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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Europa Report review: quest for fire (of knowledge)

Europa Report green light Anamaria Marinca

I didn’t think we were making movies like this anymore. Very near future. Hard science. Nothing fantastical. Space geekery galore, gorgeous and authentic.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m a big ol’ space geek

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Holy shit. Holy holy holy shit.

I didn’t think we were making movies like this anymore. Very near future. Hard science. Nothing fantastical. Space geekery galore, gorgeous and authentic. We hardly ever made movies like this, except for a brief period in the 70s, when the moon landings were still fresh and how far away could a Mars mission be? (Damn.) We could be doing this today. Why did our taste for stories about space exploration we could actually be doing now die out when our impetus to get the fuck off this rock delta-v’d into staid safe groundhugging? Can we not even imagine it anymore?

Well, Europa Report can.

Oh my god I love this movie. It is all the science and all the adventure and all the quest for knowledge. It is so much all the awesome I can hardly stand it. It makes me want to go out there. I could go. They’d need, like, someone to chronicle the mission and make it poetic, no?

A private mission to Europa, moon of Jupiter. You know, because we’re pretty sure it’s covered in water ice and pretty sure there’s a liquid ocean under it, and where there’s water, there’s life, and how the hell amazing would it be to find life elsewhere in our solar system? Like Biggest Discovery in the History of Humanity amazing. Four men and two women, in a spaceship that looks exactly like something maybe Mercedes-Benz would build. There’s cameras all over the ship, sending footage back to Earth during the nearly two-year trip out to Jupiter environs. It’s never said in Europa Report, but we get the sense that maybe there’s a reality-show thing happening back on Earth as everyone follows the mission. Cuz maybe people care again about this kind of stuff? (I can dream…)

Except for a few “news clips” of the launch and a few talking-head segments with the Earthbound project leaders (Embeth Davidtz [The Amazing Spider-Man, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo] and Dan Fogler [Mars Needs Moms, Take Me Home Tonight]), it’s only that cam footage we see. Europa Report never breaks its faux documentary perspective — director Sebastián Cordero and screenwriter Philip Gelatt have given us what is, by far, the most sophisticated, most plausible, most you-will-believe found-footage film ever.

Ahem: “recently declassified” found footage. Because… something bad happens during the mission. We don’t know quite what or how for a while: the footage jumps around in time, and we learn later when a potentially similar situation crops up again. (There’s a lovely simple beauty to how the story is structured — this is a masterpiece of suspense, on top of all its other spectacular goodness.) It’s not a spoiler to say that the something bad happens long before the mission reaches Europa, so all question of the Something Bad that you knew was gonna happen (or there would be no story) being, like, scary flesh-eating alien bugs of Europa or other outlandish sci-fi-ness is dismissed.

Could the bad thing be connected to something mission engineer James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley: The A-Team, District 9) said to scientist Dr. Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, The Hurt Locker) after sending a video letter home to his young son, about how being away from home was so much harder than he thought it would be, and this only months into their four-year round-trip mission? Could it be connected to something pilot and archivist Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca: Doctor Who, Five Minutes of Heaven) notes, that the isolation from the rest of humanity starts to make you crazy? Cuz we do see that engineer Andrei Blok (Michael Nyqvist: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Abduction) isn’t coping so well. On the other hand, Commander William Xu (Daniel Wu: Around the World in 80 Days) and marine biologist Dr. Katya Petrovna (Karolina Wydra) seem to be dealing with the stress of the mission quite well…

It was at that glorious moment — when I realized that Europa Report would feature no anomalous space gases that drive a man insane, no secret Xenu base in the asteroid belt to divert the mission — that I knew this was gonna be something really special. And it turns out even better than that. This is about real people doing real science in the most dangerous place ever, with no margin for error. This is about the cold equations of space travel and the tough but necessary choices that must be made in such an environment… and, more importantly, about why taking such risks is absolutely vital for humanity.

This is only just barely science fiction. We could make it science fact. Maybe movies like this one can help us get back on that track. Because if Europa Report doesn’t make you want to get out there — or at least doesn’t make you want to see us as a species back out there — I don’t understand you at all. How can you not want to know what’s there?

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Europa Report (2013)
US/Can release: Aug 2 2013 (VOD Jun 27 2013)
UK/Ire release: TBA

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated STFF: space, the final frontier
MPAA: rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and peril
BBFC: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • All these worlds are yours except Europa… nah, it’s been done…

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I dunno…

    Found footage: strike one

    Flight plan dictated by Murphy’s Law: strike two

    BEM: OK, there are conflicting reports on the BEM, but if there is one… strike three.

    Either way, there’s always this: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0395417/

    It’s cheesy, made on a TV budget, and some of the American accents are pretty hilarious, but it seems to accomplish the same goa;s as Europa Report with threatening to devolve into a horror movie.v

  • Michael Carter

    I get the feeling Ms. Johanson would enjoy walking around the restored Saturn V in Houston – it sure messed with me. As for this flick – hell yeah, anyone even trying to do some smart sci fi will help heal the wound Prometheus left on my psyche.

  • Bluejay

    MaryAnn – Your review makes the movie sound inspiring, but I remember the trailer having more of an “everything seems fine and then Things Go Horribly Wrong And People Scream A Lot” thriller vibe. Does the mission end disastrously, and do lots of characters die badly? (Not sure how you can answer that without spoiling…) I’m trying to decide whether to take my 12-year-old. I like exposing her to space stuff that’s awe-inspiring and cool (via Sagan, Tyson, museums, etc), but I’m not so sure about a movie for which the main takeaway might be “space exploration = danger, disaster, and death.”

  • Flight plan dictated by Murphy’s Law: strike two

    That is not at all the case here.

    BEM: OK, there are conflicting reports on the BEM, but if there is one… strike three.

    There isn’t one. I was trying to make that clear in my review,

  • The trailer is misleading. It’s not that kind of movie.

    I’m not going to spoil the ending, but I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate for a 12-year-old interested in space exploration.

  • Bluejay

    Awesome! Thank you.

  • Danielm80

    I missed out on this meme. BEM is Big Enemy Monster? Big Exploding Missile? Bernard E. Madoff?

    I’ll turn in my Internet membership card now.

  • RogerBW

    Dr Rocketscience, did you see the swiftly-cancelled Defying Gravity? Because the mission plan there was very like the one in Space Odyssey. (Unfortunately they added too much alien weirdness and emotional garbage for the science fans, and too little for the mass audience.)

  • RogerBW

    Hurrah. At last. It would be good if this started a trend. I don’t think it will, unless it was made a lot more cheaply than it appears; Hollywood is all about the bucks per buck.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Close. Bug Eyed Monster.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    This is so weird. I’m reading widely conflicting descriptions of the plot on this. huh…

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I think I’ve heard of it, but no, never saw any of it. Looking t up I see it lasted about 2 months in Fall 2009. Television from 2006 through 2011 is a little lost on me: those are my heaviest World of Warcraft years.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    That’s precisely the vibe I got, and some of the early reviews seem to confirm that. Or at least, they don’t refute it very strongly.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    All the press on it describes its production budget as “low”, “ultra-low”, and “micro”, but I can’t find any estimates on an actual figure. So my guess: the $15M – $25M range seems most likely, less than $10M would be impressive, and if it cost more than $30M, I’ll be shocked.

    As for it’s ROI potential, well… take a look at this: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=foundfootage.htm

    The found footage genre is dominated, not surprisingly, by horror. “Europa Report” has gotten a small but decent marketing push. The VOD release has garnered it some notoriety (but I can’t find any info on how many viewers have paid to see it). It’s ceiling is probably somewhere between “Chronicle” and “Cloverfield”, i.e. about $70M. Then again, even if it hits (or exceeds) that, will the lesson be about “realistic sci-fi”, or “found footage”? I think the former is more likely, as it’s a lesson the industry already thinks is true.

  • RogerBW

    OK, it is way cheaper than it looks. Good, then; the only way this sort of thing, that doesn’t (alas) have mass audience appeal, can start a trend is by getting a high percentage return.
    (I don’t regard something set in space as “found footage” in the same sense as more conventional horror.)

  • Right there with ya. I was about to ask the same question.

  • I would be astonished if they spent $15 million on this. My guess would be less than $5 million, perhaps much less. Not that it looks cheap — it looks fantastic. But the whole thing really does take place almost entirely on one set, with VFX that could easily have been done on consumer computers. They look great but they’re not that complex.

  • So just watch it and see! I think we can trust MaryAnn on this one. It’s on VOD so it’s not like you’ll have a Murphy’s Law mission of your own trying to find it. :D

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    So just watch it and see!

    That kind of negates the purpose of reading reviews. Granted, I’m not expressly following MAJ’s recommendation on this one, but still. :-)

    It’s on VOD so it’s not like you’ll have a Murphy’s Law mission of your own trying to find it.

    Meh. VOD would save me about $7 on the ticket price for two seats at my local theater ($11 if I went to Boulder or Denver, which I wouldn’t). But instead, I’d have to deal with the interruptions of wrangling the kids. Or watch the flick really late at night. So, that’s not really saving me much.

  • Martin Sane

    “Because if Europa Report doesn’t make you want to get out there — or at least doesn’t make you want to see us as a species back out there — I don’t understand you at all. How can you not want to know what’s there?”

    Oh I certainly do want to know. But not badly enough to justify pumping hundreds of billions of $$ into something that really wouldn’t change much for anybody on earth. While I understand man’s desire to explore space and the need to understand everything (if many great scientists didn’t ask certain questions we’d still live in the dark ages) this seems like a bad bargain. We have to invest so much in it and what we’d get in return is knowledge we can’t really use to anybody’s advantage. Understanding the universe most likely will not lead to great inventions. It’s not gonna end poverty, make time-traveling possible, teleportation our standard transport or Michael Bay a good director. There are things that simply can’t ever be done since they have to obey the laws of physics.
    I’m not saying let’s stop all space programms and no, I’m not saying god created everything within 7 days. I’m saying there are so many more urgent matters right here in front of our noses all those billions of $$ could be used for to help.
    Sorry about my comment not being about the movie, it’s a direct response to your excitement about space programms.

  • You might want to have a look into all the many, many spinoffs from space programs that have *directly* impacted life on Earth for the better.

  • Bluejay

    We have to invest so much in it and what we’d get in return is knowledge we can’t really use to anyone’s advantage.

    Martin — check out WTF NASA and keep clicking on the button to see the many ways that investing in NASA has paid off for society. Or google “nasa spinoffs” and check out any of a number of lists.

    Just one example among many: An image-processing technique pioneered in the Hubble Space Telescope is now being used by doctors to detect early signs of breast cancer.

    This is how science works: research and discoveries in one field wind up having practical applications in other fields as well.

    It’s also worth noting that NASA’s budget is less than one percent of the total federal budget — less than a penny for every tax dollar. If you want the federal government to redirect some funds, there are other areas — say, the Department of Defense — that surely have more dollars to spare.



    I dunno about the “main takeaway” but there is definitely a “space exploration = danger, disaster, and death” vibe for real in this film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, or that it’s inappropriate for a 12-year-old, I just don’t think your question was answered fully, so I’m letting you know.

  • See, this is why I don’t want kids.


    I’m fascinated as well as you are by the conflicting reviews on this film. Now having seen it, I’m really confused by some of MaryAnn’s opinions about its content… especially the “murphy’s law” bit, because yeah, it totally is one of those kind of space missions. I wonder if she saw a different cut of the film than I did or something?

  • J Craig Anderson

    I just wanted to say thank you for carrying the mantle now that Roger is gone. You and James are the best movie critics working today. I feel thankful that two of my three favorites are still among us. Live long and prosper.

  • Karl Morton IV

    I heard $10 million. And they spent the cash in the right places, I think. Thanks for trumpeting this one, MaryAnn – I enjoyed it enormously! :)

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