COLUMBIA PICTURES (2017)

 

Director: Daniel Espinosa

 

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Mars attacks.

 

There’s a probe returning from Mars carrying samples that could potentially harbour extra-terrestrial life. Problem is, it’s damaged and hurtling towards the atmosphere. The crew of the International Space Station orbiting the Earth are tasked with capturing it and saving the samples onboard. Luckily, they do and upon studying the cells, realise that the lifeform is rapidly growing into a smart and powerful entity. A friendly one, they hope – but in space, not a chance.

 

This octopus like creature soon fancies having the entire station to himself, and if he’s a good pilot, maybe an attempt at making it to Earth.

Director Daniel Espinosa has assembled a strong looking cast for his outer space alien adventure, Gyllenhaal and Ferguson taking the lead with a solid supporting cast behind them. Sadly, neither are strong enough in their roles as medical officer David Jordan and CDC quarantine officer Miranda North (respectively) to carry the movie and as such, I found that I wasn’t particularly bothered by where their stories went. Not a good start. Ryan Reynolds delivers in a small role, but so do the fishermen at the end. When the ending came, I was hoping that Calvin (the alien, named after a children’s school) would tear Ferguson’s face off – she annoyed me a fair bit.

 

The story is good – ISS captures a probe from Mars carrying soil and life forms and the assembled crew begin to study it, safely quarantined in space. The execution, however, is not great. At no point did I really feel gripped, the high point was the initial escape attempt by Calvin involving exobiologist Hugh (Bakare) and flight engineer Rory (Reynolds) but that was really it for excitement. The cast aren’t developed nearly enough, the tension isn’t built up to a high degree and our alien enemy isn’t convincing. The thrilling xenomorph this isn’t.

 

The long, gazing shots of the astronauts floating weightlessly through the ship have a pleasant serenity to them as the movie moves back and forth from calm to panic, and there’s a nice poignancy to the idea of paraplegic Hugh being able to move effortlessly in space, something he was robbed of on Earth.

 

At times, the movie has an old school aesthetic to it in its claustrophobic setting, and its lack of outside involvement – one early scene aside, there’s no reaction or communication from Earth - Life succeeds in allowing the viewer to believe these people are up there in space fighting for their lives. It’s message of the perils of searching for knowledge aren’t disguised, though in the situation the idea of robotically following protocol wears thin immediately.

The movie’s twist is welcome, but the lacklustre movie preceding it lets it down and robs it of some of its shock factor.

 

This movie fails where Alien succeeds, where Apollo 13 succeeds and where Gravity succeeds – i.e., action, gravitas and development. When the movie is centred on these, it needs to hit and Life doesn’t. It could have been much better, but unfortunately it isn’t much better than meh.

 

Goodnight, nobody. Goodnight, me (through most of the movie)

July 18th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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