Life (2017) is one of the more underrated science fiction films and one of the most under-attended considering what it cost to make. With a budget of $58M that only made $12.5M on its opening weekend in the US, you might wonder why Columbia Pictures didn’t spend more on marketing. However, when you look at some of the similar-genre movies Life was competing with upon its premiere: Logan, Kong: Skull Island, Get Out, and John Wick: Chapter 2, you get the impression moviegoers had many other options to choose from.
But as history proves not all good films enjoy huge success at the box office. As such, movie gems can sometimes be found in home media formats long after a film makes its theatrical run. Life is one of those gems.
Life released to 4k Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD on June 20, 2017 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Here’s a review of the film on 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44) and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, Life is pretty much the Alien story: an alien is encountered in space, the alien kills a bunch of astronauts, the remaining astronauts attempt to kill said alien before it gets back to earth. The main characters include Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dykhovichnaya), and Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare).
But Life isn’t the first film to rip-off Alien and likely won’t be the last. The concept of life-forms from other planets that could threaten our own civilization makes a perfect plot under many different skins. Calvin, as the alien in Life is affectionately named, even subdues humans by entering through the mouth as seen in Alien franchise films.
The alien in Life, however, is introduced as a curious little life-form that science officer Hugh Derry is fascinated with. You almost want it to stay that way instead of the squid-like monster it evolves into (of course, it has to get bigger), but there are very few horror films in which the monsters are smaller than a finger. Nevertheless, the CGI inserts, starting with thumbnail-sized Calvin, are mostly well done throughout the movie.
Life follows many of the cliches of its genre, but isn’t completely traditional. Who would have thought (spoiler ahead) that a certain Deadpool actor would be the first to be killed off rather than a lesser-known actor in a smaller role. It was definitely a chance the writers and producers took losing Reynolds right away, but it’s not like the story went on starless. Well-known actor Jake Gyllenhaal seemed to fill the void Reynold’s character Rory left open, and you wonder what this movie would have been like if the casting of the two were reversed.
After the excitement of discovering a new life-form turns into a nightmare, Director Daniel Espinosa takes viewers on an anxiety-driven rollercoaster of a plot. As the viewer, you know death is inevitable, but how Espinosa gets you there is what makes this film watchable. That, and the twists the writers throw in to keep Life from being a templated bore.
We don’t want to spoil any more of the story, but there is a triumphant moment towards the end (enhanced by the musical score) when it appears Miranda will be returning to earth and Calvin shot off into space. There is no happy ending to this story though. Rather, it’s one of the most horrific endings to a movie you’ll ever see.
The images in Life are presented in 4k/24p with HDR10 BT.2020 10bit color (even though the disc package may not indicate HDR). The HEVC video delivered an average of 55Mbps, dropping to about 38Mbps and up to 77Mbps at certain points.
Life was shot on Arri Alexa cameras at 6.5k and 3.4k, with the Digital Intermediate (DI) mastered in 3.2K. So, the source video (noticeably grainy at times) is not exactly 4k but very close to it. What’s even more impressive than sharpness is the 4k video boasts a beautiful color palette thanks to HDR10.
By comparison, the 1080p Blu-ray is extremely flat and after watching the 4k HDR video almost unwatchable. You could, of course, boost the color settings on your TV with the Blu-ray but the color depth won’t be as real or come close to the vibrance found on the 4k Blu-ray.
The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, Anna Karenina) switches between wide external shots of the space station and tight shots of the “tubes” the astronauts move around in. Part of the character of this film is the feeling of claustrophobia (as discussed in one of the extras) but the focal range of the lenses is not so tight as to make the viewer uncomfortable. Yes, you feel as if in the capsules with them. But no, you are not pressured to get out.
There are beautiful but frightening images of Calvin, the alien life-form that threatens the crew. The CGI overlays tend to look different than the special effects “tentacles” that engulf the astronauts. One might prefer the digital VFX Calvin over the SFX Calvin. Or, vice versa.
Images of the space station are excellent, although not much different than contemporary films such as Gravity, Interstellar, and Passengers. The explosions as parts of the space station break apart in Life are incredibly detailed and realistic, so much so that you’ll want to pause the image to get a closer look at all the effects work.
On the 4k Blu-ray, audio is provided in Dolby Atmos/TrueHD and streams at around 4.5Mbps. The soundtrack to Life is underscored by compositions from Jon Ekstrand that are both beautiful and haunting. A wide dynamic range captures the subtle sounds of breathing, space suits crunching, and computer keys being pressed in contrast with majestic orchestral musical scores that fill the room.
The audio, just like the overall feeling of claustrophobia in the film itself, is mixed with the intention of putting the viewer in the space station with the crew. The quiet moments in the modules tended to provide the best audio experience, as the dramatic compositions seemed to overpower the more ambient sounds that would have been nice to consistently hear.
There is an undeniable increase in anxiety caused by the music in several scenes. One example is when Sho is taken by Calvin and a big chunk of the space station is broken off. At points, the audio is so loud and haunting it’s almost too much to handle and the volume had to be turned down (this overpowering may or may not have been enjoyable in the theater).
Furthermore, even though the soundtrack is provided in Dolby Atmos there isn’t much to be said about immersive audio. This was reviewed on an Atmos-capable sound bar, and as such, the audio seemed more unidirectional rather than omnidirectional. Maybe overhead and behind audio effects would have been better experienced with a true surround speaker system for Life.
Note: The 1080p Blu-ray does not include Atmos audio.
The extra bonus material, unfortunately, is not provided in 4k on the UHD BD. So, you’ll have to pop in the 1080p Blu-ray for insight into the making of the film. We should note there are about a half dozen trailers to click through before getting to the Blu-ray home screen.
But if you want more Life content, and unless you fell asleep watching the movie you will want more, there are six deleted scenes (some just clips) to check out.
Some of the clips were definitely unnecessary to include in this already long 2-hour, 24-minute film. For example, Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) hanging at 90-degrees to lift arm weights doesn’t do much for the plot but tell you he keeps in shape. But one clip that would have been great to include in the film might be Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) and David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) discussing his ability to command which he seems to have lost confidence in. Leaving this scene may have given viewers some background as to why Sho appears sort of distant and disengaged, rather than in command.
Other extras explore the challenges of creating a film in zero gravity (the actors were always hanging from ropes), the development of the alien creature named “Calvin,” making a realistic and claustrophobic horror film in space, and deleted astronaut diaries.
Life is not a movie to watch if you’re looking for a feel-good, happy ending in which humanity is saved. Rather, the concept of the film (that is completely relevant today as NASA pursues more exploration of Mars) is downright frightening. However, if you want to be taken off Earth for a couple of hours and imagine you’re in a space station with the crew of a scientific exploration, Life is an experience you’ll never forget (even if you would like to).
3/5 (Blu-ray only)