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