Judge Clark Douglas prefers visiting Jupiter's less well-known moons. You probably haven't heard of them.
Fear. Sacrifice. Contact.
"Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known…what does your life actually matter?"
Facts of the Case
In the not-too-distant future, six astronauts go on a privately funded mission to Europa (one of Jupiter's moons) in search of life beyond our planet. Those aboard the mission include William Xu (Daniel Wu, The Man with the Iron Fists), Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), Andrei Blok (Michael Nykvist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Dr. Katya Petrovna (Karolina Wydra, Be Kind Rewind), James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley, Elysium) and Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo, The Hurt Locker). The mission begins rather smoothly, but the crew is shaken up after encountering a nasty solar storm approximately one year into their journey. Further complications ensue once the ship actually arrives on Europa, and it isn't long before the crew members find themselves facing a variety of unexpected life-and-death scenarios.
Sebastian Cordero's Europa Report is a science-fiction film that places a surprising and refreshing emphasis on the "science" portion of that equation. If you're one of the many folks who's grown weary of filmmakers who frequently ignore basic scientific facts for the sake of generating more exciting explosions, you'll likely appreciate Cordero's efforts. Unfortunately, there is a bit of a trade-off: while the film goes to much greater pains than most to get all the little details right (even tossing in a Neil DeGrasse Tyson cameo as an indicator of its hard work in this regard), the story doesn't quite manage to achieve the dramatic impact it ought to. It's a film that is intellectually stimulating in a number of ways, but it lacks the visceral edge of several of the movies it imitates (a hint: the plot is closer to Alien and The Thing than to 2001: A Space Odyssey).
The movie's central gimmick is actually quite interesting. Most of the movie is comprised of documentary-style footage that is supposed to have been shot by the astronauts themselves, but it's not just another "found footage" horror movie. This time around, the footage is incorporated into an actual fake documentary, complete with professional-looking talking head interviews with assorted members of the company that funded the Europa mission (the company's CEO is played by Embeth Davidtz, while Dan Fogelman and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. turn up as lower-ranking executives). Imagine if the events of Alien were presented to the viewer via a documentary funded and edited by the Weyland-Yutani corporation, and you have a pretty good idea of what Europa Report is going for. It's a nifty (if somewhat limited) concept, and it avoids overstaying its welcome thanks to the film's 90-minute running time.
The performances are solid across the board. Understatement is the name of the game in Europa Report, with the actors underplaying their big dramatic moments rather effectively and generally bringing a nonchalant naturalism to the bulk of their scenes. Though the film eventually transforms into a horror/thriller, many of the early scenes are focused on the mundane minutiae of the mission. Perhaps as a means of compensation for this, the film jumps back and forth across the timeline quite a bit, and we can't help but notice that certain crew members are mysteriously absent from some of the later footage. It's a valiant effort to bring some additional suspense to the table, but it largely feels like an unnecessary gimmick. I realize that I'm making it sound as if I kind of disliked the movie, but that isn't the case. It's an interesting film and I'm glad to have seen it, but the truth of the matter is that it's more interesting in concept than in execution.
Europa Report (Blu-ray) has received a strong 1080p/1.78:1 transfer. It's obviously a low-budget effort, but at least the limited spaceship sets look fairly convincing. Detail is generally strong, though noise can be pretty heavy during some darker scenes. Brighter sequences (which constitute the bulk of the film) are sharp and vibrant. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is solid, highlighting one of my favorite scores of 2013 (an alternately gritty and gorgeous effort from Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary) and delivering the nuanced sound design with clarity. Dialogue is clean and clear. Supplements include two featurettes ("Exploring the Visual Effects of Europa Report" and "The Musical Journey of Europa Report"), a photo gallery and a trailer.
There's precious little hard sci-fi being made for the big screen these days, and Europa Report will certainly satisfy that particular craving. Even so, the film's failure to really grab the viewer on an emotional level will likely prevent it from ever really finding an audience outside of devoted genre fans. Cautiously recommended.
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