Breathing Life into outer space
Gyllenhaal and Reynolds star in this year's first sci-fi blockbuster
From Frederick Stephani's 1936 big screen serial through to the US$1.2 billion (S$1.7 billion) Alien franchise to last year's Independence Day: Resurgence, the heroes of more than 500 space invasion films have been lining up to die in new and inventive ways after making contact with aliens.
This year's first sci-fi blockbuster is Life, a claustrophobic game of cat and mouse between the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) and a rapidly evolving life form that caused extinction on Mars and now threatens all life on Earth.
Set in the near future, director Daniel Espinosa's breakneck-speed thriller opens here tomorrow with an international cast led by A-listers Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds.
Gyllenhaal said at a press day in New York: "The script, pacing-wise, was blistering and terrifying.
"I mean, when I was reading it, you get to a couple of moments in the script, I was legitimately anxious, which is a very good sign."
The film also reunites Reynolds with his Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.
"There's nothing scarier than something that's just trying to survive and knows a little more than you do," Reynolds said at the world premiere at the South by Southwest festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, last Saturday.
"I think people love that, and people love a claustrophobic thriller too. (Alfred) Hitchcock started doing it, and now it's been around forever."
Comparisons with Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror Alien - in which a deadly extraterrestrial stalks the crew of a spaceship - are inevitable, especially since Alien: Covenant, the sixth instalment in the iconic series, will open here on May 10.
Espinosa said: "(One) big difference is the time, the era, when Alien was made. It was a post-atomic age when everyone was very much looking into the future.
"Young people today live in such a chaotic world that they don't think so much about what might happen in the next 10 years, let alone 100 years."
The point of Life, said Espinosa, was to make a thriller that would be entirely plausible today - a rover discovering a single-cell organism on Mars and bringing it back to the ISS only for it to grow powerful and turn hostile.
In keeping with the "science reality" approach, the production team consulted British geneticist Adam Rutherford, who has published influential books on the use of genetic modification to make new life forms.
Espinosa worked with Dr Rutherford to create an entirely original organism made up of cells that can each perform any bodily function, structurally superior to humans, with their specialised brain cells, eye cells, lung cells and so on.
Early reviews have been mixed, with the Hollywood Reporter predicting that the "underwhelming" movie may "suffocate in the anticipatory atmosphere surrounding Alien: Covenant".
Other critics have been kinder, however, pointing to its lean directing and refreshingly multi-cultural cast boosted by non-US actors Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya.
"Life is a thrill when it's smart, but it's even more exciting when the characters are dumb - which is ultimately a paradox the film wears proudly, to the possible extinction of the human race," wrote Variety magazine. - AFP