – but it’s worth a try if you want to enjoy what Life has on offer.Aboard the International Space Station an international team of six astronauts eagerly await the return of the Pilgrim Capsule as it makes its way back from Mars carrying with it samples that could finally prove the existence of life beyond Earth. As the teams paraplegic scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) begins to carefully examine the samples safely locked away within the station's science lab he soon discovers that tucked away within the soil lies a large single-celled organism. With a bit of love and care, and some scientific know-how, Hugh manages to encourage the organism to grow as the rest of the team watch on, but as with all well-intended science experiments it’s not long before things start to get out of hand.Soon enough Calvin, the name given to the organism, begins to grow much bigger and starts showing signs of intelligence which naturally causes alarm for the team, especially the by-the-book scientist Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) who is quick to ensure that the correct firewalls and procedures are put in place and followed. But nothing can keep Calvin down as one by one the team get to experience first hand just what Calvin is capable of. Okay - the jig is up. It is basically an attempt to repackage the plot of Alien and throw some big names and flashy effects into the mix in the hope that the end result might just about cover up any signs of where its inspiration undoubtedly came from.
Directing this homage is Daniel Espinosa with a script written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and for all its misgivings Life does do reasonably well in its attempt at bringing to the screen a decent alien in space movie. Yes, you could easily argue that a majority of the key plot points have been taken directly from Ridley Scott's 1979 hit but in fairness that film stole it's basic premise from the 1950s creature feature It! The Terror from Beyond Space. Espinosa manages to do his best with the cast – largely led by Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan, Ryan Reynolds as Roy Adams and Ferguson – to deliver a reasonably entertaining film. It’s not wrought with the same level of tension or suspense that you might expect from a film with a deadly alien at the centre of the narrative but there are a few scenes that almost reach an edge-of-your-seat moment.
Most of the film is set within the space station itself with some nice, fluid cinematography to really emphasise the look and feel of zero gravity, the opening scene for example is completed in one take which aids in mapping out the geography of the environment the team occupy. The film boasts some decent visuals of space and the distant Earth, just enough to help set the scene and remind the audience that they really are up in orbit and not just at some hi-tech research facility. With a fairly concise running time everything is neatly slotted into the film to make it all fit together and despite its predictable ending remains engaging throughout.
It’s been done to death before but there’s just enough life injected to keep the plot going
Unfortunately the cast are, for the most part, left to play second fiddle to the space creature which is described as being made up entirely of ‘muscle and brain’. Apart from Gyllenhaal’s David, who finds space far more enjoyable and peaceful than earth, no one else’s character is given much fleshing out; Hiroyuki Sanada plays Sho Murakami whose wife has just given birth back home, Olga Dihovichnaya is the team's captain and leader Ekaterina Golovkina, but we don’t ever really learn much about her, and unsurprisingly Reynolds is given the befitting role of team comedian which he plays well. Bakare and Ferguson, the two English team members, are given a little bit more to work with which gives the film a bit of depth. Despite the seeming lack of character development or backstory it’s not entirely detrimental to the film as a whole as the characters are all likeable and help to bring the film to its semi-climactical conclusion.
Lets not kid ourselves, any sci-fi film set in space aboard a spacecraft with an alien on the loose was always going to find itself being judged and compared to the standard set by Alien. And while Life can almost be viewed as a bit of a rip-off, it’s not all bad. Even if it is just to pass the time before Alien: Covenant comes out later this year, it’s enjoyable popcorn fodder that can be appreciated for what it is, an homage to one of the greatest science fiction films to ever grace our screens.
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