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Review: "Europa Report" (2013)


Title: Europa Report

Genre: Science Fiction, Drama

Director: Sebastián Cordero

Stars: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Christian Camargo, Anamaria Marinca, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Embeth Davidtz, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Dan Fogler

Grade: B+

In a Nutshell: A manned, private spacecraft – the Europa One – is travelling to one of Jupiter's moons to explore and collect data from the recently discovered ice caps that exist there, hoping to find evidence of biological life. When equipment failure causes their lander to become trapped on Europa's surface, the crew must make a difficult decision about whether to save themselves or to save their data.

The Critique: This slow-burning SF film will probably appeal to fans of Duncan Jones' 2009 masterpiece, Moon, although it doesn't quite share the same pessimistic vision, nor the philosophical questions about personhood and identity. Instead, Europa Report has a refreshingly optimistic view of scientists who are willing to die in the pursuit of knowledge – the repeated refrain of the film being "Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known... what does your life actually matter?". The primary characteristics that align this film with Moon rather than the high-octane action/SF that has dominated Hollywood film-making in recent years are its pacing and its use of "found footage" and CCTV to tell a non-linear story. In many shots, the film screen encompasses several smaller screens, each showing some separate part of the ship. Some of these smaller screens are empty, while action fills others. Visual and aural static interrupt and disrupt the viewing experience. Technology repeatedly fails not just the astronauts, but the audience – we are continually frustrated by what cannot be seen or cannot be heard. If nothing else, Europa Report does an excellent job building tension through these formal devices. And the slow-burning beginning of the film (probably over an hour of screen time) makes the headlong rush of the last portion feel even more exhilarating.

My main complaints about the film are twofold: firstly, the external shots of the ship are such low-level CGI that it is actually distracting. Models would have been a far better choice for those shots (although I'll admit that as a practical effects nerd, I'm biased when it comes to these things). Secondly, [THIS IS A BIT OF A SPOILER] I think that showing the "monster" at the end of the film – then rewinding the footage and pausing to show it again, in a detailed still frame – was a mistake. Like Signs before it, Europa Report makes the mistake of overtly showing a monster that is far scarier when it is unseen. What the audience is able to imagine, based on the merest of hints, cannot be matched by some CGI monstrosity that looks like a mix between an octopus and a Lite-Brite. Overall, though, I found the film smart, innovative, and surprisingly/refreshingly hopeful.

Shout-Out(s): Anamaria Marinca really makes the film her own, even though the story doesn't particularly focus on her character until the very end of the film when she [SPOILER] is the last survivor in the ship. The sound design was also on point.

To Go, Rent, or to Netflix: Europa Report is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

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