A group of astronauts are on a mission to Mars and discover life. That life becomes a threat to those astronauts while in the confines of the space station. Hey, it worked for Alien.
Yeah, it does share some similarities to Alien. But that doesn’t mean we should write it off entirely, right? Well, in some cases you would probably be safe, but I think that is not the case with Life. Life starts off with the crew aboard the ISS examining samples from a Mars probe. Part of this sample includes a dormant cell of a living creature named “Calvin”. Their biologist on board, Hugh successfully revives the cell and it begins to grow.
What at first seems to be a great success soon turns dangerous as Calvin turns hostile after electric shock experiments. Escaping the confines of its chamber, the threat becomes mobile and untrackable. Calvin moves effortlessly through the ship corridors and vents without making a sound. Once a crew member sees Calvin, they are already in extreme danger. This continues through the course of the movie with the crew fighting as a group and individually to defeat Calvin to survive.
The strength of Life is the tension aboard the space station. Every crew member fears for their life and so there is never much time to rest and breath. That is where Life succeeds the best. The composition is beautiful and the environment works great. The pacing keeps the tension alive and effective.
Now, where does Life go wrong? I think it tries a little too hard at times while also committing some basic failings. First, the basic failings. This movie has some well-traveled and capable acting talent in it. And they are all fine in the movie, but they never really have room to put their talents on display. Sure, there are some shots and scenes with powerful performances, but these are all fleeting and total for about enough for a trailer. The film doesn’t entirely know whether to let the actors take center stage or to have them stand in the shadow of the tension thrill ride. Also, the characters make terrible decisions. Astronauts are highly trained men and women and understand the value of protocol and process. Yet, they decide to forego proper protocol for expediency. They also fail to focus on the most important things at very convenient times. I know, it’s a horror trope to make bad decisions, but the decisions made in the movie is too often hard to reconcile and inconsistent with who these characters should be.
As far as its biggest failing, it really just tries too hard on a few pieces. The score, while very fitting at times, is also heavy handed at plenty of times. Many of these scenes should drive tension just fine, but that score kicks in far too strongly. At times, it feels so overdone that it is actually distracting from the what the scene is setting up. At other times, it hits too strong too early, so the tension kicks in too early and begins to fade before the moment actually hits. Finally, the film tries to slip in more depth than it has room or focus for. It just not-so-casually slips in a thought on Calvin’s motivation in killing them all. Is the mas lifeform actually a hostile creature or did it learn it from us provoking it? Could Calvin have actually been peaceful and friendly? Whoa, deep…or is it really?
Overall, Life has good and bad. I do think the strengths outweigh the bad. Will it hold up over time? Probably, but it might not be very memorable. I think I’ll enjoy watching it later some day, but I’m in no particular hurry.
Technical Side: 4/5
The transfer for Life is very nice. It has a nice level of sheen on it that looks very smooth in the cold space environment. The movie is also dark throughout, but the image quality holds up. The blacks are deep and satisfying while still delivering great clarity. Life also features a nice DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. Often powerful and moody, the score works great on this track. My previously stated objections to the score is not because of the score being overly loud or unbalanced, so the mixing can’t be blamed for that. Dialog is always clear and everything sounds great.
Special Features and Packaging: 2.5/5
Deleted Scenes: Just a few quick scenes that were removed from the film. Nothing exciting or earth shattering here.
Life: In Zero G: Interviews about simulating a zero gravity environment during the shoot with the cast and crew members.
Creating Life: The Art and Reality of Calvin: This short feature focuses on designing Calvin.
Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller In Space: This feature focuses on interviews about what the confines of the space station does to enhance the terror of the film.
Astronaut Diaries: In-character snippets of the astronauts sharing a few of their quick thoughts.
Sony provides Life with a pretty standard release with a slipcover matching the cover art.
In the end, the biggest weakness is that Life seems to be trying to be more than it is. And that is unfortunate because what it is isn’t really all that bad. That just gets in the way of what is most enjoyable. That said, the technical presentation is quite good. The special features are rather limited, but decent for what they are. I’d rather recommend at least renting Life and picking it up when it goes on sale. It is certainly worth seeing, but not a day one purchase.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.