Sunday, April 09, 2017


Probably much better movies to see as part of a catch-up after a week without movies (but plenty of baseball) in San Diego and then a binge at BUFF, but this is what fit after doing laundry but not wanting to be on the T at midnight or so.

At least, I think it is, because they changed the ticketing machines and I couldn’t figure out how to get it to print out a ticket, so I had to scan the QR code at the ticket taker’s, and thus I don’t have an actual stub to refer to later. It may have started at 10:05 or something, and I don’t know while I’m finishing the review a week later. Sure, it sounds like a weird thing to complain about, but I’ve been saving and scrapbooking ticket stubs for the better part of a decade now, so it’s weird to not have that tangible reminder. I wound up searching the floor for a stub someone dropped.

(Didn’t find one)

My first Letterboxd entry on this apparently came off more negatively than I might, but something in it and which got repeated in the review, but I’m actually really happy about how movies like this exist. I’ve always worried that Star Trek and the like have given people an unreasonable idea of how easy space travel was going to be, because they always showed humanity traveling between planets on ships that had steady gravity that had no relation to thrust at all, landing on planets that had standard Earth atmospheres, edible flora… You know the drill. I always kind of worried that, for all that people were becoming more interested in science fiction, showing that sort of future might kill people’s interest in the sort of space exploration we can do now, because it’s hard, and puts the exoplanets that NASA is starting to discover centuries away, and what manned exploration can be done in our own system is very limited.

Funny thing, though - it seems like the wheel is turning a bit. Not a sea change - stuff like Star Wars and Valerian is massive anything-goes space opera - but there’s a nifty new wave of material that seems more interested in what is, if not quite within reach, between now and then. Gravity was the big one, but there’s been this and The Expanse since then, with Passengers at least going for some zero-gee scenes and the centuries it would take to get to a new planet. It seems as though being able to do this sort of thing in a movie has helped people realize that it as actually pretty cool.

Will that help re-ignite interest in the sort of space science that we need to do to get there? One can hope, although it doesn’t necessarily help that the ISS hasn’t exactly done well in these movies.

Life (2017)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 March 2017 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

In an earlier decade, Life would have a title that either ended with an exclamation point or would look perfectly normal if one were added, but that doesn’t happen today, because even if a movie studio willingly spends tens of millions of dollars on a blood-soaked script about alien stem cells reviving and attacking a space station crew, they wouldn’t want people to think it’s pulpy silliness. So, without actually lying or misrepresenting the film, they try and make it look like Arrival, when it’s actually more like The Thing from Another World!

Having the sort of resources that make a studio want to make their movie seems classy means that it can be set on the International Space Station, where commander Ekaterina Golokina (Olga Dihovichnaya), systems specialist Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), doctor David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), and technician Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) are joined by Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), the exobiologist who will be searching samples taken from an unmanned mission to Mars for signs of life, and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), who is tasked with enforcing the quarantine. The trouble is, the isolation plans were built around the assumption that they’d be dealing with the Martian equivalent of bacteria, not a colony organism that can rebuild itself from a single cell given adequate nutrition.

Director Daniel Espinosa stumbles a bit toward the beginning, although he and writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick tend to stumble in the right direction: For later bits to work, the world needs to be a little more open before it contracts to just the station; astronauts can be so capable and professional as to seem dry before things get messed up; and starting off with enough careful scientific investigation that the characters don’t seem like idiots might bore the audience, so you need an early action sequence. Messing up any of that stuff wouldn’t necessarily hurt the part of the movie one pays money to see, but it would be nice if everything seemed locked in from the start. That’s not really the case; the opening sequence with a too-hyper Rory having to operate an armature from outside the station for no good reason is one of a number of early bits that try too hard, as the most obvious example.

Full review on EFC.

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