DVD: Europa Report (2013)

October 2, 2013 | By

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Film: Good/ BR  Transfer: Excellent/ BR Extras: Good

Label: Magnolia/ Region: A / Released: October 8, 2013

Genre: Science-Fiction

Synopsis: The last moments of a privately funded mission to Jupiter’s frozen moon Europa are assembled into a documentary.

Special Features: Making-of Featurette / Composer Featurette / Theatrical Trailer

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Review:

Most reviews are likely to draw parallels with Gravity (2013), a bigger budgeted space opus involving stranded astronauts, but Europa Report has much more in common with Apollo 18 [M] (2011), a found footage pseudo-docu-drama in which what the audience is seeing is the final feed from a doomed moon mission.

Like that film, Europa Report is comprised of footage as recorded by the media for the opening press conference and mission launch, and the numerous cameras peppering the inside of the spacecraft which takes an international team of six astronauts to Jupiter’s moon Europa in search of microbial life.

Once the team lands on the moon’s cracked but frozen surface, things begin to go very wrong, ultimately bringing each member in contact with the moon’s more sophisticated life form.

SPOILER ALERT GALORE

Additional footage comes from cameras fixed inside and outside of the spacesuits, and for the most part the flipping between angles provides a clear narrative. Although the film unfurls like a ‘completed’ documentary made by the private firm who funded and produced the Europa mission, there”s a fair measure of directorial license: the on-camera address by pilot Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca) is actually her final report as logged and transmitted back to Earth prior to her death. That conceit is digestible, given the film does flip back between the ‘transmitted footage and interviews with the missions three leading figures on Earth, themselves providing on-camera post-event analysis.

Where director Sebastian Cordero blunders is in sneaking a more elaborate trick in which the traumatic event which has the crew concerned about engineer Andrei Blok’s (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Michqel Nyqvist) sanity is spliced into the narrative’s midpoint. The film flips from the five-member crew on Europa back to the orbiting craft where Blok and James Corrigan (District 9’s Sharlto Copley) are sent outside to repair damaged circuits. The film then flips back to the Europa scenes, but the only indication of the time-shift is a date stamp on the lower screen which blends too well with the footage instead of a stark (and more traditionally cruder) time code stamp. The impression is of a seventh crewman who stayed on the orbiting craft with Corrigan.

One conceit which works well is the multitude of cameras, and the HD quality footage, since what the Earth receives are images transmitted straight from the craft’s hard drive. (A sign of the film’s tight budget, as well as Cordero’s desire to keep as much of Europa’s life forms off screen, is the lack of exterior helmet footage which presumably is lost when two of the crew plunge below the moon’s frozen surface.)

Much of the film’s strength comes from the isolation and dreadful sacrifices made by the crew (even though most seem okay with Corrigan’s death once they land on Europa), and some really evocative CGI which blends NASA images as well as those haunting fifties space paintings which the space agency and pulp novels used to promote their wares.

With the exception of some ‘minor’ issues – Why does the orbiting spacecraft not have any rungs nor safety lines for spacewalks? Why does Katya Petrovna (House’s Karolina Wydra) not have any cleets on her boots since she’s basically walking on a giant glacier ridge? – Europa Report is free from the stupidities that plagued Apollo 18, especially silly rock creatures which infect and control humans.

The theme of self-sacrifice is stark and especially haunting for the astronauts who become terminally trapped beneath Europa’s frozen surface, as is the finale where Rosa allows the creature to enter the sinking craft and essentially kill her so Science has a rare view of alien life. What ultimately hurts the film is its awkwardly placed conceits which betray a true ‘found footage’ documentary, and perhaps too much restraint in revealing alien life – literally leaving the fleeting glimpse for the end.

END OF SPOILERS

Magnolia’s Blu-ray features a crisp transfer and robust surround sound, and Bear McCreary’s score is nicely enmeshed with the sound design. A featurette covers the score’s creation and recording, and a second featurette addresses the striking visual effects. While Apollo 13 is a vastly inferior film, its DVD edition was immeasurably augmented by excellent extras, especially a commentary track which described in detail the filmmakers’ intentions. Pity neither Europa Report‘s writer, director, nor producer were available for detailed self-analysis.

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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