Monday, April 3, 2017

Life Review

Shall we sit here and talk about life for a second? Whose life you might ask? My life? Your life? The life of a random person? The life of people in space? Life on Mars? Or what about the game of Life? No? You want to talk about the movie "Life" that I'll put in quotation marks because it's the title of a movie? OK, you got me. Those last few sentences were me making fun of a the title of this movie for being so vague and generic. When I was initially trying to figure out what this movie was about, the trailers didn't really help either. A group of people in space have found life on Mars and they're all happy and joyful until jump scare, screaming and movie title. "Life." Coming March 2017. So I initially assumed this was a continuation of our trend of yearly space movies which have previously included "Gravity," "Interstellar," "The Martian" and "Passengers." A trend I quite like even though two of those are not good movies. I like space movies. Yet it wasn't until the rating for "Life" came out that the light bulb went off in my head. An R-rated space thriller involving an alien that is discovered? This is 2017's version of "Alien." After that sunk in, I went and re-watched the trailers with that in mind and suddenly it all made sense. And I was even kind of excited!

I won't spend too much time talking about the actual movie "Alien" here in this review, mainly because "Alien: Covenant" is coming out in May and that'll be my opportunity to talk about that franchise, but it's worth noting that "Alien" is a movie that is fairly simple, yet extremely effective at what it sets out to do. It relies on a great cast that you're able to get behind right from the beginning who bring this strange alien onto their ship that transforms into the classic Xenomorph that is both extremely terrifying, yet one of the best creature designs in the history of alien/monster movies. The Xenomorph spends the movie quietly lurking around the ship taking people down one by one, which makes for quite the terrifying, intense film. "Alien" was a revolutionary film that was replicated in one way or another time and time again in cinema. The fact that we still have movies in 2017 like "Life" that are again replicating the formula should be telling about how influential that movie was. Plus we still have "Alien" movies coming out, as I previously mentioned with "Alien: Covenant" next month. As far as the movie "Life" goes, I do think it does a good job at taking this formula and turning it into a thrilling little space movie that is worth your time if you are a fan of the genre.

Approaching this review is a bit tricky, though. This is yet another one of those movies where the experience is enhanced if you go in knowing close to nothing, so the more detail I dive into, the more it will take away from the experience. I won't reveal any spoilers here, in fact I will do my best to be extremely vague with things, but if you want to just close this review right here and go see the movie, I would be totally fine with that. Just know that while this movie is nothing terrific or revolutionary like the movie it's trying to replicate, it's an enjoyable little film if you enjoy thrillers. There you go. There's your quick review. If you want a little more detail than that or if you've seen the movie and want to compare notes, then continue reading. But still no spoilers. Just slightly more depth than what I've already given. What I like about "Life" is how simple it is. They don't spend a ton of time diving into the backstory of each character or setting up this journey. We don't spend half the movie travelling to Mars to get our soil sample. We jump right into the thick of things without wasting any time. We have a crew of six astronauts on this spaceship. They've already traveled to Mars and grabbed their sample and are now testing it in the lab. Then we go from there.

Paradoxically, the same things that work for "Life" in this manner are also what goes against it. No, I don't need long setup in a movie like this, but the simplicity of the movie also means that it's kind of forgettable. There's nothing special about this movie. There's nothing unique about this movie. There's nothing revolutionary about this movie. It's just kinda there as a movie to take up a couple of hours of your time if you have nothing else to do. While I do appreciate the fact that we didn't spend half of the movie setting up these characters, the fact that we have very little backstory means there's not quite as much emotional weight behind them, meaning we have to rely solely on the acting abilities of our cast to make them likable and give us that emotional punch in case there's any of them that don't make it out of this situation. Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Fergusen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya comprise our six main characters and while all of them do fine, the ones I am familiar with out of the six don't exactly give career-defining performances if you know what I mean. Some stand out more than others and a couple of them were essentially "redcoats," but there's no one that I really had a deep emotional attachment to.

So yeah, this is kinda hard to judge as it's almost a lose-lose situation for the makers of this movie. Regardless of which direction they took, there's things to complain about, thus you can say the real problem here is the idea itself and the timing of this movie. With how many big budget space movies that have been released recently, you can say the market for this is a bit over-saturated as this doesn't do anything memorable. With the comparison to "Alien," if you have a movie in 1979 that's revolutionary enough to spark so many different replicas, then a movie like "Life" 38 years later that tries to do the same thing later won't have the same effect. The novelty has worn off and you walk out feeling like you've seen this before a hundred times. So if you want to take this formula and try it again, you have to bring something new and unique to the table and "Life" decides to instead play things super safe. Thus you can say that once the decisions were made with the screenplay to go in the direction that they did, they were doomed from the start to be a forgettable movie. There wasn't much that the director or the cast of the movie could do make this stand out, even though it's evident that they all try their best. There's no bad performances. It's the idea that was the problem.

With all that said, I'm not going to destroy this movie and tell you to skip it. If you're not a movie junkie like me and you're selective with the movies you see for whatever reason, this is not a movie I say is necessary for you to rush out and see. You can let it pass by and you won't be missing anything. However, if you do like heading to the movies quite often and you need to get your movie fix in, this is a good option, especially since our selection of movies to pick from in April is looking like it will be rather lacking in quality. If you especially like the horror and/or thriller genres, this will be an especially good fix. I don't want to dive into the specifics as to why because that will spoil the experience, but this is a decently intense thriller. I don't think it's really super scary and I'm not quite sure if I would classify it as horror like I would with "Alien," but if you think of "Alien" and the specifics of what made that movie work so well, those are your specifics for "Life." Although in every category that "Alien" gets a 9 or a 10 in for me, "Life" would get a 7 or 8. So not absolutely phenomenal, but decent enough to get a pass. In a month or two I might forget that I even saw this movie, but in the moment I enjoyed it enough to give it a pass. Thus my grade for "Life" will be a 7/10.

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