Movie Review: “Europa Report”


“Europa Report” is a lean, ultra-realistic sci-fi thriller that shows you don’t have to spend Tom Cruise or Will Smith money to tell a tight, intimate story. This frill-free “found footage” film may have the limited scope of a made-for-SyFy Channel movie. But the filmmakers put all the money up on the screen.
Something happened to a spacecraft sent to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, to find out if there is life in the water beneath the icy surface. We’re shown tearful interviews with Dr. Unger (Embeth Davidtz), the head of the privately financed project that sent six astronauts further than any human has ever been. Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Dan Fogler are other Earthbound interview subjects, scientists who rationalize the need for this human trip to learn “if we’re not alone.”
An opening act sets us up — the crew making its first hard, life-or-death decision about whether to go on after someone has died. We see this through watermarked archival images from the many on-board cameras on Europa One, sort of a version of the craft we’ve seen in realistic space odysseys since “2001” — all girders and modules and solar panels, with a rotating artificial gravity wing. We see five crew members and realize a sixth is missing and learn that contact with Earth has been lost.
The rest of the story is told in flashback as we learn the reasons for the mission, witness the launch and learn a little about the crew — played by Michael Nyqvist of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Sharlto Copley of “District Nine,” Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Christian Camargo and Anamaria Marinca.
Mistakes are made, accidents happen. And then strange things glimmer on and beneath the surface of Europa.
You know how this sort of movie works.
“I saw something.”
“A light source outside the ship?”
“What if I can’t believe my own eyes” and “Hear that?” and “I’m getting a radiation spike.”
A pretty good cast is under-used on a plainly shortened movie that relies too much on technique. We see blurred images, video transmission distortion. Clever fisheye lenses give us a space helmet’s point of view of an alien world, and a bug-eyed closeup of the astronaut wearing that helmet — and meticulous production values are on display at every turn. “Europa” is closer to “Apollo 13” than “Prometheus.”
The story shifts out of order, from time to time, messing up our sense of continuity as we watch it. It loses track of what engineer Andrei (Nyqvist) is “recovering” from that makes the rest of the crew not trust him, of the dynamics of rising tensions among six people cramped in a small space on a perilous mission. Was it longer and chopped down to this length?
But director Sebastian Cordero — he did the John Leguizamo journalism thriller “Chronicles” — serves up chilling and all-too-real ways to die in space and maintains tension even if suspense is in short supply in a tale told in flashback.
This is what sci-fi on a budget is supposed to look like. And if it’s not nearly as chilling as the Sam Rockwell-starring “Moon,” at least this Brooklyn-shot odyssey betters most movies in its weight class, most notably “Apollo 18” and its horror ilk.
MPAA Rating: PG-13, for sci-fi action and peril.
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Embeth Davidtz, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu,
Credits: Diected by Sebastian Cordero, written by Philipp Gelatt. A Magnolia release
Running time: 1:30

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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7 Responses to Movie Review: “Europa Report”

  1. detcord12b says:

    How did this end up on Meta-critic (first review I found)? This is the most poorly formatted post I’ve ever seen, and the punctuation and syntax is atrocious.

    • Always amused by trolls who toss out bile about “punctuation” and “syntax,” and then don’t cite examples of what they’re complaining about.
      Because well, shoot — you learned the word “syntax” but not what it means. How about “I don’t like reading a negative review of a movie I was dying to see, and I can’t make rational arguments, so I’ll just dismiss it so I don’t have to think about it.” More honest.

      • Ghosteye says:

        He’s a little dramatic, but he does have a point. It could be formatted better and there are a couple of sloppy mistakes. As for the content it reviews the film well enough, but that’s expected anyway.

      • Again, point out “mistakes” and I will fix them. Otherwise, you’re just venting and complaining that I don’t write it the way you would have.

  2. Batista's Aunt says:

    Pretty sure they just don’t like the way the paragraphs aren’t separated. ie they prefer a line-break or half-line-break between pars. Shrug. Didn’t notice any “sloppy mistakes” meself but them I’m a pretty sloppy reader…

  3. Dan says:

    If you even bothered to check the timeline (you know that Months-Days-Hours-Minutes thing) you will be susprised that Andrei (Nyqvist) is “recovering” at 19 months 14 days from loosing Sharlto Copley in outer space (much earlier, when the solar storm hit and they lost communication), but the sequence is played much later. This movie must have been very confusing for you, but no wonder, the sequence of events is cut in such a way that we don’t loose the biggest star of the movie in the first 10 minutes, but half way thru, which is acceptable.

    • Thanks for that. Yeah, I never see movies with stories told out of order. Then again, maybe I’ve seen scores of them over the decades and this one just didn’t handle syhuzet/fabula tweaking-twisting well.

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