‘Life’ sometimes thrilling but almost always familiar

Life

BY ROGER THOMAS

     I do  not remember all the movies I have seen in nearly fifty-four years. And i certainly do not remember when, where and with whom I have seen all those films. However, occasionally, a movie experience is so unique that I am not sure I will ever forget it.

     One of those viewings happened in the summer of 1979. I was sixteen. A film opened on June 22 of that year and a female friend and I went to see this film because a lot of people were talking about it. We did not know what to expect, but there is almost no way we could have predicted what we were about to witness. When that tiny “title character” exploded from an astronaut’s abdomen, I am not sure who screamed louder, my date or me. 

     The movie impressed us so much, we tried to get our high school band director to go see it with us when we went again. He declined. The film, of course, was Ridley Scott’s “Alien” starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, and John Hurt.

     As I watched the new space thriller “Life,” one thought continued to run through my mind: This is a weaker version of “Alien.” In fact, this film is weaker than any of the films in the “Alien” series, except maybe “Alien: Resurrection.” For the record, I have  not seen any of the “Alien vs Predator” films so I cannot compare those. Nor have I seen the newest film in the series, “Alien: Covenant” which opens May 19, in a theatre near you. But overall as sci-fi thrillers go, “Alien” is superior to “Life.”

     There are, however, some things I liked about “Life.” I think the cast are good. Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds are the most prominent actors of the film but the others do fine work as well.

     The screenplay of the film is well-developed in the early minutes of the film. The dialogue allows the audience to understand who these people are and why they are on the space station. If characters are going to end up peril, the audience needs to care before the threat manifests. “Life” accomplishes that. 

     As so many other films these days, the film has great visuals, both in the station and the scenes out in space. 

      Then there are the flaws. First, the presence that is discovered on Mars never creates the chill I like to have in a thriller. No matter how frightening the effects technicians could have made the creature, I would most likely not scream like I did back in 1979. There is not one thrill anywhere close to that level in this film. When something is really scary in a film, I do not scream anymore, but I do feel a chill up my spine or I may quietly gasp. “Life” did not accomplish either.

     I also believe some of the things that happen on the station after the creature is free seem mindless. Obviously, none of us have been in a situation like the one depicted in the film, but I kept asking myself, “Why don’t they…?” 

     Back when Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley was fighting an alien, she made the right decisions. The crew in “Life” just do not measure up.

     I will offer credit for a slightly better finish than most of the rest of the film. I will not offer any details. I saw it coming, but it still worked well; one of the better parts of the film.

     With “Alien: Covenant” coming in May, I would recommend to wait for that film. Even if it is just a retread of the past, it will most likely be equal to or better than “Life.” And for the record, even though I have fond memories of screaming in “Alien,” the second film, “Aliens,” is the best among the five released films and like with the first film, I remember exactly who I saw it with.

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

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