I never saw an ad or preview for this film. I also know that it did not play in either of the two local theaters in the town where I live, so this film was completely off my radar. I actually didn’t learn anything about it until my wife found it advertised on sale in an ad for a local department store so I had her pick up the BluRay.
Life is a rehashing of an age-old trope in science fiction of a crew being trapped in a confined place with a malevolent alien stalking them. They more or less get picked off one at a time until there is only one survivor. While there is not a lot new in the story, which for the most part is extremely predictable, there are some aspects that, in my opinion, make this film worth a look if you can find it in a Red Box, on a streaming service, or by waiting until it is in the $5 bin at a local department store. Judging from the ratings I have seen, it shouldn’t be a long wait.
The story is set mostly aboard the International Space Station with a crew of six. There are two crewmembers from the US, two from the UK, one from Japan, and one from Russia. In the opening scene, an unmanned vehicle returning from Mars could possibly be delivering evidence of extraterrestrial life on board. The probe is damaged when it passes through an asteroid field and is unable to be guided back to its appointed landing place, wherever that might have been. As it works out, the crew of the ISS are able to capture the probe before it either burns up in the atmosphere or goes skipping off into interplanetary space.
A scientist aboard the ISS then finds and revives a single-celled organism which begins to multiply into a multi-celled life form. The crew of the space station goes on television with a classroom full of kids who give the name “Calvin” to the creature which is how it is referred for the rest of the film. Calvin goes dormant again when there is an atmospheric accident aboard the station and the scientist decides that he will try to revive the creature with a mild electric shock. While this does indeed revive Calvin, it also apparently angers it and it attacks the scientist and kills another crewmember that tries to rescue the scientist.
For most of the rest of the film, Calvin continues to kill crewmembers, and there is no way to inform ground crews because communications are cut off by a malfunction of station systems. At the same time, Calvin grows rapidly as it kills and consumes crewmembers. The remaining crew try to push the creature into deep space by using the station's thrusters when Calvin tries to re-enter the station through the thruster ports, but all this does is cause the station to fall into a decaying orbit.
The crew had managed to get a distress call off before the comms system went off line and the response from ground crews is to send an unmanned Soyuz craft to push the station out into deep space and prevent Calvin from landing on Earth. The two remaining crew members of the station decide they cannot allow the virtually indestructible Calvin to reach the planet and they use two escape pods (that do not actually exist on the real ISS) to escape, but one crew member decides to sacrifice himself by luring Calvin into his pod and launching it into deep space while the other is to return to Earth to explain what has transpired aboard the doomed station.
Both pods are launched at the same time. One is thrown off course when it hits some debris and careens off into deep space while the other performs a controlled re-entry from the station, splashing down near two Vietnamese fishermen in a boat. As it turns out, it is the pod with Calvin aboard that splashes down and is opened by the unaware fishermen, thus releasing the organism on the planet.
As I mentioned earlier, it is quite predictable. As a matter of fact, my thirteen year-old daughter knew that the pod that landed in the ocean would contain Calvin. But beyond the story, there is much in this film to be admired and appreciated.
First of all, the performances of the cast as astronauts aboard the ISS are quite convincing. Now, I don’t claim to know everything about astronaut training, but I do know that they are trained to deal with problems that arise without panicking, rather they are trained to analyze the problem, find a solution and execute. That is exactly what the crew on the ISS in Life try to do, but as it is a film, the odds are against them from the beginning and with the nature of the creature that they are facing, there is no amount of training that will help them deal with the danger.
When on board the ISS, astronauts move from one place to another by pulling themselves along rails and other handholds that give them a good start then they basically fly from one place to another. Those aboard the ISS call this “translating.” As I watched the film, I was impressed with how smoothly astronauts moved from one place to another and wondered how it was done. Well, they used wires to fly the actors from one place to another on a station that was made up largely a green screen background and a few items that the crew had to interact with, and the film had a nearly authentic look to it. I have watch a lot of NASA TV and the behaviors of the Life actors was very much like what I have seen on NASA’s service. When the astronauts on the station are still in the movie, they are still moving in the micro-gravity environment of low Earth orbit and they are never really still, rather they kind of bob up and down a bit. I would have to say that there was a lot of time and effort that went into making this film as authentic as possible.
One of the things that I thought was unfortunate about the film is that I didn’t really care about any of the characters. There was really nothing that endeared them to me and I didn’t really care whether Calvin killed them or not; they were quite one-dimensional. So, as one can note from my synopsis, I cannot really recall any of the character’s names and no one special comes to mind. Not even the character who decided to sacrifice himself at the end to save his fellow crewmate, and also to save the planet from a relentless entity.
So, all in all, I enjoyed the film in spite of the shallow handling of the trope (people versus a malicious alien in a confined space) and the lack of depth of the characters. The sets and the performances of the actors themselves made it a fun film to watch with the positives slightly outweighing the negatives.
Well, there it is…
Edited By Benjamin Arrowood