Can 'Life' Overcome That Too-Familiar Feeling?

If the trailers for Jake Gyllenhaal's new space horror movie seem like something you've seen before, there's a good reason for that.
Courtesy of Sony Pictures
'Life'

Life hits theaters Friday, with Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and space crew facing off against … something in orbit above the Earth. Trailers for the movie left the exact details about that something purposefully vague, but instead clarified one thing: just how much the movie looked like other space movies.

It's not merely that the plot — what little was revealed in the trailers, at least — is highly reminiscent of Alien, although that can't be ignored. When you're telling a story about a crew of a space ship that has to deal with a monster onboard, Ridley Scott's 1979 movie would be the most obvious touchstone. That's even more true as promotion for May's Alien: Covenant continues to do its darnedest to remind people about the appeal of a movie about a crew of astronauts being visited by disaster from outside forces that is, in part, brought on them by their own curiosity.

It also doesn't help that there are shots in the trailers for Life that could be intentional shout-outs to the Alien franchise as a whole: Cryogenic pods! Creepy tentacles right beside scared people's faces! The crew staring at each other intensely through windows of sealed doors (straight from the Alien: Covenent trailers)! Ryan Reynolds doing his best Sigourney Weaver with a flamethrower, just seconds away from yelling, "Get away from her, you bitch!"

But there are other echoes in the Life trailers to other movies: A shot of an astronaut in a spacesuit careening out of control against the outside of the space station, and another of said space station disintegrating for reasons unknown, are both highly reminiscent of 2013's Gravity. The glimpse of the Martian landscape (and shots of loving family and Earth-bound cityscape) in the second trailer calls to mind 2015's The Martian. Even the choice of song to open the second trailer — "Spirit in the Sky," by Norman Greenbaum — might put audiences in mind of 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy, which also used the track. 

Really, the only thing missing is the Inception BRAAAM.

(That's to say nothing about the fact that a trailer for Life used footage from 2007's Spider-Man 3.)

None of this suggests that Life is a bad movie (it's gotten good reviews and comes from the much-liked writers of Deadpool), but its marketing certainly points towards it being an unoriginal one. It's an odd marketing strategy — is the idea to sell the movie as all of your favorite space movies, but rolled into one? (If so, then there's not enough The Black Hole or Event Horizon, thank you very much.) Is it merely leaning into the fact the movie is operating in a space (no pun intended) that has been pretty well covered by earlier movies? Or is it all a bait-and-switch to lay the groundwork for an unexpected last-minute twist that no one will see coming?

The answer might not matter. Instead, the real question might only come once Life's opening weekend box office is in, and everybody gets to see whether or not familiarity has bred contempt, as the saying goes, or whether there's something in the appeal of promising the audience more of what they already know they like. After all, it worked for Stranger Things, didn't it?

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