Europa Report (2013) – a film review by Mark R. Leeper.

This Science Fiction indie that does just about everything right. This is an account of a privately funded space mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa. From the beginning, we know that Europa One never returned to Earth and the film after the fact tells the story of what happened. The visuals are just about right and the dialog is very believable. Sebastian Cordero directs a screenplay by Philip Gelatt.

The film makes a good companion piece to the recent ‘Gravity’ and some scenes are quite similar. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

We have just recently seen released ‘Gravity’, a surprisingly compelling and fairly accurate picture of the dangers of space flight. Science Fiction films like that are few and usually far apart. Not so far this time. ‘Europa Report’ is about a space mission far from the Earth but never very far from scientific and speculative accuracy and still the story is a compelling thriller.

Europa Report (2013) (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).
Europa Report (2013) (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).

A private corporation, Europa Ventures, has sent six astronauts to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter originally discovered by Galileo. The moon is (in the film and in real science) covered with a water ocean under a frozen shell. It really is a leading candidate for where extra-terrestrial life might exist in the solar system. Europa One’s mission is to collect data about Europa from the surface of ice. Unfortunately, the spacecraft has several unexpected problems starting with being caught in a solar storm that fries communication with Earth. The crew can record their progress, but cannot send reports to Earth, so do not know if their account will ever be found. The film is primarily their report from in and around their spacecraft. The story punctuated with their recordings and a flashback or two makes compelling viewing.

The filmmakers explain carefully why there is enough footage to piece together a story. The crew is international and polyglot since, as a privately mounted mission, the sponsoring corporation could pick from around the world. There is a Chinese commanding the mission (Daniel Wu), a Russian space veteran (Michael Nyqvist), a science officer converse in Russian and English (Karolina Wydra), pilot Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca) and an American junior engineer with a sharp sense of humor (Sharlto Copley). The story is told in flashback by an executive of Europa Ventures (Embeth Davidtz).

By keeping the story very credible and drawing its characters well the film generates genuine excitement. You do not come away with questions like ‘why didn’t the air all escape from Elysium.’ The filmmakers were very careful and scrupulous with the science issues. This is not a summer sort of action film but one with a great deal of credibility. Screenwriter Philip Gelatt has a feel for realistic dialogue and director Sebastian Cordero gets the delivery to sound about right. That is not easy and in many similar films the characters are cute but hardly believable. Even the look of zero gravity floating looks very believable and that is not an easy effect to make look right.

The best Science Fiction films have no chases, no guns blaring, no zombies, no prosthetic makeup and no suspension of the laws of science. This is one of the best of recent years. No film has ever shown so realistically what it would be like to explore a new planet (or in this case a moon). That and everything else in the film is at the very least plausible and the science as presented is engaging or even compelling. I rate ‘Europa Report’ a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Mark R. Leeper

(c)  Mark R. Leeper 2013

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