Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Europa Report

Pieced together from found footage of the crew of the Europa One who lost contact with Earth halfway through their 22-month mission to Jupiter's moon, the pseudo-documentary from director Sebastián Cordero includes a look at the problems which led to the missions success and failures at the fates of the various members of the crew (Daniel Wu, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, and Sharlto Copley).

Not told in chronological order, and inter-spliced with interviews from those at NASA (Embeth Davidtz, Dan Fogler) both before and and after Europa One's disappearance, the storytelling takes a while to get used to. Also troubling is Cordero's over-reliance on glitches, light flashes, static, and the like which are meant to frame the "real story" as documented by the crew.

What the story does have going for it are the various mysteries which slowly unfold involving what happened to the crew and what they found on Jupiter's moon.

The plot to Europa Report is nothing new as the "something goes wrong on a space voyage" idea has been well mined over the years, most notably with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (and most regrettably with Paul W.S. Anderson's supremely awful Event Horizon). Although screenwriter Philip Gelatt's script doesn't have anything all that original to say, the well-chosen cast, the focus on the characters and their mission highlighting the science over the fiction (at least until the film's final 20 minutes), and use of the ship's own cameras to tell the tale make it work better than most of these types of films.

With much of the (rather meager) special effects budget going to the ship itself, where well over 95% of the movie's action will take place, and Jupiter's moon the focus remains on the characters themselves. Although I wouldn't go so far as to Europa Report a character study, it does stay away from the wild and crazy plot shifts that doom several of these types of films (such as Sunshine which despite also having a strong cast and stunning look goes completely off the rails). The film teases such a shift with the loss of one member halfway through their trip, but thankfully the script has far more interesting places to go.

Of the cast I was most impressed by Karolina Wydra (who I really only know as House's wife) as marine biologist Katya Petrovna whose passion for the frozen water planet helps sell the granduer of journey and the awe-inspiring event of being the first astronauts to land on another heavenly body in decades. Copley and Nyqvist are both used well as the team's engineers, and each are given their own separate moments to shine.

Available on both DVD and Blu-ray, the film's special features include a short examination at the movie's (pretty solid) special effects, a short featurette on the movie's score, the trailer, and a photo gallery.

[Magnolia Home Entertainment, DVD $26.98 / Blu-ray $29.98]

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