We’re heading back to space with this week’s new release Life. The movie, starring Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and others, follows a crew of six astronauts aboard the International Space Station. That crew has a very specific mission: Retrieve a probe that’s on a return mission from Mars with the first sample of extraterrestrial life. They want to study it in space first before bringing something unknown back to Earth, which sounds sensible enough.
Of course that precautionary measure turns out to be a good idea when the sample turns out to be something less than cute and fuzzy. As soon as they start studying it, the lifeform displays aggressive tendencies and soon grows to be a fully-formed threat not only to those on the station but also to those on Earth. The space station’s orbit is quickly decaying, meaning it’s crashing back to solid ground with a violent and seemingly unstoppable alien on board.
The first poster is all about the stars, showing off the faces of Gyllenhaal, Ferguson and Reynolds in their helmets, with life support and other systems around them. The triptych design stacks all those faces on top of each other, the title treatment running down the side. “Be careful what you search for,” the copy warns us.
The next poster aims to amp up the mystery. So instead of showing the faces of the stars, it just features a look at a space suit with a hand reaching out, presumably in terror and desperation, and pressed up against the faceplate of the suit. “We were better off alone” we’re told in copy that hints nicely at a story that involves interstellar life.
The first trailer starts out by establishing the setting, which is the International Space Station where a group of astronauts and scientists are conducting research. That includes collecting space trash that’s floating around in orbit and, we see, finding proof of extraterrestrial life. While examining a specimen, though, one of the crew is essentially attacked, an event portrayed here as leading to all kinds of problems aboard the ship as crew member turns on crew member and everyone is fighting for survival in the harsh environment of space.
It’s a tight, tense trailer that doesn’t try to overly sell any one aspect of the story. So it’s clear we’ve got an ensemble cast but the footage doesn’t linger too long on any one of them. And it’s clear that there’s something terrible and dangerous on board, but the focus is instead on how the crew reacts to that and how the interpersonal dynamic changes more than what this creature is and what the threat is. The pitch here is a tightly-wound, close-quarters thriller more than a big space movie.
The second trailer, which debuted in the wake of a Super Bowl TV commercial, amped up that tension. First the story’s parameters are established as we see the team is meant to recover a capsule that’s on its way back from Mars. They find the mysterious life form on board and it quickly begins causing trouble, threatening not just the crew but also life on Earth as a whole.
It’s a bit better than the first one because it spends more time on establishing the premise of the story, so we feel a bit more invested in the characters and the stakes they’re fighting for on the space station.
One more short “restricted” trailer amped up the tension and showed the havoc the mysterious alien lifeform wreaks on the members of the space station and the way those astronauts deal with the loss of life that’s happening around them.
Online and Social
The official website loads that final “restricted” trailer when it comes up. After it finishes or you close the player the site *really* wants you to buy tickets, offering a listing of nearby theaters and even a map to help you find where it’s playing.
Moving up to the content menu at the top of the page, the first section is “Videos” and is where you can watch all the trailers, some featurettes, TV spots, cast interviews and more. After that “Synopsis” offers a very short write-up of the movie’s story.
The “Gallery” has a handful of stills of very members of the cast. “Share” encourages you to post a link to the site on your own social media pages and the menu ends with links to the movie’s own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The studio engaged in quite a bit of social advertising around the time the first trailer was released. Ads using the trailer appeared frequently on Twitter for a week after it debuted.
The paid campaign continued with a Super Bowl commercial that sold the movie as a straight-up horror movie, albeit one featuring some of the biggest stars around right now.
More TV spots continued to sell the tension inherent in finding an alien life form that’s not altogether friendly.
Media and Publicity
There were a few stories here and there about the movie but a big pop came when it was announced as the closing film at SXSW.
Outside of that there appears to have been limited major press activities. Reynolds was interviewed here and there as was the rest of the cast and there were stories that resulted from junkets, screenings and so on. They all made the talk show rounds to hype the movie and talk about working together and other topics.
I don’t know what to make of this campaign. It features three pretty big stars but it seems like it’s being given a marketing push more akin to something that’s being burned off in January than a major release with at least two instantly-recognizable actors. Considering Reynolds and Gyllenhaal are at the top of their game both critically and at the box-office right and that Ferguson is coming off great reviews from Mission Impossible 5 now it’s strange that the marketing seems to push them to the side as often as it can.
That’s not to say they’re hidden completely, of course. It just means it seems like the studio got a bunch of stars into the movie but, because it’s an original story that isn’t meant to launch or continue a franchise, it’s not sure how to sell it. The focus is obviously on the terror of the alien that’s terrorizing the space station, but that only goes so far. Basically it seems like Sony couldn’t decide whether to sell this as a small-scale horror film (impossible because of the caliber of the cast) or as a star-studded drama (difficult because there aren’t easily-fulfilled audience expectations). The result of all that is kind of a muddle.