Life Blu-ray Review

Life screams in outer space, to see if anyone can hear it on Blu-ray. 2.5 Stars

Life screams in outer space, to see if anyone can hear it on Blu-ray.

 

Life (2017)
Released: 24 Mar 2017
Rated: R
Runtime: 104 min
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Cast: Hiroyuki Sanada, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal
Writer(s): Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Plot: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
IMDB rating: 6.7
MetaScore: 54

Disc Information
Studio: Sony
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, English DVS 2.0, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.0 DTS-HDMA, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 Hr. 42 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
Case Type:
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: ABC
Release Date: 06/20/2017
MSRP: $34.99

The Production: 2/5

Ripley:   There’s got to be a way to kill it. How do we do it?

Ash:   You can’t. You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? A perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Lambert:   You admire it.

Ash:   I admire its purity. A survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality…A last word: I can’t lie to you about your chances.   But you have my sympathies…

ALIEN (1979)

 

 

Calvin:   Here comes Susie! Now’s my chance to hit her with a slushball!

Susie:   I SEE YOU! You’d better not throw that! Santa Claus is watching you right now!

(Calvin thinks a moment, then goes full evil and fires off the slushball at Susie)

Calvin: Oh Yes! YES! It was worth it! What a shot! I’m not sorry! Oh it was beautiful! I’d do it again in a minute! Ha Ha!   A-EECK!!!

(Calvin reacts in horror as a surprisingly fast and strong Susie careens toward him, clobbering him and leaving him half buried in the snow)

Buried Calvin:   Santa’s gonna skip this block for years…

CALVIN & HOBBES 12-20-1988

 

 

Life is a fairly simple movie to summarize without getting much into spoilers.   A group of international astronauts on the International Space Station encounter a Martian life form, and the usual hijinks ensue.   It’s standard thriller material, liberally cribbed from ALIEN and GRAVITY with the occasional touch of Grand Guignol to keep things interesting.   On a technical level, the movie is impressive to see and hear.   A significant amount of CGI work has been required, but it’s been applied with care and rarely announces itself.   The sound mix absolutely gives all the speakers in a 7.1 home theater a workout. Viewers looking for a fun spacebound thriller that gets loud at the right times will most likely enjoy this.   Anyone looking for anything more interesting will likely throw up their hands long before the film’s mercifully brief running time comes to an end.

 

SPOILERS: Right off the bat, I have to say that it’s likely pointless for me to put up spoiler warnings in this review.   When the packaging for the movie includes the statements “a creature that wiped out all life on Mars” and “You’ll never see the twist end coming”, there’s really not much accomplished with a spoiler alert, is there?   But I’ll leave it up, just in case someone has not seen any of the copious material already published on this movie, or the trailer, or anything on social media, or…

 

MORE SPOILERS:   Life initially tries to present itself as a serious science fiction film, along the lines of Gravity, including the same kinds of fluid, extended time shots as the astronauts and their environment are introduced.   In short order, we receive the basic plot information that this team has been tasked with retrieving a Mars probe and its samples.   Among the samples is a microbial cell from Mars that the team’s scientist, Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) is able to reanimate, to the point that it grows to maybe a petri dish size and responds to basic stimuli while being kept quarantined in the station’s lab.   It’s at this point that the movie shows Earth becoming aware of the life form, and the kids of Calvin Coolidge Elementary name the alien after their school – henceforth, the astronauts call it Calvin.   The movie then introduces the curveball that sets all the other problems in motion: in trying to stimulate Calvin, Hugh uses a cattle prod – and Calvin responds rather poorly to being shocked.   Even at a small size, Calvin is able to crush Hugh’s hand (as seen in the trailer), and then crush and absorb a lab rat, and begin to grow in size and power.   At this point, the plot is set – Calvin is now hostile to the humans on the station and potentially a threat to all life on Earth if it should ever get down there.   (I should note that the movie’s certainly been given a solid technical delivery, with one key exception: while the movie takes place in zero gravity and director Daniel Espinosa has gone to great lengths and wirework to make the astronauts appear to be floating free in the station just like Gravity, they have forgotten to account for the actual effects of gravity during filming. For example, when Hugh’s crushed hand comes out of the lab sleeve, it noticeably drops downward, as it should on Earth. But in space, the hand would stay level, since there would be no gravity to pull it down.  And that’s not the only time they make this mistake.)

 

YET MORE SPOILERS:   For the rest of the movie, Life settles into a routine much closer to ALIEN or perhaps Friday the 13th, as the various situations involve Calvin working its way through the humans and disposing of them in delightfully gruesome ways.   If anything, the movie becomes a series of exercises for writers Paul Wernick & Rhett Reese (who also wrote last year’s Deadpool) to find inventive ways to kill people in outer space.   Right off the bat, they take care of Rory (Ryan Reynolds), who stupidly tries to kill Calvin with a flamethrower, only to have Calvin literally jump down his throat and tear him apart from the inside.   (Quite literally, he ate something that disagreed with him…)   Then they knock off station commander Ekaterina (Olga Dihovichnaya) on a Gravity-style spacewalk by flooding her spacesuit with coolant and drowning her.   And on we go down through the crew, as Calvin continues turning them into chum, until the only ones left are Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) and David (Jake Gyllenhaal), with the ISS in a fatal dive toward the atmosphere. I should also note that Calvin gets the benefit of every single twist in the movie, so it’s able to escape the lab, exist in a vacuum, attack an approaching spacecraft and pretty much withstand every single hazard the humans try to throw at it.  The characters of course theorize that Calvin did likely cause the destruction of whatever life was on Mars, and that it would only continue growing in power and size (and likely multiplying) if it were to get to Earth.

 

EVEN MORE SPOILERS:   The final story twist (the one advertised on the boxcover) really isn’t that hard to see coming.   Miranda and David leave in escape pods, with David luring Calvin into his pod with the notion of taking it into space while Miranda returns to Earth.   But one of the pods hits debris, going out of control and off course. If you pay any attention, you can easily tell where the pods are during the sequence, and thus which one is which, and you’ve seen that Calvin has easily overpowered David inside his pod so that he can’t change his course, and you’ve seen that Miranda’s pod is sparking and she’s losing control.   The movie then drumrolls a giant reveal when one pod splashes down near fisherman who paddle over to find…David and Calvin! So while the score suddenly kicks into a menacing cue from Sicario, we get a loving shot of Miranda screaming her head off as her pod tumbles into outer space and her death, and then a few more loving shots of the fishermen stupidly opening gooped-up David’s pod while he continually yells “No! No! No! Don’t Open It!” And then a final overhead shot of more and more boats arriving to greet Calvin, who will now presumably destroy all life on Earth. Happy endings for everyone!

 

FINAL SPOILERS:   I should note that the movie does try to take pains to show that Calvin’s initial actions in the movie are usually in reaction to aggressive or unfriendly behavior.   Calvin is relatively innocuous to the humans until Hugh shocks it, and then it responds in kind.   Calvin then kills the rat, but this may be seen as it instinctively finding food for itself. This is followed by Rory burning Calvin and flame-throwering the entire compartment, which is clearly an action intended to kill Calvin. (By the way, Rory commits another one of these “stupid human trick” ideas here, when he doesn’t even think about how much fuel he has in the flamethrower before quickly exhausting it…) Calvin responds by killing Rory and going on its hunting safari on the station.   Each of these actions could be seen as reactive or instinctive – meaning that you could see the movie from Calvin’s point of view and have a very different experience.   There is one attempt at providing a single layer of complexity, with the notion that Calvin comes back inside the station and hides within Hugh’s jumpsuit, essentially feeding off Hugh until it is discovered upon Hugh’s death.   What makes that a little more interesting is that Hugh is apparently aware of what Calvin is doing and may be trying to protect it.   This plot strand really doesn’t go anywhere, but it’s an interesting notion – albeit one that just continues Calvin’s unbroken streak of having every lucky break go its way.

 

SPOILERS NOW DONE. IT’S SAFE TO READ FROM HERE FORWARD:   So what we’re looking at here is essentially a combination of ALIEN and Gravity, with a few gruesome death ideas thrown in for seasoning. On the technical levels of integrating CGI and generating a fun sound mix, the movie works quite well. If the viewer just wants a simple popcorn thriller set in space, this will probably do the trick.   But anyone who’s seen the earlier movies will not find much new here.

 

The Blu-ray of Life was released on June 20th, including a few featurettes, deleted scenes and promotional social media content. The packaging includes an insert with instructions for downloading a digital copy of the movie.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

Life is presented in a 2.39:1 1080p AVC transfer that looks great. The blackness of space is satisfyingly deep, and there’s a fairly wide variety of fleshtones and textures to see both inside the station and outside.   The copious amounts of CGI are usually integrated well enough that the seams don’t show.

Audio: 5/5

Life is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. This is an aggressive mix that repeatedly puts atmospheric effects into the surround channels – enough for me to repeatedly wonder if various clattering sounds on the soundtrack were actually happening in my home.   DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks are available I French and Portuguese, and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are available in Spanish and Thai.   An English DVS track is also available, for those who wish to amuse themselves by hearing the narrator trying to describe what fun Calvin is up to at any given time.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Life comes with a smattering of bonus features, totaling out at less than thirty minutes. There are a few deleted scenes, three quick featurettes and three short “Astronaut Diaries” clearly built for social media promotion. I should note that pretty much everything in these featurettes will contain major spoilers of one kind or another.

 

Deleted Scenes (5:49 Total, 1080p) – Six deleted scenes are included here, which may be viewed individually or via the usual “Play All” option. Nearly all of them have been pulled from the early section of the movie before things really get going, and none of them adds anything of significance.

Life in Zero G (6:54, 1080p) – The first short featurette discusses the challenges of making a movie set on a space station in zero gravity, thus requiring wire rigs and plenty of CGI removal. Multiple people provide sound bites on this idea, including director Daniel Espinosa, movement coach Alexandra Reynolds, stunt coordinator Franklin Henson and medical space sciences specialist Dr. Kevin Fong. (It is truly a shame that after all that work, they did not monitor whether or not people were still dropping toward the floor in multiple shots and thus blowing the illusion they were trying to maintain…)

Creating Life: The Art and Reality of Calvin (7:07, 1080p) – This featurette gets into the design elements – particularly in how Calvin itself was conceived and presented. Writer/producers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese expound on this, as does Dr. Adam Rutherford, co-VFX supervisor Tom Debenham and supervising art director Marc Homes.

Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space (7:28, 1080p) – The final featurette gets into many more mutual compliments from cast and director Espinosa, with everyone talking about how scary the script and idea are.   I really must note that when you total all three featurettes together, you come out at roughly 21 minutes, which means that they could have combined all three of these together, removed some of the duplicative film clips and had a decent, albeit brief, look at the movie’s production.   Audiences are fully aware that these featurettes always have a few clips, buttressed with the usual on-set footage and a few soundbites.   By dividing the featurettes into three pieces, the content makers have only added more extraneous film clip moments and padded their running time.   Thankfully, this was not a situation of just having 2-3 minute quickie featurettes, but the same principle still opens this group up for criticism.

Astronaut Diaries (3:00 Total, 1080p) – Here are three quick monologues to camera, in character, from Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson and Ariyon Bakare. Each runs maybe one minute, and all were clearly prepared for social media promotion.

Digital and Ultraviolet Copies – Instructions for obtaining digital and Ultraviolet copies of the movie are available on an insert in the packaging.

 

The film is subtitled in English, Cantonese, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Indonesian, Korean, Malaysian, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.. The usual pop-up menu is present, along with a complete chapter menu.

Overall: 2/5

Life is a derivative movie that gets a solid HD presentation on Blu-ray.   It’s really just intended to deliver a few good jump scares and gross-out moments, albeit in the cloak of something with more substance, like Gravity.   (One might initially think that Wernick and Reese were trying for something along those lines -examining how all forms of life seek to protect themselves – but they abandon the effort too quickly to get any credit for that.)   The Blu-ray certainly looks good and sounds excellent – it’s just that the movie itself only delivers things we’ve seen before in better films – unless you’re looking for couple of clever ways to die in space.   One could argue that in the end, Life is really about death.   Or maybe it’s about life, recycled.

Published by

Kevin EK

author

10 Comments

  1. I enjoyed it way more than you Kevin. I thought it was a fine genre film. Alien wasn’t that original too remember.

    The 4K disc looks and sounds awesome.

    1. Alien was a “people go into space and encounter hostile alien” story but may be the best telling of this tale ever committed to film. It certainly surpassed previous efforts to tell this tale and nothing made after it has even come close to it. Why was it better than other “hostile alien in space” tales? Well, it was beautifully cast, acted, photographed, designed, featured a monster out of a nightmare people had not seen onscreen before, and put the focus on mystery and suspense. Plus the story, while not complex, was well written and created real characters that you liked and cared about…adding weight to the moments where their lives were put in danger.

      Many films that have followed Alien, including Life, have failed miserably at executing this formula…why? Well, since Alien they have tried this story so many times that it is like a comedian that only has one joke and his entire show is telling that same joke again and again for two hours…it gets tired and he gets tired and only executes the joke well the first time. So, basically everything has been wrung out of this tale so attempting to show it to us again just does not work. We know the punchline.

      Specifically, one of the big issues with these films is they just don’t care about characters anymore. Does not matter if we are talking about Life or Prometheus…they throw bland, empty characters at us that it seems the writers don’t care about because they are only going to kill them off. So, we have to watch characters we could not care less about meet their deaths…and often because the writers have no idea or just don’t care they don’t think at all about how they kill them off. Generally it involves them doing something incredibly dumb or that defies logic.

      Then there are the sad attempts at creating a monster since Alien. The monster in Alien was pretty amazing. Each film that follows Alien now has to find a way to compete with that monster. It is tough to top. Not impossible but tough. Frankly, the fairly feeble attempts to do this make it seem Mr. Giger was the only man on the planet able to think up a nightmarish creature…but the truth is they likely do not want to go outside the box anymore to create a great monster. They just use the same set of CGI guys again and again and again and again. End result…we get bland CGI monsters.

      So, we have bland monsters killing off bland characters in a story recycled so many times it barely holds together anymore.

      Then once principal photography is completed and they go to edit these things…well…they slap these stories together following the same pattern and using the same tempo so that you just feel like you are watching the same film again and again and again. Once the first kill happens it is all about getting to the next gag quickly and who cares about logic or story or anything other than getting everybody killed off so we can get to the climax where the final two characters have to make a dire decision…and it looks like everybody is going to end up dead.

      Of course in post Alien films the threat of “destruction of our planet and all mankind” is always in play…because we seem to have reached a point in film history where the only possible outcome of every film has to be either “everybody on our planet will be wiped out” or the good guys save the day by preventing the destruction of the planet and mankind by winning and/or sacrificing themselves in the process. In a superhero or action film the hero just saves the entire planet and goes on to the next film where they save the entire planet again and then the third film where they again save the entire planet. In a science fiction film they always have the “twist” in play where the entire planet and all mankind actually gets wiped out.

      So, in science fiction pictures you have two options…in superhero films there is just the single option.

      Same joke told over and over and over.

      Today people often say “Well, we can’t expect something original because everything has been done before.” but that’s not the case. We don’t have more original films because nobody wants to make them. They just want to bolt the same old pieces together and show you the same thing, with the same outcome, with different actors.

      So, what is Life about? It is about $20.00 so you can watch the same story with different actors. Everything looks really pretty though.

  2. Alien was a “people go into space and encounter hostile alien” story but may be the best telling of this tale ever committed to film. It certainly surpassed previous efforts to tell this tale and nothing made after it has even come close to it. Why was it better than other “hostile alien in space” tales? Well, it was beautifully cast, acted, photographed, designed, featured a monster out of a nightmare people had not seen onscreen before, and put the focus on mystery and suspense. Plus the story, while not complex, was well written and created real characters that you liked and cared about…adding weight to the moments where their lives were put in danger.

    Many films that have followed Alien, including Life, have failed miserably at executing this formula…why? Well, since Alien they have tried this story so many times that it is like a comedian that only has one joke and his entire show is telling that same joke again and again for two hours…it gets tired and he gets tired and only executes the joke well the first time. So, basically everything has been wrung out of this tale so attempting to show it to us again just does not work. We know the punchline.

    Specifically, one of the big issues with these films is they just don’t care about characters anymore. Does not matter if we are talking about Life or Prometheus…they throw bland, empty characters at us that it seems the writers don’t care about because they are only going to kill them off. So, we have to watch characters we could not care less about meet their deaths…and often because the writers have no idea or just don’t care they don’t think at all about how they kill them off. Generally it involves them doing something incredibly dumb or that defies logic.

    Then there are the sad attempts at creating a monster since Alien. The monster in Alien was pretty amazing. Each film that follows Alien now has to find a way to compete with that monster. It is tough to top. Not impossible but tough. Frankly, the fairly feeble attempts to do this make it seem Mr. Giger was the only man on the planet able to think up a nightmarish creature…but the truth is they likely do not want to go outside the box anymore to create a great monster. They just use the same set of CGI guys again and again and again and again. End result…we get bland CGI monsters.

    So, we have bland monsters killing off bland characters in a story recycled so many times it barely holds together anymore.

    Then once principal photography is completed and they go to edit these things…well…they slap these stories together following the same pattern and using the same tempo so that you just feel like you are watching the same film again and again and again. Once the first kill happens it is all about getting to the next gag quickly and who cares about logic or story or anything other than getting everybody killed off so we can get to the climax where the final two characters have to make a dire decision…and it looks like everybody is going to end up dead.

    Of course in post Alien films the threat of “destruction of our planet and all mankind” is always in play…because we seem to have reached a point in film history where the only possible outcome of every film has to be either “everybody on our planet will be wiped out” or the good guys save the day by preventing the destruction of the planet and mankind by winning and/or sacrificing themselves in the process. In a superhero or action film the hero just saves the entire planet and goes on to the next film where they save the entire planet again and then the third film where they again save the entire planet. In a science fiction film they always have the “twist” in play where the entire planet and all mankind actually gets wiped out.

    So, in science fiction pictures you have two options…in superhero films there is just the single option.

    Same joke told over and over and over.

    Today people often say “Well, we can’t expect something original because everything has been done before.” but that’s not the case. We don’t have more original films because nobody wants to make them. They just want to bolt the same old pieces together and show you the same thing, with the same outcome, with different actors.

    So, what is Life about? It is about $20.00 so you can watch the same story with different actors. Everything looks really pretty though.

  3. A simple 'like' to Reggie's post seems insufficient, but the first line of his post says it best. While not original, 1979's Alien completely revitalized the hybridization of SF and horror and served to introduce a generation of film viewers to the potential of that mashup.

    I'm on the fence concerning Life and posts like Reggie's don't help. 🙂

    – Walter.

  4. Well, the truth really is, Walter, that if you have seen Alien…and then watched any of the many films that came after it in this genre…there really is not a real good reason for you to watch Life.

    It looks nice but once they hit the first gag…you will know every single thing that is going to happen for the rest of the film and about the only thing you will get out of this is perhaps a new and greater appreciation of your watch…because you will start to look at it a lot as this wears on.

    Is it a bad film? No, not really. I actually think it is a better version of, and possibly a reaction to, Prometheus. The scientists at least act and talk more like scientists. Many things they do in the film seem to be a reaction to how horribly dumb Prometheus was…they even use an "electrocution" bit as part of what gets things rolling. However, it is a better bit than the electrocution nonsense in Prometheus. At least in Life what the guy is electrocuting is possibly alive rather than the idiocy of electrocuting a 2000 year old decapitated head. I mean alien engineer on a crucifix did no one think about how dumb that was? So, it does not sink to that level of stupid but I don't think that can be taken as an endorsement of the film.

    I will say this, I did like the final shot in Life it was fun and appeared to be leading to a major monster movie tie-in sequel type thing…not that I want to see that but I thought it was funny. Honestly, if you have nothing else to do watch Life but if you really want to watch a great hostile alien in space movie that is not just a time waster…go back and watch Alien again. There really was no reason to make Life and I think the only people that might find it intriguing are people that have not watched a hostile alien in space film in the last 40 years.

  5. I appreciate that many viewers have enjoyed Life, Tino included. He is correct to note that ALIEN draws from multiple other movies and stories.

    I would just note that the creative team on ALIEN found a really interesting approach to their story, one that included a completely original idea of an alien lifecycle and incorporated some truly disturbing imagery from HR Giger.

    The team on Life appears to have drawn their inspiration from watching ALIEN and Gravity and simply combining the notions. That’s not necessarily a bad idea and Life does try to occasionally find something more than just the usual jump scares. But the movie becomes way too formulaic for me – and the constant tipping of the scales in Calvin’s favor really gives away where things are going long before they happen.

    Reggie is correct to note that many have speculated that the ending could set up a sequel – I just don’t think the movie performed well enough for that to ever happen. On the other hand, I’ve been proven quite wrong on that score in the past. They did make a sequel to Dumb and Dumber, after all…

  6. Personally, I saw a lot more than “Alien rip-off” here, but YMMV. I saw a combination of Alien, Psycho, The Thing, Leviathan, Slither and even Planet of the Apes ’68. I’m sure there are more I could mention, but I only saw Gravity as relevant for the zero-gravity elements. The things I found that really distinguished this from the better examples were (1) there really wasn’t much of a political bent to the material; and (2) the nihilism was really played with a light touch, like a 50s B sci-fi/horror programmer.

    Again, not really original, but even material hailed as original has a tendency to break down under close scrutiny. I read an opinion comparing Hunt for the Wilderpeople with Disney/Pixar’s Up. It had a point, but the execution is what made Hunt for the Wilderpeople unique. While not particularly unique, Life was fun, and somewhat blackly comic, and I’m a sucker for black comedy.

  7. I agree with the notion of Life as a black comedy. The writing team certainly would lead me down that path in any case.
    And there's another way to perceive the movie – if you take it along the lines of how Die Hard makes John McClane the actual antagonist of the storyline where Hans Gruber is actually more of a protagonist. By that extension, if you see the movie as Calvin's struggle for survival, there's an interesting exploration to be had.

  8. Stephen_J_H

    Personally, I saw a lot more than "Alien rip-off" here, but YMMV. I saw a combination of Alien, Psycho, The Thing, Leviathan, Slither and even Planet of the Apes '68. I'm sure there are more I could mention, but I only saw Gravity as relevant for the zero-gravity elements.

    If you want to get down to it really it is Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians in space…except they know who the killer is. As Kevin says they are strictly going by the formula here with a few humorous winks. I don't think anybody making the film thought they had something amazing or original…they knew they were reworking a very tired idea.

    In all honesty my favorite thing about the picture is the ending…

    Spoiler: SPOILER

    One thing that boggles my mind is Jake Gyllenhaal who can be riveting (see Nightcrawler, Zodiac, Prisoners, Source Code, or Enemy) but in this film (and I know his part is poorly written) is just nonexistent. I mean he brings nothing to the screen…a giant goose egg.

  9. On the Gravity side of things…

    I don't think Life is at all like Gravity but it borrows a bunch of stuff from Gravity. Really, Life seems like they sat in a room watching other science fiction films and just said "OK, we'll use that from that picture and that from that picture and that from that picture and boom we're done. Instant script!"

    As a film experience Gravity is a much better picture and I liked the characters. Life gives you a bunch of cliches and cardboard cuts outs for characters and then just goes through the motions of killing them all off.

Leave a Reply