Today we are discussing Life, and I am talking about the new “space movie”, not that insufferable commercial before death. Since its release, it seems to have gained a curious reputation, namely that it is the apotheosis of what’s wrong with modern-day science fiction.
An article on Wired suggests that, as sci-fi has steadily become a more mainstream genre, many of the films within mainly concern “Familiar Ideas” and “People We Like To Look At”, which would explain why Passengers was a sizable hit in spite of having no ideas of its own and also being a Fifty Shades-level of disturbing in what its understanding of the term “romantic” is. I like my sci-fi best when it is inventively otherworldly or makes eerily accurate predictions on man-kind’s future. Who needs that when you can watch cuties in space?
But the main attraction in Life, at least where I live, isn’t its attractive protagonists or its promise of an appetizer before the next Alien film drops in May. Instead, it’s all about director Daniel Espinosa, a Swedish favorite responsible for the Snabba Cash series, and due to the hubris we’ve been experiencing since Vikander won Best Supporting Actress, you can imagine that Life was being advertised as the next big thing around these parts a couple of weeks back.
It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as medical doctor David Jordan, Rebecca Ferguson as Quarantine Officer Miranda North, and Ryan Reynolds as Ryan Reynolds, all of them on a mission to the International Space Station and all of them making a variety of unjustifiably stupid decisions once a small alien organism makes its way inside the satellite and eventually the bodies of the crew. That’s pretty much the whole movie right there, plus some visuals and concepts that seem to have been lifted straight from sci-fi tales like Sunshine, the first Alien, and Guardians of the Galaxy (and whatever other sci-fi blockbusters mix space imagery with 70’s music).
The movie is distributed by Columbia Pictures, which is of course owned by Sony, and I must say, Sony really outdid themselves this time. Not because the film is by any means great but because they managed to cram a Time Square scene full of commercial billboards and logotypes into a film that primarily takes place 400 kilometers above the Earth. It’s a lot easier to dedicate huge chunks of such films as Ghostbusters and Pixels to blatant product placement so you could safely say they went the extra mile when they gave us Life.
Now that it’s been a while since its premiere, the film evidently hasn’t left much of an impact, not in Espinosa’s homeland or anywhere else. It makes sense since, back when the movie was brand new, the nearly unanimous verdict was that, again, a sci-fi like Life has very little place in a time when the standards of the genre have been raised by the likes of Interstellar and Arrival. At least in terms of mainstream science fiction. I don’t know that an indie movie like Primer necessarily inspired big-studio filmmakers to produce smarter time travel stories.
Life is no failure when it comes to production design, with both interior and exterior shots of the space station that would make Cuarón proud, but since they’re so similar to a certain other film it is hard to be truly amazed. It is unfortunate that the rare instance of an original story in an ocean of remake, sequels and remake-sequel-reboot-comebacks would be one of the less refreshing movies.
In the words of Glenn Kenny: “What the filmmakers don’t understand is that when you try to add overtly cerebral notes to ruthless B-picture scenarios, you actually wind up making your final product dumber than the movies you think you’re transcending.” I guess not all of us learned anything from last year’s Batman v Superman.
Luckily, I’m smart so I did. Anyway, are those Wonder Woman tickets out yet?