We earthlings are obsessed with finding signs of life on other planets. Why? Are we afraid of being alone in the cosmos? Do we hope that alien beings know things we don’t know and can solve our serious problems, like global warming or acne? In Daniel Espinosa’s Life, six astronauts on the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission discover a blob, and they can hardly contain their excitement.
Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) with David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal)
Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) is the cowboy of this international group, donning a space suit to repair whatever goes wrong outside the station. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a physician who has been in space for so long – nearly 500 days – that he can’t imagine being back on earth. Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) becomes a father in space, talking his wife through the birthing process, then displaying to everyone a photo on his iPad of his new daughter. Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) is the mission’s commander, while Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) brings a much-needed calm to the entire operation.
Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), a Brit and the lead scientist, is in charge of the discovery, isolated in the capsule’s lab as a safety precaution. The one-cell life form, placed in a petri dish, looks like those paramecia with cilia that undulate that we used to study in science. While Hugh’s upper body resembles that of an athlete, he’s paralyzed below the waist. Weightlessness in space allows him to move freely about the capsule, but he fantasizes that “Calvin,” the name given to the life form, might be a super stem cell, able to mend his injury.
Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds)
Healing humans, however, is not on Calvin’s agenda. In a short period of time, Calvin is killing off the astronauts in gruesome ways and rapidly growing into a monster with a brain. Calvin has no respect for Hollywood royalty, so A-list stars like Reynolds and Gyllenhaal soon find themselves in danger, along with the rest of the crew.
In D.C., the press screening was held in an appropriate place, the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater in the National Air and Space Museum. The 75-foot screen receives images from a “dual 4k laser projection system with a 12 discrete channel sound system” providing audiences “with the sharpest, brightest, clearest, and most vivid digital images ever combined with a whole new level of immersive audio.” Translated that means this screening was an intense experience, for sure. The audience felt it was in that space capsule along with Reynolds and crew, scrambling to keep one step ahead of Calvin. (If you have the option, see the film at a theater offering IMAX.)
David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal)
Life will undoubtedly be compared to Alien where Sigourney Weaver fought a much scarier opponent. Calvin is not nearly as frightening (although it will probably be some time before you can eat octopus again), but Espinosa certainly heightens the tension. The claustrophobic setting in the space capsule adds to the suspense. There are only so many places the astronauts can hide, and Calvin seems to have the ability to squeeze through small spaces with ease. It’s a no-win situation.
Connecting with the crew, learning more about each member, brings a personal element into the story. We root for the astronauts, not only because the alien life form is so evil, but also because anyone who signs on for such a challenging mission to benefit mankind deserves our support and respect. Space travelers are heroes, risking everything to explore a new frontier, knowing they may not come back alive.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink all those missions to Mars.
Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Top photo: David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson)