Vic’s Review – “Europa Report” (2013)

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What’s it About?

An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon.

“Europa Report”

Directed by Sebastián Cordero

8 out of 10

By Vic

Wow. I was really surprised by Ecuadorian director Sebastian Cordero’s (Rage, Cronicas, La Caverna) science fiction thriller, Europa Report. Pleasantly surprised. Cordero, working from a tight and lean script from “The Bleeding House” scribe, Philip Gelatt, does one thing right as soon as the film begins. He infuses it with realism and brings back actual science to a genre that is ripe and over saturated with CGI (Gravity being the respectable exception of course), aliens, big battleships and exploding planets. His die hard and straightforward storytelling is unique and refreshing since he treats the realism with tension, accuracy and starry imagery that lingers way after the film has concluded.

Cordero even manages to tip his hat off to scientists and film-makers alike in this movie. Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick being chief among them. (Cordero’s film leaves the meta physical stuff to loftier directors respectively) Meanwhile, what is shocking is that the film falls under that most dreaded and over-revered sub-genre of the “found footage” movie. But, strangely enough, the film doesn’t feel like one. It is most often, and smartly,  just a collection of small scenes that were recorded from various cameras set up around the Europa bound space craft Europa One. The footage caught by the closed circuit cams give the movie a documentary feel that is clinical, precise and very damn compelling.

What makes this happen is that Cordero inserts scenes of actual drama that occurs not in space but back home on Earth by using a narrative incorporating characters expounding on the mission that eventually led to an un-foreseen communications blackout that lasts many months and a mysterious crisis. Cordero manages to use actual science and the pursuit of alien life, in it’s simplest form, as a springboard. For many years, astronomers, like the famed Neil deGrasse Tyson, (who is actually in a quick news clip in the movie) have been vocal about fishing for life under the ice of Europa (Jupiter’s 6th closest film) and are determined to find it in the mineral rich water.

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Embeth Davidtz (Matilda, Mad Men) plays Sam Unger, who is the CEO of the company that launched Europa One into space. She is one of the few people, along with further insight provided by Dr. Sokolov (Dan Fogler) and, in news feeds from the time of launch, Dr. Tarik Pamuk (Isiah Whitlock Jr.). who give us observations into the preparations, the science, the launch (The Blue Danube is actually played for the astronauts by Mission Control at one point) and the risks of the actual mission to Jupiter’s moon. Apparently something goes wrong and when the company is forced to make an announcement, then we are shown declassified video footage of what happened. The timeline and the order in which the footage is shown and examined is thought provoking and even a bit laborious to understand. But we do get it in a fashion that mirrors an actual space movie with a tense and exciting premise.

Chronologically, things start to go wrong, not only with the crew: (William Xu (Daniel Wu), the commander; Andrei Blok (Michael Nykvist), the chief engineer; James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley),  an engineer; Dr. Katyva Petrovna (Karolina Wydra), a marine biologist; and Dr. Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo ), an astrophysicist) but with the equipment. After several periods of showing the normalcy and monotony of living in space (along with more “talking heads” segments from the crew), Cordero kicks up the tension as soon as they arrive to Europa and land after being slingshot around Jupiter.

Once there the crew grapple with landing way off target, sick crew members, seeing lights in the radioactive distance, walking out into the icy climate and a desperate take off that is wrought with danger. Cordero leaves no stone un-turned in this gripping distant cousin to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film warrants repeated viewings because the layers of information, confessionals and foreshadowing compels us to dig deeper into the mystery of the exploration. And there are quite a few and Cordero makes us actually think and doesn’t spoon feed us every detail in order to clarify.

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Now, the science. I may not know if the movie’s actual science is accurate but Europa Report displays that it does not dumb down and respects the intelligence of the viewer. Meanwhile, the transmissions of pilot Rosa Dasque, played by Anamaria Marinca, are strange but enlightening. Her video testimonies give us incredible insight to what the crew were feeling and the dangers involved with the mission to find life on Europa. Her videos are surely a guideline to way the events unfold.

Props to Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) who gives a compassionate and nuanced performance as the engineer James Corrigan. Copely does a great job at provoking emotion and understanding. Especially during a tight moment in the film where he needs to do a spacewalk to fix a technical problem outside of Europa One. (You’ll never look at hydrazine that same way again) Cordero manages to make this a very good ensemble piece not too unlike what Danny Boyle did with “Sunshine.” (Another distant cousin to 2001)

In closing, Europa Report has the right stuff. (yeah, I just said that) The film is full of knowledge, drama and is smart and feels very real much to it’s credit. It is also beautifully shot by DP Enrique Chediak, who has actually worked with Danny Boyle. He captures the vacuum, immensity and isolation of deep space with a wonderful eye. Even as the film makes it way to the unique conclusion, we still feel that all of this is very plausible and authentic. Also, the interior and exterior sets and FX are quite impressive, here, adding even more to the realism.

The movie tackles big things in a very little space and minimal budget and does so with finesse and resourcefulness that really resonates. The dialog is interesting and the drama appropriate. The straight narrative using the video feeds throughout, never feels hokey or sentimental. Actually the video examine by Europa Ventures actually raises more questions than answers thus giving us more fodder to debate and dwell upon. Cordero delivers a taut, suspenseful little sci fi gem with a large heart and lofty themes. Highly recommended.

Vic’s Note: “Europa Report” is available on Netflix Instant Streaming. Enjoy!

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19 comments

  1. I agree. This is a taut and compelling experience. I don’t care for the ending and I think some of the editing between timelines dulls the impact of a couple scenes, but otherwise I’m with you. Copley is great. The found footage works wonders. The talking head mockumentary format is awesome. And so forth.

    • Glad you enjoyed the film. I was a bit apprehensive about the found video angle of the movie but they made it work, believably and capably. It has a lot going for it.

      Thanks for stopping by! Much appreciated.

    • Move that bad boy up on your Netflix list! I think you’ll like it. I’m glad you liked the review and I hope you enjoy the movie. Thanks for checking in!

    • Totally agree! The visuals are so low key that you actually feel like this is real footage and that you really there. That’s how well the FX blended in.

      Copley and the rest of the ensemble really sold the dangers and mystique of being in deep space. So well done.

      I appreciate you stopping by and checking out the review. Much appreciated!

  2. I usually dread “found footage” movies. Manily becaue it’s used to cover glaring plot holes with “well it really happened so stop complaining.” I’m looking at you Apollo 14. But this sounds like the pleasant exception. I’ll have to watch it.

    • Oh man…Apollo 14! I really wanted to like that movie but damn…

      I think you’ll really appreciate this one, Maurice. It’s on Netflix if you want to check it out. I hope you enjoy it.

      Thanks for stopping by and checking out the post. Always appreciated, man!

    • Glad you liked the review, Mark! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this one. I hope you enjoy it,

      I appreciate you stopping by, man! Always a pleasure hearing from you. Thanks!

  3. I love Copley. Don’t know why. Guy is just amusing to watch and it likely because of his role in Elysium or District 9. However, I did not know he was in this film and I have been hesitant about watching Open Grave. Heard a lot of bad things about the latter while people are talking very positively about this one! An 8/10 is quite appealing!!

    • Open Grave was meh. Decent enough for a one time watch if you are a big Copley fan. He wasn’t too bad in it but the film’s style and execution left much to be desired. It was nicely shot, though, in it’s defense. Let me know if you get around to it.

      Europa Report is a very good film, imo. I think you will like it. It transcends the found footage genre using some unique methods. Also liked that it wasn’t a horror film like most of FF movie. I hope you enjoy it!

    • Yeah, I recall you had those issues from before. I have watched it twice so far and it did get better the second viewing. I dug it. I appreciate you checking in, Bill 😁👍

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