“#life,” a new movie coming on March 24, 2017, is the first feature film to be set entirely on the #international space station. The premise of the movie, starring Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ryan Reynolds is that the ISS is being used as a Mars Receiving Lab, tasked with handling a geological sample returned from a space probe from the Martian surface. The astronauts soon discover that the sample contains a single cell organism, the first instance of life beyond Earth. Of course, as almost every movie since “The Andromeda Strain” has taught us, this discovery inevitably starts to go sideways as the organism begins to – evolve.
Of course a movie that depicts the discovery of a life form that does not start to eat the scientists trying to study it would be considered boring or at least too cerebral for a mass movie audience, the realistic alien contact film “Arrival” notwithstanding. So the trailer is showing scenes of one researcher getting savaged by the organism, another astronaut getting locked into one of the lab modules by another, and yet another astronaut holding off something off screen with an improvised flamethrower (a very dangerous and desperate measure to take in space, by the way.)
On the other hand, the interiors of the ISS look very realistic as do the shots of the astronauts propelling their way through microgravity. One wonders if the director used the same technique that Ron Howard did in “Apollo 13” by putting a set inside a microgravity aircraft and then shooting the weightless scenes while the plane was doing its parabolas.
The number of space movies that do not involve either #Alien microbes ravaging everyone who come in contact with them or alien armies blowing up entire cities are few and far between. “The Martian,” that pitted Matt Damon’s character against the environment of Mars comes to mind. Even “Gravity,” which did such violence to physics and orbital mechanics, started with an ill-considered test of a Russian anti-satellite weapon. The sight of astronauts screaming in agony or looking on with fear is easier for screen writers and film directors to pack them into the theater than space explorers looking on in wonder or with furrowed brow at a intractable problem. That is too bad because space microbe movies tend to be formulaic and have only one inevitable outcome.