By Amaris J Gagnon (Los Angeles, California, U.S.)
The Decaying Science Fiction Genre and Why “Life” Does Nothing to Save It
Directed by Daniel Espinosa, the film Life expectedly adds nothing to the science fiction genre and leaves audiences with a familiar unwanted taste of “rip-off.” With successful films such as Alien (1979), this film is nostalgic of the overly used concept of astronauts trapped in a closed space with a hostile extraterrestrial creature, who must make the decision to die in order to save earth from uncertain peril. The film starts off with the team of scientists nurturing the organism to its potential, which is the characters ultimate downfall. Their curiosity will be their flaw.
Predictably enough, the CGI starfish alien they named Calvin (which looks hauntingly similar to the designed creature in Alien), will grow and then kill half the crew within the first hour. I was happy that the one African American character did not die first. That was Ryan Reynolds job.
When the conflict starts to unravel, so does the plot. Writing science fiction is hard because it has to make sense and it needs to be well researched. Not to say this film did not adequately portray that need, but I kept thinking, “Why didn’t the scientists quarantine the creature in the first place, once they saw that it was violent and dangerous within the first couple of minutes?” I am not pointing figures, but screen-writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese should have figured out a more believable protocol on a “no matter what” basis. This is alien life-form and the story would have taken a different turn if they had just quarantined in the beginning, but it could possibly have made the story more original. To have the alien come to earth would have appeased viewers because it would have been something different.
I understand that if the character Rory (Ryan Reynolds) was not overly emotional to save his friend, jeopardizing the entire crew by opening the vault containing the alien creature, there would be no story to tell. Again, this is why science fiction is hard, because it has to make sense. The actions of the characters were not believable. No one would open a seal containing a man eating alien to save their friend. These people are supposed to be professionals and prepared for every possible outcome. The reason films Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015) worked was because it was well researched and the science was explained throughout the entire movie, which made it more identifiable to audiences. There was a slight disconnect with the reasoning behind every choice, and I think more could be explained. Audiences are not stupid, but when it comes to futuristic pieces, the writer still needs to tell without over explaining. Writing science fiction means writing the possible of what we thought was impossible.
The reason this film failed for critics was because we have seen this story before played out in movies such as Prometheus (2012), Apollo 18 (2011), The Last Days of Mars (2013), The Abyss (1989), Europa Report (2013) and The Thing (1982). I would have liked to see the alien wreak havoc on earth instead of killing all the members of the space crew in the first hour. There was nothing left to the imagination. The screenplay followed structure so much that even the ending that should have been a twist, was nothing more than a Twizzler of sweet candy that had potential.
I credit Life for trying to remind audiences why humans should not go looking to contact other life forms in deep space. Stephen Hawking even warned the public that if we were to find aliens, that if they were hostile, we would not be prepared and could bring upon our own extinction. Curiosity will always kill the human. Lastly, Life is a reminder to viewers that science fiction will die out if Hollywood can’t accept new ideas of the impossible. Stop making sequels, stop ripping off Scott Ridley, and take a chance.