Life movie review

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Life is a science fiction movie set in the near future on board the International Space Station.

The premise of the movie is that a Mars sample return mission is bringing evidence of Martian life back to Earth. The scientific community cautiously (and as it turns out sensibly) decided not to bring that alien life down to the Earth’s surface where there might be risk of contamination. Instead the samples will be studied in Earth orbit by a team of scientists on the ISS.

The team includes crew members from the USA, UK, Japan and Russia.The actors playing the two American astronauts are the big names on the poster, Ryan Reynolds inevitably playing the wise-cracking American and Jake Gyllenhaal playing the more soulful American who doesn’t want to return to the crowded Earth. I was also glad to see Rebecca Ferguson getting a major part. I became a fan after seeing her in the BBC’s The White Queen some years ago. She was also in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation back in 2015.

The astronauts manage to bring a dormant Martian cell back to life by mimicking the atmosphere of primordial Earth. The cell starts to grow into a creature that can see and make sense of its surroundings. The creature some demonstrates it has intelligence as it tries to escape the confines of its lab box.

After one of their number becomes injured the astronauts realise how dangerous the creature is and they struggle to contain it. Central to this is the notion of “firewalls”, or different levels of containment. As each firewall is breached the threat of the creature making it to Earth becomes more real.

This leads to a series of very tense scenes including one that shows the creature is resilient enough to survive in the vacuum of space. With each encounter the stakes are raised. I found the movie to be thrilling and absorbing in a way that few other recent releases have been.

I also appreciate the attention to detail to make the depiction of space seem authentic. I’m pretty amazed at how the makers managed to simulate the zero gravity environment of the space station for the complete running time of the movie. And as someone with a long time interest in space travel I enjoyed the “nuts and bolts” of the hardware very much.

The ISS does look recognisably like the one currently in orbit although the makers have given themselves artistic licence by having the movie set in the near future where the station has been expanded by the addition of new modules.

When I inevitably get the blu ray of Life it will sit well on the shelf beside Gravity and The Martian which are the other two authentic looking space movies I can think of. And that’s pretty good praise right there.