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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

‘Life’ Review: A somewhat recycled take on the human-hating Alien cliché

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Maham Maqsood
Maham Maqsoodhttps://scientiamag.org
Maham Maqsood is a science communicator and co-founder at Scientia Pakistan. She is currently doing Masters in Biochemistry at the Middle East Technical University, Turkey. She has over five years of experience in science communication and outreach, collaborating with researchers, educators, and communicators to develop effective strategies and content for various platforms and events.

While Sci-fi is one of the most beloved nerdy genres, movies with space stories are rare and often not up to the standards set by masterpieces like Alien, Interstellar, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Life tries to mimic these, but its potential falls off somewhere between the start and the middle. It recycles the same old concept that alien life can never really befriend us and is always intelligent enough to kill and perish human life. If you are a film geek, you might catch some references to other hits like Gravity and Alien, but we are never sure if it is really an homage or if the movie was trying to be original in its portrayal of such a “terrifying” scenario.

 Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada are part of the diverse cast of the movie Life
Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada are part of the diverse cast of the movie

The movie starts with a scene that was meant to be intense but fails to establish the pace it intends to. Astronaut Rory Adams, played by the hilarious Ryan Reynolds whose comedic persona doesn’t get to properly shine in this piece, is on the quest to catch some Martian samples coming through a satellite and is prepared and encouraged for this endeavor by his fellows on the International Space Station, made very clear in a seven-minute shot in which the camera is roaming around the Station crew failing to build an anticipatory atmosphere.

The team includes Medical Officer Dr. David Jordan, brought to life by Jake Gyllenhaal; the extremely responsible Quarantine Officer Miranda North played by Rebecca Ferguson; Systems Engineer Sho Murakami portrayed by Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada, and Exobiologist Dr. Hugh Derry played by Ariyon Bakare. The Station members are led by Ekaterina Golovkina, a cosmonaut from Russia, played by Olga Dihovichnaya. The diversity of the crew (and the cast) is commendable and they seem to get along very well.

After getting the Martian samples, they realize that they have found the sign of Extraterrestrial life and Hugh, being the specialist, is given the task to study it. After some attempts, he manages to successfully revive it and the alien is given the name “Calvin” from the people on Earth. The film does not portray it as one of the biggest feats in the history of mankind and rushes to show Calvin’s quick development.

Unsurprisingly, it is a very intelligent and benign organism with features growing rapidly as it learns about its new habitat, like the lab at the ISS and figures out its movement and recognition abilities. Hugh, who is disabled but free to move in zero gravity, becomes obsessed with it and the audience is provided a hint that the reason is not solely his love for exobiology. The score by Jon Ekstrand stumbles through high and low notes and just aids enough to these scenes so that they don’t feel empty.

Hugh observes "Calvin" under a microscope in the lab at ISS
Hugh observes “Calvin” under a microscope in the lab at ISS

Hugh continues to observe Calvin through his microscope excitedly, but all the enthusiasm dies down when one day, not so out of the blue, Calvin attacks Hugh and traps him in the lab. Miranda knowing the safety protocol tries to stop impending threats, but it turns out that the ISS astronauts don’t really care about the precautions while dealing with a potentially lethal extraterrestrial being. Rory gets in to save him, but all goes in vain and we are presented with shots that bring out the memories of “that Alien scene”.

Calvin manages to escape the lab and starts roaming around the Station hiding from the crew. Its aim becomes clear which is to eliminate all the crew members one by one. As mentioned before, several scenes seemingly take inspiration from Gravity as the Mission Commander tries spacewalking to catch the now not-so-benign Calvin. At times, it becomes absurd how the crew at the biggest human station in Space ignores the safety rules, but this lack of concern becomes an easy setup for the progression of the story.

Hugh is gradually overcome by his selfish instincts and displays unusual empathy towards such a hostile creature. Miranda is the only sane character left but is unable to convince her fellows to show some responsibility. Tension builds up considerably when the audience is constantly given surprises about the powers of Calvin. It can eat up humans and even lab rats, fire and fumes are not a danger, can survive in space and without oxygen (obviously proving its superiority to humans), and can squeeze itself through holes of seemingly small diameters. And of course, it is not a fan of the human race. It looks like a mixture of some water creature having tentacles and the head of that ET brute from the Ridley Scott’s feature.

Safety Protocol calls by Miranda (played by Rebecca Ferguson) are almost ignored by the crew
Safety Protocol calls by Miranda (played by Rebecca Ferguson) are almost ignored by the crew

Humor is just limited to Ryan Reynolds appearances and is thus fairly limited, so if you are watching it expecting some Deadpool-type jokes, this won’t be it. Scientists are yet again portrayed as sober, serious beings who don’t really know how to control a threat properly as their feelings and instincts take the best of them. Aren’t the smartest people who are able to keep their cool in tough environments, supposed to be on the ISS? Well, the movie argues against that. Senior members Murakami and Golovkina might have taken some more rational and sensible decisions, but they had limited screen time and were unable to do so.

At the end of this movie, everything is hurriedly wrapped up and rash decisions are made which end up in a shock that wasn’t really unpredictable. However, if the movie manages to consume you during the fast-paced scenes you might give up contemplating your ending and may get thrown off by the twist. We can only hope that the cliffhanger doesn’t turn out to be against the favor of mankind.

Also Read: Space movies that will leave you spellbound

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