Review of Life (2017)

Moving picture, 104 minutes

Seen in 2022.

The retrieval of a Martian soil sample for human study aboard the ISS goes wrong from the start.

Beside the many pointless errors in this hard-SF horror film, there are a few choices that were probably deliberate and made against better judgement. In the first scene, there are noises carried over a vacuum in an unreasonably dense meteor swarm, which is typical of space movies made by and for people who want to make and watch movies set in space but don’t know or care what space is. On a deeper level, however, there is nothing in this movie so contemptuous of science as “Explorers” (1995). The noises in space, for example, have no impact on the plot. The use of Predator vision, similarly, is only a detail of the presentation.

Life is a snippet of the Aliens: Outbreak (1988) scenario, greatly simplified to stand alone. On one level, the threat is an alien predator killing a handful of individuals on the ISS, but on another level, there is the larger threat of this predator possibly surviving atmospheric entry to the Earth. The two levels play well against each other. The role of the alien is played by the versatile colony-organism Martians of Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future (1930), reduced to pleasing elegance and ambiguity without their psychic powers. Like Stapledon’s Martians, this one is essentially amoral. Sadly, its final form has both a head and bilateral symmetry, which humanizes it, but apart from that detail it is highly Lovecraftian: Weird, easy for humans to hate, clearly better than humans in many ways, and horrifyingly risky to be around, but not evil, and not based—like Giger’s alien—on the human subconscious. It’s just one tiny part of a larger world, like “The Colour Out of Space” (1927).

The characters are good, only one of them reduced to a type, and the visual effects are tastefully underplayed without being cheap. The scenes of horror feel surprisingly fresh. Putting such a story on the ISS in the near future, and keeping the hypertechnology to a minimum, is novel enough that it justifies the obvious imitation of Alien (1979) and makes me forgive the errors.

References here: Stowaway (2021).

moving picture fiction