Saturday, August 10, 2013

'Europa Report' takes familiar but satisfying space odyssey

Posted By on Sat, Aug 10, 2013 at 11:39 AM

MOONS OF JUPITER: Sharlto Copley in Europa Report
  • Coutesy of Magnet Releasing
  • MOONS OF JUPITER: Sharlto Copley in 'Europa Report'
Despite a very limited budget, the science fiction film Europa Report taps the excitement of space exploration on a level that more lavishly funded sci-fi adventures ignore. During a time of apparently endless economic slump, the thrilling achievements of the Apollo moon missions seem very remote indeed. Europa Report's best moments revive that spirit of discovery and scientific daring.

Set in the near future, Europa Report unfolds as a faux documentary of "declassified footage" that recounts the fate of a multi-national space mission to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Ecuadoran director Sebastián Cordero and screenwriter Philip Gelatt structure the film as a mystery. Earth lost contact with the ship before it reached Jupiter - the last sent image hauntingly froze on pilot Rosa (Anamaria Marinca) adjusting an earpiece. Early on we discover that one crew member died, and the film cuts between the circumstances of a fatal accident and the subsequent details of the spacecraft arriving at Europa.

Initially, Europa Report's flat characterizations nearly provide a failure to launch. Apart from Sharlto Copley's cocky American astronaut and Michael Nyqvist's increasingly-agitated scientist, the roles barely have enough traits to distinguish themselves beyond gender and hair color. (Coincidentally, Copley also co-stars in Elysium, another sci-fi film opening in Atlanta this week.) As a found footage movie drawn from the ship's mounted cameras, the shots tend to rely on fixed angles. Cordero uses video distortion, abrupt edits and split-screens to provide visual variety, but Europa Report features too many dry, nearly inert scenes in its front end. At times it follows in the tradition of old-school astronaut films like Marooned, which emphasized sober seriousness at the expense of fun.

In an archival cameo, astronomer Neal deGrasse Tyson comments about how he'd like to go "ice-fishing" on Europa's frozen oceans, long-believed to be the Solar System's most likely contender to contain extraterrestrial life. Some of Europa Report's best moments involve the ship landing on the moon, which resembles an arctic wasteland, and sending probes beneath the ice. The scenes feel entirely plausible and elicit a geeky excitement similar to, say, NASA's real-world success at landing the Curiosity probe on Mars just over a year ago.

Europa Report seems destined to be overshadowed by the upcoming film Gravity, which shares its realistic aesthetic but has stunning special effects and A-list star power. On its own terms, however, Europa Report becomes significantly more engaging in its final act, when incidents pile up and the stakes get higher. Even the early visuals' repetitive quality pays off with a surprising final image that proves all the more memorable based on the sameness of what came before. Europa Report takes its sweet time getting to its destination, but the arrival makes the wait worthwhile.

Europa Report. 3 stars. Directed by Sebastián Cordero. Stars Anamaria Marinca, Sharlto Copley. Rated PG-13. Opens Fri., Aug. 9. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

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