Life movie director: Daniel Espinosa
Life movie cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare
Life movie rating: Stars 2.5
It’s gratifying that a film would treat a Ryan Reynolds with the same economy as an Olga Dihovichnaya. For a while, it helps you overlook the fact what a shameless rip-off Life is of Alien, and nearly 40 years later. But then the bodies keep piling, the sacrifices keep multiplying, the alien keeps growing, and the story keeps shrinking, till the truth can’t be ignored: even in space, Life screams Alien.
Once the dust — or rather the blood and innards floating around in zero gravity inside the International Space Station (ISS) — has settled, one also wonders at the very mission that finds this group of astronauts in space. Having procured a soil sample from Mars at much risk, they discover the first “incontrovertible proof of life in space”, and then proceed to tinker around with it in a petri-dish rather than rushing it back home by the first available shuttle. Absurdities mount as the film makes a case for the life form to be kept confined to the ISS, though it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which the world’s most precious baby ever — a clever thought, from Life itself — would be left to the devices of a scared bunch of six with only one expert biologist between them.
Ultimately, these scenes of the six’s gingerly steps towards nudging the one-celled, flagella-like creature into life turn out to be Life’s best. The six tinker with the atmosphere in which it is kept, introduce an energy material in the form of glucose, watch amazed as it comes to luminescent life, and then lapse into worried silence as it grows too fast. The most vocal among them, concerned at the bid to humanise the creature, is Rory (Ryan Reynolds), who points out that they don’t really know what they are dealing with.
Notwithstanding an unnecessary, cringing parallel with the Japanese astronaut’s wife delivering their son back home — apparently being beamed live, in real time — Life successfully transports us along with the astronauts in this transition from fascination to creepiness. The first attack of the alien, now named Calvin — following a naming competition among schools back on Earth, that concludes at Times Square — is built with as much deftness. From the clutching fingers of a newborn, we soon have the death grip of a hostile.
After we know what Calvin is really up to, and that it is intelligent to the extreme — “all muscle, all brain, all eyes”, “in every cell” — it’s only a matter of time before the bloodshed begins. But Life holds your interest till only the first two deaths, after which it is clear that Swedish director Daniel Espinosa didn’t know what more to do between the kills. So there are many, many scenes of characters, particularly Gyllenhaal’s David and Ferguson’s Miranda — both white, pretty, with sympathetic eyes brimming with tears — standing around talking about things that people calmer than us in the face of death talk about. You know, what their fathers told them at bedtime.