Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Europa Report (2013) ***

PG-13, 90 min.
Director: Sebastián Cordero
Writer: Philip Gelatt
Starring: Daniel Wu, Sharlto Copely, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist, Anamaria Marinca, Embeth Davidtz, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Dan Fogler

It’s indies like “Europa Report” that prove that most of the science fiction stories told by Hollywood could be told less expensively with just as satisfying results. It depicts a space mission to find life on one of Jupiter’s moons. We learn early on that the mission of Europa One did not go as planned with Earth losing contact, long before it even reached its destination.

You may recognize some of the faces in “Europa Report”, however, probably not by names. Embeth Davitz relates most of the doomed mission’s story in a mocumentary style as one of the mission’s coordinators. She was part of the mission control team, rather than one of the crew members. Working from footage recorded before they lost contact, she relates the purpose of the scientific mission and provides details about the spacecraft’s crew. Footage recorded after the crew lost contact was transmitted back to Earth at a later date.

The incident that causes the break in communication is an interesting example of the possibilities about what can go wrong on such a mission. Everything after that point are examples of how little we know about our universe. The final conclusions of the mission are probably not as realistic as the filmmakers' approach, but unlike “Gravity”, this is truly a science fiction film, rather than simply a tale of survival.

What’s most impressive about the film, however, is how much the filmmakers accomplish with so little. The found footage technique is a proven method of telling a story through film on a limited budget. Here the footage is all part of the mission protocol, and though it’s all shot with fixed cameras, its method eventually becomes a side note to the story being told. The performances are of a much higher quality than can usually be found in such low budget found footage material. Along with Davitz the cast also includes internationally known actors Sharlto Copely, form  “District 9”, and Michael Nyqvist, from the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”.

There are a few almost cliché genre elements to be found here, but for the most part “Europa Report” is a gripping sci-fi adventure. 

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