“Life”, Daniel Espinosa’s sci-fi thriller about an international space crew that discovers something wonderful on board until it is not, will be the closing title at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival on March 18. With Skydance’s Life, Sony bookends the Austin festival; its TriStar action movie Baby Driver from director Edgar Wright already is set to play March 11.
A real-life organism provides the inspiration for the alien monster at the center of “Life,” a horror movie that’s set on the International Space Station. But you’d never guess which one.
“We used that as a model, working with the effects team, but ramped it up enormously,” said Adam Rutherford, who served as a science consultant for the film. Moviegoers can get a glimpse at the results in the online trailers for “Life,” which opens in theaters on March 24.
Rutherford didn’t just throw a dart at the tree of life to select slime mold. It’s a weird kind of fungus-like critter that can be considered a one-celled or multicellular organism. Studies have shown that although it doesn’t have a brain, it seems to be capable of learning and even figuring out railway routes.
That’s not a bad model for a fictional organism from Mars that combines neural and muscular functions in one cell. And it’s not a bad pick for Rutherford, a geneticist who also helped out with the AI movie “Ex Machina” and wrote a book titled “Creation” about the origin and future of life.
#3 A great release date: March 31, 2017
No one goes to a space horror flick for a science lecture, but the producers of “Life” took pains to throw in some real-life background about astrobiology, the challenges of studying samples from an alien world, and how to deal with a medical emergency on the space station. “One of the reasons it works so well is because it’s set in the near future,” Rutherford told GeekWire.
China is already gearing up to bring samples back from the moon, as early as this year, and NASA’s 2020 Mars rover is expected to lay the groundwork for an eventual Mars sample return mission.
Scientists are thinking through all the protocols that will be needed to keep Martian samples from getting contaminated by terrestrial life forms, and to keep any potential life forms from getting into earthly environments.
The most likely scenario calls for sending a sealed sample canister directly back to Earth, for study in a specially built containment facility. In contrast, the movie plot is built around the idea that astronauts will study the sample on the space station, supposedly for safety’s sake. Of course, something goes wrong.
In real life, the space station’s crew would stick to “very rigorous protocols to absolutely minimize risk of contamination,” Rutherford said. “But it wouldn’t be much of a space horror thriller,” he added.