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Europa Report (2013)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/8/2012

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/16/2013

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, NASA and the space program were very popular and most any space launch was a big deal. Even the kids who didn't answer "astronaut" when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up were interested in the big rockets and especially the space shuttle. (I can remember when toy space shuttles were a big deal.) Accompanying this interest were many movies which were clearly influenced by the space program and took an approach to science-fiction which put an emphasis on science. But, in the late 80s, NASA no longer commanded a lot of attention, and we seemed to move away from those films. The new millennium has seen somewhat of a return of the "grounded" (pun intended) space movie, with Europa Report being a recent example.

Europa Report tells the story of an expedition which was sent to explore Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Probes had discovered ice and other materials on the surface which lead some to believe that there could be evidence of life there. So, Rosa (Anamaria Marinca), Daniel (Christian Camargo), James (Sharlto Copley), Andrei (Michael Nyqist), William (Daneil Wu), and Katya (Karollina Wydra) all boarded a privately funded spacecraft and began a multi-year mission to reach and research Europa. At first, the trip is exhilarating, then boredom sets in, and then complications arise. When the group reaches Europa, the world there isn’t exactly what they thought it would be. However, being professionals and scientist, the groups bands together and goes on with their mission. But, they will soon learn that with each discovery, Europa becomes more and more of a mystery.

Not unlike 2011's Apollo 18, Europa Report is essentially a found footage movie which documents a mission into space. (However, unlike Apollo 18, the existence of the footage seen here actually makes sense.) The spaceship here is full of cameras (both interior and exterior) and a few of the crew members use handheld cameras. The footage is comprised of these camera angles edited together. This offers some intimate moments with the crew, as well as capturing all of the major moments of the film. The advantage of using this approach is that in some scenes, different crew members are in different parts of the ship and we can see what they are all doing -- something which couldn't happen in the traditional found footage film. We also get comments from those on Earth who organized the mission.

As for the story, it is very reminiscent of movies like 2010, Event Horizon, and Sunshine in that an expedition into space leads to surprising and catastrophic events. In fact, I don't think that it would be off the mark to say that Writer Philip Gelatt was very influenced by those films, especially 2010. (I haven't read the novel 2010, but it's my understanding that there's a subplot which wasn't featured in the film which is very similar to Europa Report.) The movie also contains some obvious nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The problem with Europa Report isn’t the story, but the way in which the film is paced and edited and the ending. The first act of the film is mean to illustrate how the initial excitement of a space mission turns to boredom as the flight drags on. This was important to show, but it was a miscalculation to have the audience go through the exact same emotions. I can imagine that many will turn the movie off, as it feels as if nothing is happening. Then, Director Sebastian Cordero makes an odd choice by having the story jump backwards in time to show a tragedy which occurred while the ship was en-route to Europa. This helps to explain something which happens in the finale, but emotionally it feels very out of place and doesn’t propel the story. Speaking of the finale, the movie goes on and on teasing us that something truly dramatic is going to happen, but, despite some minor events, the whole thing is a let-down. The final freeze frame is meant to be impressive, but it will simply anger most viewers as it looks as if we’re seeing something which appeared in a very popular movie from 1999.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a “space travel isn’t safe” movie, but Europa Report does little to distinguish itself from the movies which came before it. The found footage technique is put to good use and the acting here is fine, but the pacing is too slack and the ending is a disappointment.

Europa Report made me wonder if the ending would have been different had Keanu Reeves been there on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. Being a found-footage movie, we get the usual intentional grain and static at times, but for the most part, the image is sharp and clear. Some shots offer a nice crispness and show good detail. The depth is good, as are the colors, which look realistic. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a nicely mixed track, as it does a great job of showing off sounds occurring all over the ship. The front and rear channels are constantly alive with sounds which are coming from off-screen. The subwoofer joins the action during the landing sequences.

The Europa Report Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. "Exploring the Visual Effects of Europa Report" (7 minutes) shows us some concept art and explores the creation of the design for the spaceship. From there, we see how computer models for the ship were built, as well as some on-set green-screen shooting. "The Musical Journey of Europa Report" (6 minutes) takes us to the sound stage to see the orchestra at work and we hear comments from Composer Bear McCreary, who explains his approach to the score. The extras are rounded out by a "Behind the Scene (sic) Photo Gallery" and the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.