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For Your Consideration: 'Europa Report'

Recent discoveries of unexpected forms of life able to survive at the bottom of the ocean, surviving off thermal vents rather than sunlight, have made the possibility of similar forms of life on other planets seem even more likely. Scientific speculation is focused on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter and known at least since the time of Galileo, where the smoothness of the ice observed on the surface by recent space probes has led scientists to believe that an ocean, possibly teeming with life, may lie under the surface. These are the scientific facts behind Europa Report, the new documentary-style space thriller by Sebastián Cordero. On a shoestring budget and with a well-written script by Philip Gelatt, the movie brings to life the story of six astronauts on a corporation-funded mission to land on Europa and deploy scientific equipment to gather any evidence of life.

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Europa Report (directed by Sebastián Cordero)
The movie works in part because the characters are developed and their conflicts interesting, especially as they unfold shuffled out of chronological order by Gelatt's screenplay. As the scientists, Christian Camargo (Twilight Saga) and Karolina Wydra (House) are willing to take risks to their personal safety to find the evidence of life on Europa that they know is there. Anamaria Marinca is the talented and daring pilot who manages to salvage the mission, assisted by the Chinese astronaut played by Daniel Wu, and Michael Nyqvist is the veteran Russian astronaut whose jittery fears endanger his colleagues. Only the technician played by Sharlto Copley seems to have regrets about coming on the mission, as he makes videos for his young son back on Earth. Early in the film, it becomes clear that things had gone terribly wrong, as the director of the mission back on earth, played by Embeth Davidtz (Mad Men, Bridget Jones's Diary), explains that communications with the ship were lost as it neared Jupiter. The film is presented, in a style that recalls Blair Witch Project and other found-footage films but is much more refined and well-crafted than most of them, as a distillation of the footage from on-board cameras, which somehow was beamed back to Earth from the surface of Europa.

Other Reviews:

New York Times | Washington Post | | NPR | io9
Washington City Paper | Los Angeles Times | Popular Science |

What Cordero and his crew were able to produce, with hardly any high-end effects, is nothing short of remarkable. This was made possible by a careful attention to detail, in the makeup of the spaceship and the clothes and equipment the astronauts wear, done in consultation with technical experts at NASA and other space exploration agencies. The shooting was done almost entirely in a sound stage, closed off and with a large number of cameras rolling simultaneously, to provide all the video footage that is spliced together. Although one wishes that money had come through to provide just one CGI blast at the end of the film, without which there is an inevitable sort of let-down, the production values are, as a result, very high and credible, even those that reproduce reduced-gravity conditions. Indeed, Europa Report offers a much more realistic view of space travel than most sci-fi thrillers, down to the claustrophobic horrors and dangers involved in space walks and landing. The number of science-related publications reviewing and praising the film are a sign of that fidelity. Indeed, the film's occasional longueurs, which could perhaps have been tightened in the screenplay, are a good reminder of the boredom and sameness the astronauts would have to face on this kind of long voyage.

This film opens today in Washington, at the E Street Cinema.

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