Saturday, December 7, 2013

Movie Review: The Europa Report

This is some of the best hard science fiction I've seen in years.  The setup is simple: NASA flyby probes find interesting signs of possible life on Europa, and a public/private manned venture is sent to find out just what is going on.  Why manned?  More flexible, more on-the-spot data taking ability, more adaptability, you name it.  And brother, do they find something – and to the story's everlasting credit, it's something actually scientifically plausible (hint: it's not Yet Another ET Wonderland).  But there are certain problems, like a solar storm that knocks out their Earth comms link half-way to the destination, followed by a disastrously unsuccessful repair spacewalk.  Just enough goes wrong to make the mission a real pain in the ass, while leaving the goals still seemingly achievable.

For all that, this movie's got a couple of serious problems.  The main one is the choppy editing gets in the way of the story.  Yeah, I understand the found footage concept, and it's used effectively here, but come on, have a little mercy on the audience.  It's just a brutal mess of a film to watch.  The second problem is that some of the astronaut characters are just a little over-acted, and the parts are just a little over-emotionally written.  I'm not expecting a shipfull of stoic Vulcans here, but the one engineer constantly pining for his family got old.

Those are two big problems, but the rest of the movie gets carried off with aplomb.  As I said at the start, this is some of the best hard science fiction I've seen since Contact, and the ending holds a surprise twist – totally in character for the surviving astronauts – that had me guessing right up to the last seconds.  But man, that choppy editing really got in the way of the story, so much so that I had to watch it twice (yes, in a row) because it was both that good (the story) and bad (the editing).

Here's the trailer.  The movie is actually quite a bit smarter than that trailer makes it look.  Despite the massive editing problem and overwrought emotions here and there, it's still a really good movie, somewhere in the 3+ star range.  Had those two problems been reigned in, it could've been a solid 4.  Yes, the rest of it really is that good.

ps, two days later: I was telling someone over the weekend about this movie.  He'd heard about it, and even went so far as to look up the trailer... then decided it was just another "monsters in space" flick.  Now on my recommendation he's going to go back and see the movie.  This illustrates the self-inflicted damage that studio marketing can do when they go for the cheap thrills.

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