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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Europa Report
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by Jay Seaver

"Movies about traveling to Europa appear to be a good bet."
4 stars

I have likely mentioned this a few dozen times on this site, but my favorite subset of science fiction is that which takes place during the "interplanetary era", as humanity expands from Earth but is still confined to the solar system because 2.9979x10^8 meters per second isn't just a good idea, it's the law! By making that sort of science fiction with a focus on discovery over the characters' personal issues, the makers of "Europa Report" have catered unrepentantly to fans of space exploration, but they've also made a thriller tense enough even for those who aren't so gung-ho about that sort of material.

Two years ago, a privately funded manned mission was launched to Jovian moon Europa, where probes have discovered evidence of liquid water. The crew numbers six: Commander William Xu (Daniel Wu), pilot Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca), scientists Katya Petrovna (Karolina Wydra) & Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo), engineer James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley), and veteran cosmonaut Andrei Blok (Michael Nyqvist). But, as Dr. Samantha Unger (Embeth Davidtz) informs the audience, contact was lost a year in. Now, newly received footage promises to reveal what has happened in the interim.

The film is presented as a documentary made from the ship's on-board cameras, and that's a smart way to go for a modest sci-fi movie such as this. It gives director Sebastian Cordero the ability to keep certain things hidden and not use elaborate effects shots to communicate the characters' awe at the majesty of space. Despite the exclusive use of in-story cameras, Europa Report doesn't use the "found footage" conceit in the way horror movies tend to do; there are after-the-fact interviews interspersed throughout, and the movie has clearly been edited and scored by professionals. Some may not like that, although the building soundtrack from Bear McCreary goes from non-intrusive to bombastic is quite nice, and the problem with the flashback in the middle is not that the idea is bad so much as it yanks the audience form an already tense situation to one whose broad strokes are already known and which mostly makes everybody involved look dumber than the folks launching a multi-billion dollar space mission and its hand-picked crew should be.

After that is settled, though, things pick up in impressive fashion. One of the most surprising and refreshing things that Cordero and writer Philip Gelatt do is to recognize that space missions are inherently exciting, and finding single-celled organisms on a distant moon would be a huge deal, so they don't have to artificially inflate it. That takes some skill, and it's a tribute to how they and their cast execute that matter-of-fact procedural and technical talk doesn't become dry, even if things like walking 100m doesn't sound like much. An even bigger relief, though, is that the movie never winds up drowned in personal issues. Yes, there are both men and women in the crew, but if anybody is sleeping with each other, it's not mentioned except very obliquely, and certainly not what's going to drive the story. People don't get distracted from crises or potentially world-changing discoveries to yell at each other over their petty differences. Certainly, that's an easy and frequent way to make the extraordinary "relatable", but it's a crutch that it's nice to see these filmmakers dispose of.

That's got to be kind of nice for the cast, too, and in some ways especially nice for Wydra and Marinca, who despite a couple early jokes from James about wardrobe choices and shoes get to play Katya and Rosa as curious scientist and expert pilot without having to be love interests or not being recognized as good at their jobs, while still being quite individual. Copley, though given those lines, also does a nice job of playing James as both the ship's goof and the one with the heaviest heart about being away from Earth. Wu and Camargo also have plenty of success at making their highly-capable characters distinct, and Michael Nyqvist adds a bit of gravitas as the most pragmatic, experienced member of the crew.

They're part of a nicely put-together movie which certainly shows signs of being put together by folks who love the material. The enthusiasm isn't quite so obvious as it is in the occasionally-similar The Last Push (aka Astronaut), but when the credits have a long string of information detailing where each bit of space footage came from, one can perhaps forgive that some of the effects sequences look a bit pasted-together. The spaceship design is nice, too, giving the cast room to move around while still feeling properly cramped, and one particular angle doing a lot to establish the unusual environment while offering the occasional sober reminder of what has already gone wrong. There's a general feeling of authenticity but not to the point where it works against an entertaining movie.

That's a pretty fair balance; if the movie catered more to the space nuts' tastes, it would run the risk of being very dry to a general audience. Instead, it's got a few iffy moments, but it also serves to remind everyone who may have forgotten that space is exciting in the best way possible: By showing discovery and exploration as thrilling and noble even when things don't go as planned.

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originally posted: 08/14/13 14:16:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Zurich Film Festival For more in the 2013 Zurich Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/26/16 brian Aw c'mon, people, it looked TREMENDOUS. Ending was letdown-ish, but overall well done. 4 stars
10/26/13 mr.mike Decent home vid rental. 3 stars
9/07/13 Langano Hollow attempt that never pays off. 2 stars
8/15/13 oz1701 not a fan of found footage approach and fell asleep half way through 2 stars
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  02-Aug-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Oct-2013


  DVD: 08-Oct-2013

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