Greatness captured on film can be immortal. And there are times when Life is reaching for greatness. For something found in 2001, Alien, and Interstellar. Moments of magic, of grandeur. And while Life doesn’t always reach some of the heights that it aspires to, in it’s attempts, it manages to ever so often, grasp at greatness.
The film opens with a long take, a long tracking-shot winding through the interior of the International Space Station, introducing us to it’s crew and letting us in on their individual responsibilities aboard the ship. You can feel the complexity of the shot as it goes on, a choreographed dance between performance and execution. And while I didn’t always feel connected to the characters during the opening sequence, the sense of immersion was telling, reminding me at times of Gravity and Sunshine, with a certain sense of darkness, foreboding looming over.
Life really gets going when we meet Calvin. An amalgamation between the original xenomorph from Alien, and in my theory, the mysterious alien blob from Cowboy Bebop‘s own, Alien-inspired episode, “Toys in the Attic”. A great episode from a particularly fantastic show, “Toys in the Attic” also features it’s main protagonist blasting away at the unknown creature with a flamethrower over and over, subduing it momentarily. Once Calvin becomes a factor, the film begins to shed it’s skin, revealing itself and dictating the circumstances. Tonally, Life is very much like Alien, but a bit more scientific and less instinctual. A bit more probing.
Though some of the performances felt slightly forced in the beginning of the film, the actors truly shine once the story starts to take a turn. On-screen charisma is a rare trait, and Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ryan Reynolds possess it in spades. Rebecca Ferguson in particular, is a standout among the others. Focused and calculated, she has a resolve amongst the others that is undeterred. Her star in Hollywood has already been rising, and I suspect that we’ll continue to see great things from her in the future.
And while Life embarks as a highly intelligent film, it also at times underestimates the intelligence of it’s audience. Where it would have benefited from more subtlety, it’s often on-the-nose. Intelligent films always trust the audience. It could have stuck to it’s guns more.
Life‘s greatest strength however, is it’s control of tone. It plays a bit like Alien, like a horror film. Like a haunted ride at an amusement park, where atmosphere is everything. And while it may not reach the heights of the films it was influenced by, it certainly leaves it’s own mark as a piece of Science-Fiction cinema.