I've never been a huge fan of so called "found" footage movies. They've always reeked of gimmick. Sure, when it came out 'Cloverfield' was sort of a new cinema experience, but it was short-lived once the camera never stopped bouncing around. Over the years, found footage has found a home in cheaply produced horror movies that use the technique to add "realism" to the movie. 'Europa Report' takes a slightly different approach. It's a fictional documentary about the first manned flight to deep space. And, might I say, it's certainly the best found footage movie out there.
The key to 'Europa Report's success is that it's equal parts thrilling and scientific. Rooted in actual science – besides a few liberties taken here and there for dramatic effect – the film doesn't try to dumb things down. It provides a believable yet exhilarating look at what a deep space flight may look like in the future. I'll admit though, I did find it hard to believe that humans would attempt a manned flight to Jupiter's moon Europa without first taking a trip to Mars.
We're soon introduced to the crew, who are confined to a small floating space station, hurtling its way towards the outer edges of our solar system. Like a documentary on the Discovery Channel, a couple talking heads set the scene. The crew's ship is outfitted with video cameras everywhere. The entire planet has been watching them around the clock, until an unknown disturbance knocked out their communication. The story jumps around in the chronological timeline to tell its story, providing us with bits and pieces of information to keep the story compelling.
The team consists of six astronauts from a variety of scientific backgrounds. Captains William Xu (Daniel Wu) and Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca) pilot Europa One. Then there's Chief Science Operator Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo), marine biologist Katya Petrovna (Karolina Wydra), engineer James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley), and Chief Engineer Andrei Blok (Michael Nyqvist). The entire team has been floating through space for over a year, the cramped quarters starting to take an effect on their psyches. After a solar storm knocks out their communication, they decide to carry out the mission. It's only the first of many things to go wrong.
'Europa Report' feels like a refreshing piece of science fiction. It treats the subject with the utmost respect. I'm sure there are hardcore scientists out there that will be able to poke holes in its theories (even though the filmmakers worked hand-in-hand with an astrobiologist to get a lot of the scientific details right). That doesn't mean that it should be ignored though. This is a smart movie that never talks down to its audience. It never feels the need to devolve into something it isn't.
A movie like 'Sunshine' comes to mind when talking about 'Europa Report.' Both movies do a great job at conveying the helplessness and claustrophobia of the vast aloneness of space. They try to accurately depict what effect long space journeys would have on humans. However, where 'Sunshine' deviates to some kind of slasher movie in space for its final act, 'Europa Report' stays true to itself, delivering a satisfyingly tense ending.
Even though this is a found footage movie – a genre of film that has a tendency to distance the audience from the characters – the characterizations are wonderfully deep, creating surprising emotional attachments once the end rolls around. It's also surprisingly tense for a mockumentary. It may be a smaller independent film, but it packs a big punch.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is as basic as releases come. 'Europa Report' from Magnolia Pictures comes complete with a 25GB Blu-ray, a slipcover, and that's it.
This is a tricky movie to review when it comes to reviewing its visual prowess simply because the way the movie was filmed. Filmed with stationary cameras placed throughout Europa One, the movie is filmed digitally from a distance. Just about every shot – unless the actor purposefully gets up close and personal with the camera – is somewhere in the mid-range, which in turn doesn't offer up a whole lot of chances for exhibiting fine detail.
Surprisingly though, the digitally filmed movie doesn't lack depth, which is what I was really worried about. It could've easily looked flat and uninspired all the way through. Granted there are a few shots that look pretty dismal compared to the rest of the movie, but they're fleeting. The shots of the outside of the spacecraft are pretty stunning, everything considered. There's some really great CGI and visual design work going on there.
I did notice some banding in a few scenes, especially once they arrive in Europa and send a probe under the moon's ice. Once it's in the water banding can be seen from time to time swimming along with the image. Black areas are usually strong, but there are some soft shots toward the end that look to be suffering from some noticeable crushing. However, given the movie's humble beginnings, it's hard to fault it too much.
'Europa Report' and its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix are mainly focused on the spoken word. First and foremost, this is a dialogue-centric movie. There are moments where the movie gets to break away from the confines of a front-heavy mix, but those are few and far between.
The score, provided by Bear McCreary, provides a weighty ambiance to the movie. It permeates every channel offering a great sense of depth. Beeps and boops of Europa One find their way into the rear channels. The dialogue is firmly centered up front, with the two front channels catching the directional dialogue. LFE is light, but constant throughout the movie. Toward the end it gets called on quite often and responds with some deep booming bass.
This surprisingly smart and tense thriller might not even be on your radar, so you should rectify that. 'Europa Report' is one of the more intellectually engaging sci-fi movies to come along in the past few years. Not to mention it sits atop the found footage movie pile. The audio and video presentations are unexpectedly great. Add it all up and 'Europa Report' is definitely recommended viewing.