Life is a terrifying sci-fi thriller about a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station whose mission of discovery turns to one of primal fear when they find a rapidly evolving life form that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
In no unsubtle terms, Daniel Espinosa's Life aspires to be the next Alien. Or at the very least, owes a great deal to the Ridley Scott sci-fi horror classic, practically mimicking the 1979 film both visually and narratively. From a script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland, Deadpool), the opening moments are deliberately slow and evocatively paced, drawing our attention to the individual personalities living on the International Space Station. Four of the six astronauts, in particular, are given a bit more screen time than the rest, starting with British biologist Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) and American medical officer Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) chatting about their reasons for being there. British quarantine officer Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and Japanese pilot Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) reveal themselves through their actions. The other two are Russian commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) and arrogant, hot-shot system engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the latter of which is
These first few minutes not only generate an air of melancholy mixed with a heavy sense of
It's this notable aspect of the movie I admit enjoying most, making it far more entertaining and satisfying than initially anticipated. Given the film's marketing campaign, I was expecting a traditional, straightforward creature feature — which, don't get me wrong, it most definitely still is. Only, it was a nice surprise to see that Espinosa didn't simply make his characters into the typical bumbling idiots disguised as smart scientists routine, à la Scott's Prometheus. These are people genuinely fighting against a lifeform that turns out to be shrewder and quicker in adapting for its survival than they are. But this is a clever creature that
Arguably, of most interest is the rumor surrounding Espinosa's Life as a possible prequel origin story for Sony's upcoming Venom film, set to release in October 2018 and starring Tom Hardy. Although the fan theory has since been debunked, it's nonetheless fun to imagine the alien creature, which is named Calvin, could be the same host-searching, shapeshifting symbiote that later attaches itself to Eddie Brock. The similarities are pretty uncanny, especially considering the film's twist ending further fueling fan speculations. But in either case, the thriller stands on its own thanks to Espinosa's patient eye allowing for the plot's drama to come through and unfold naturally as things escalate. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey's (Nocturnal Animals, We Need to Talk about Kevin) omniscient camerawork adds to the pacing with a thick air of apprehension permeating the happier moments. However, some of the character motivations and actions are somewhat confusing and left unexplained, but Life is nonetheless a fun straightforward creature feature without any delusions of grandeur or aspirations, outside of simply delivering a suspenseful tale of survival.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings Life to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for an UltraViolet Digital Copy and glossy slipcover. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black keepcase with glossy, lightly-embossed slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to an interactive main menu that changes screens when switching between the usual options while music plays in the background.
Astronauts make first contact via a beautiful and sometimes impressive HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10, delivering an upgrade over the Blu-ray.
One of the biggest differences from its SDR counterpart is the better contrast. In spite of the deliberately restrained and muted picture, whites are crisp and brilliant, providing the sterile walls and spacesuits a brighter glow and intensity. This also allows for better visibility and clarity of the various gadgets, buttons and machinery in the background. From beginning to end, the movie, which was shot digitally on the Arri Alexa camera systems up to 6K resolution, is highly-detailed with excellent detailing of electrical wires and the threading in spacesuits while exposing the tiniest vein in the little blob Martian. Specular highlights are a big gain as well, as the light shines off metallic surfaces and twinkles in each bead of sweat, revealing the pores and wrinkles in the lifelike facial complexions. Meanwhile, the light-up buttons and luminescent "oxygen candles" are a bit more distinct beneath their incandescence.
The overall palette benefits nicely from the jump to UHD. Not to be hindered by the stylized cinematography, which limits a wider array of softer secondary hues, primaries are more vivid while still maintaining a gloomy, creepy atmosphere aboard the space station. Blues have more of an electrifying, intense glow while the red emergency lights completely engulf a room or cover the faces of actors with a portentous sense of doom. Speaking of which, flesh tones appear much healthier and accurate than before. Also, whereas blacks looked somewhat murky and grayish in the BD, brightness levels, here, are a dramatic improvement, appearing richer and more true-to-life with darker, ominous shadows. The finer details remain plainly visible throughout, providing the 2.39:1 image with an appreciable depth and a cinematic quality. However, there are a couple poorly-lit moments that are noisy and rougher than others, and a bit of aliasing was detected along the computer panel and buttons.
Unfortunately, unlike the video, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which is exclusive to the UHD, doesn't offer as much a difference as its 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. In fact, they are pretty comparable, except for very few minor differences, and listeners can't go wrong with either audio option. Much of this is due to how the design stylistically utilizes silence for generating a grim, foreboding atmosphere. The characters are living in an environment of peace and tranquility, so much of the attention is placed in the conversations and interactions, which is precise and remains very well-prioritized once the horror commences.
Still, amid the heavy air of silence, the electrical humming and buzzing of machines are continuously heard in the background, albeit a bit more distinct and clear than before. The mid-range is slightly improved, exhibiting more clarity and detailing, which is better appreciated once pandemonium erupts. This provides the movie with a wide and spacious sense of presence, as various bits of debris and other noises move across screen convincingly and lightly bleed into the front heights. A few of those effects extend into the surrounds and overhead channels, nicely enhancing the soundfield, but it doesn't happen often enough to be feel immersive, not even during the most-action packed moments. However, the best moment is when the creature escapes its confines and starts bouncing around the space station, flawlessly panning from the right front corner and above the right side of the room before sneaking into the back. All the while, low bass delivers a the same powerful rumble to the action with explosions occasionally plummeting into the lower, wall-rattling depths. It's great lossless mix, but doesn't compare to the best we've heard in the format.
Life: In Zero G (HD, 7 min): Cast & crew interviews discussing the challenges of filming as though floating in space and maintaining the illusion mixed with lots of BTS footage throughout.
Creating Life: The Art and Reality of Calvin (HD, 7 min): As the title suggests, the filmmakers talk about the design of the alien creature, speculate its motivations and being scientifically accurate.
Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space (HD, 7 min): More interviews on the monster and how the backdrop and space station play an important role in generating suspense.
Astronaut Diaries (HD, 3 min): The cast still in character explaining their roles aboard the space station.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 6 min):
Jordan Examines His Stamp Collection
Adams Mending His Helmet
The Tang Breakfast Scene
Derry in the Gym
Adams' Body Is Placed inside His Pod
Sho and Jordan Talk
Taking inspiration from Ridley Scott's classic Alien, Daniel Espinosa's Life surprises with a well-paced and deceptively entertaining sci-fi thriller that features a good deal of drama and characterization at heart. With excellent performances all around, the film about discovering life in outer space plays like the typical creature-feature without also being hampered down by the usual genre tropes.
The Ultra HD Blu-ray debuts with an excellent 4K presentation that's an improvement over its Blu-ray counterpart and a generally satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack exclusive to the UHD. The same supplements are ported from the BD, but the overall package is worth checking out for fans and enthusiasts hungry for more HDR goodness.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.