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Life (2017)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 6/20/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/13/2017

I would like to assume that when one is working inside of a small sub-genre, that one would be wary of making something which would come across as a rip-off. Especially if this sub-genre has contained not only seminal movies for this category, but movies which are considered undeniable classics. One such sub-genre would be the outer-space horror movie. Beginning in the 1950s with movies like 1958's It! The Terror from Beyond Space and then moving into the 60s with 1965's Planet of the Vampires, the sub-genre presented stories in which astronauts were trapped in space with monsters. The style of film turned a corner in 1979 with the release of Alien. Ridley Scott's classic took the haunted house film into space and created a new look for gritty sci-fi realism. 1997's Event Horizon took things in a more supernatural direction and upped the ante with the gore. Now, we have Life. Will this new effort be able to bring anything new to the genre?

A satellite carrying soil samples from Mars rendezvous with a space station which houses an international crew. Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) begins to study the samples under the watchful eye of quarantine officer Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), mission commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and physician Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), while engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) and pilot Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) look on. Derry finds a single-celled organism in the samples and through some experimenting, is able to bring it to life. The organism, which is given the name "Calvin", continues to grow, much to the delight of the scientists. But, while Calvin may look like a very simple creature, it is smart and driven. The creature escapes from the lab, proving to be deadly. The astronauts realize that not only are they trapped on-board with a menacing alien, they can't let it reach Earth.

Let's not mince words here -- Life feels very similar to Alien. Perhaps the producers felt that since nearly 40 years has passed since Alien was released, they could make a movie which shares many traits with that classic and not get knocked for it. Both films take place on an isolated spaceship. Both films show astronauts inadvertently bringing an alien life form onto the ship -- one which begins quite small, only to grow and become menacing. Both films illustrate how the crew, having no weapons, try to find a way to evade the monster, which realizing that they can't let it get to Earth. Essentially, in both movies, we see people who are in over their heads fighting an unpredictable enemy in a confined space.

There are some stark differences. Whereas the crew in Alien were essentially outer space truck drivers, the individuals in Life are scientists and have prepared themselves to research alien life -- they just didn't know that it would get out of control. Similarly, while the Nostromo showed signs of wear and tear, the space station in Life is clean and free of clutter. On that note, the space station is also a smaller, more predictable space, so the crew has a somewhat better chance of stopping the creature. The biggest difference is the creature design. Obviously, the monster in Alien, based on designs by H.R. Giger, changed the way that we looked at movie creatures and influenced a generation of filmmakers. Life wisely steers away from copying that classic design and clearly went for something which looks more organic, and, if you will, more realistic. However, the monster simply isn't scary or creepy looking. Even in its later incarnation, when it's grown, the beast has no visual impact.

If you can look past these issues, Life does have some positive attributes. Despite the fact that what we are seeing is very familiar, Director Daniel Espinosa is able to squeeze suspense out of several scenes, as we watch the characters attempt to get away from the alien. This is heightened by the fact that the beginning of the second act lets us know that no one on board is safe. Once we realize that Life isn't afraid to kill off the actors, the sense of danger is heightened. The film's budget is clearly on-screen, as the space station sets look great and the effects creating weightlessness (which are explained in the extra features) are seamless. While Alien took place in deep space, Life is occurring in Earth's orbit, so the threat to our planet is much greater. I really liked the film's ending, which certainly took some chances for a Hollywood film. In the end, Life is like a home-cooked meal -- it's not offering anything revolutionary, but it's certainly satisfying and worth checking out.

Life probably isn't the origin of Venom on 4K UHD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 60 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably the reds (which really stand out from the white backgrounds) and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture shows off an admirable crispness and it feels as if we could step into it. The level of detail is great, showing off textures on objects, and the depth works quite well. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The mix does a great job of highlighting the various sounds coming from the ship, as these effects flow through the front and rear channels. The subwoofer effects are palpable, delivering a solid punch with each jump scare. Overall, a great technical package.

The extra features for Life are found on the accompanying Blu-ray Disc. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about six minutes. The most interesting thing here is that these scenes haven't been digitally scrubbed, so we get to see the wires which suspend the actors, creating the sense of weightlessness. As for the scenes themselves, most of them simply feel like extended moments from scenes seen in the finished film. "Life: In Zero G" (7 minutes) offers more information on the efforts which were made to create the look of no gravity, offering a nice amount of on-set footage. "Creating Life: The Art and Reality of Calvin" (7 minutes) examines the creature design and the thought which went into creating something which looked organic. "Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space" (7 minutes) has Director Daniel Espinosa and the cast discussing the story and themes, with the focus being on the movie's take on scaring the audience. "Astronaut Diaries" (3 minutes) has the characters recording confessionals.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long