Directed by Sebastián Cordero, 2013's Europa Report isn't going to appeal to everyone. It's a slow movie and much like 2001: A Space Odyssey it sometimes get self-indulgent not because it betters the story to do so, but because it can. Add to that the fact that the movie is basically a ‘found footage' style narrative, something that seems to turn a lot of viewers off simply because it's been overused and often very poorly, and the cards might seem stacked against this one. Thankfully, the movie uses the approach very effectively, here it's a storytelling device rather than a novelty or a cop out. The editing makes the most of the presentation and the performances are quite good. So what's it all about?
An unmanned space probe has sent a signal back to Earth indicating that there may in fact by alien life out there on one of Jupiter's moons. All signs indicate that it's small, a single celled creature, but this is something worth investigating and so a six man ship called The Europa One is sent out by a group of private investors to confirm what's actually been discovered. Corrigan (Sharlto Copley), the ship's lead engineer, doesn't want to leave his family but is wooed away by the prospect of the mission while another engineer named Blok (Michael Nyqvist) is none too keen on the ship's small quarters but deals with it the best he can for the same reason. The other four members are Dr. Katya Petrovna (Karolina Wydra), William Xu (Daniel Wu), Dr. Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargor) and Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca) and all of them are just as intrigued by the prospects of a massive scientific discovery as the engineers are.
Not so long after the ship launches, mission control, led by Dr. Unger and Dr. Sokolov (Don Fogler) lose contact with the ship. The footage that makes its way back to Earth is then examined as we learn, with input from Unger and Sokolov, just what happened to the small crew out there in the far reaches of space…
That plot synopsis is a little vague maybe but there's no reason to spoil something as good as Europa Report if it isn't completely necessary. Let it suffice to say that while the fact that it's a found footage film does add some predictability to the proceedings, this is more about how things play out than what plays out. Don't go into this one expecting aliens to leap out from around the corner of a dimly lit spaceship interior, it's not that type of movie. Instead it takes a considerably more realistic approach not only to what the astronauts find but also how they deal with what happens once they're out there. Sometimes subtlety is worth more than jump scares and this is definitely one of those times as Cordero is able to build considerable tension in the picture without ever having to go for anything even remotely resembling exploitation.
The cast all do fine work here, with Nyqvist doing a fine job as the increasingly claustrophobic man on the ship. The dynamic that exists between what starts off as a team is interesting as it evolves throughout the movie, and the visuals consistently impress even when degraded to stay in keeping with the format. This is a bit of a slow burn at times but stick with it. Europa Report puts realism over sensationalism and is all the better for it. It might sometimes fall in love with its own visuals it may take a bit of time to get going but it definitely turns out to be a trip worth taking.
Europa Report debuts on Blu-ray from Magnolia in a 1.78.1 widescreen transfer presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. As this was shot on digital video there are obviously no real problems with print damage, dirt or debris but then you've got to factor in the whole ‘found footage' aspect of the production, at which point you understand why the movie sometimes looks like old news footage or as if it were shot on a security camera or something small and portable mounted to a space suit. In the context of the story being told, it works just fine, but this doesn't always lend itself to reference quality video. With that said, by and large the movie looks good despite those circumstances. Colors are very nicely reproduced and generally quite impressive while black levels are nice and deep. Detail can and does impress, if not always at least most of the time, and for the most part the movie looks very good.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on the disc is excellent. Optional closed captioning is provided in English with optional subtitles available in Spanish. There's plenty of surround activity throughout the movie, be it subtle or not so subtle, and it's often times used very well to help enhance the film's atmosphere. The score is spread out well throughout the different channels and bass is powerful and strong without burying the higher end in the mix. Dialogue is easy to understand and nice and crisp and there's good depth and range evident throughout.
Extras kick off with the first of two featurettes and that's Exploring The Visual Effects Of Europa Report, which runs six and a half minutes and feature an interview with VFX Supervisor John Bair. He speaks about the importance of the initial design work and how that helped to shape the look of the movie and he also provides some details as to how the concept designs were brought to life. It's quite interesting and it shows off a lot of the great pre-production artwork that was created for the feature as well. The second featurette is The Musical Journey Of Europa Report and it runs just under six minutes. Here we see the orchestra performing over sections of the movie before we get a quick interview with composer Bear McCreary who speaks about what went into creating the score for the picture.
Aside from that we get a still gallery, a theatrical trailer, trailers for a few unrelated Magnolia properties, menus and chapter selection.
Europa Report isn't a new masterpiece in science-fiction filmmaking but it is a well-made picture that has a lot to offer not just in terms of storytelling, but in terms of solid acting and excellent production values as well. Those who have an aversion to ‘found footage' style movies won't be impressed but otherwise, this one is worth a look as it is quite suspenseful and occasionally even clever. Magnolia's Blu-ray offers up a great transfer and solid audio and a few decent supplements as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.