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Double Impact (1991)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Daniel Wu

Written By: Philip Gelatt Directed By: Sebastian Cordero

The Short Version

Putting the “science” back into “science fiction.”

Finally, someone got documentary-style fiction right.

Tense, intriguing, gripping… outstanding.

The restraint is just as admirable as what the audience does get to see.

If you love science-based science fiction, you need to see Europa Report.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Flavorful.  Thought provoking.

Pairs Well With...


Something very clean over ice.

“Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known, what does your life actually matter?”

Before the Viking lander first touched down on the surface of Mars, Carl Sagan admitted that however unlikely it was to be the case, he hoped that the first image picked up by the craft’s camera would be a signpost proclaiming “Barsoom,” Edgar Rice Burroughs’ name for the populated Mars in his “John  Carter” adventure stories.  Of course, that didn’t happen, though astrobiologists still hold out hope that the latest generation of rovers might still find some evidence of microbial life there, even if such life is likely to be extinct.

There is, however, another place in the solar system that has many excited about the possibility of still-existent extraterrestrial life, and that place is Jupiter’s ice moon: Europa.  The catch, of course, is that this hypothetical life would almost certainly have to exist in oceans that flow beneath the moon’s frozen surface, but what if, as Neil deGrasse Tyson has suggested, humans were to travel to Europa to “do some ice fishing”?  What might we find?

That is the premise of Europa Report.  

Set in a relatively near future, Europa Report supposes – not unjustly – that waiting for governments to continue manned deep space exploration will only result in the present generation missing out on all the fun.  And so, the film’s fictional mission to Europa (dubbed “Europa One”) is privately funded, in part through the promise that people back on Earth will be able to enjoy continuous time delayed camera feeds from the mission as it progresses, much as the very real Mars One project proposes to do.  (It also suggests that the mission is launched at a cost of $3.7 billion.  Hell, if it’s that cheap, let’s go already.  What?  That’s just three bombers nobody needs.  It’s a bargain!  But anyway.)  It is those camera feeds that provide the majority of the material for Europa Report, but with two key differences that set it apart from many “found footage” faux-documentaries: this one admits up front that the footage has been edited, and cameras that are supposed to be in fixed positions stay fixed throughout the movie.  (And even with the few portable cameras, there’s no headache-inducing exaggerated handicam wobble!)  This footage is further presented as having been edited into an actual documentary piece for people who initially subscribed to watch the Europa One mission – and, one suspects, the rest of humanity – since after watching six months of near-live video, they were suddenly met with sixteen months of silence.  The fact that the creative team goes to so much trouble to have their presentation make sense – a detail missed by roughly 98% of their “mockumentary” peers – really takes Europa Report to the next level even before one considers the content, and speaks volumes for the overall quality of the production.

That quality, by the way, is outstanding.  As in “Best Picture of the Year So Far” outstanding.

When a film presents itself as “hard” science fiction like Europa Report does, it travels through very precarious waters.  With that said, moviegoers will find relatively few things to complain about here; the creative team does just as thorough a job with trying to keep the science in check as it does with the presentation, with just as few liberties being taken in the process.  (Along with some omissions, but that’s fine; one can’t get wrong what one never tries to explain in the first place.)  It takes viewers on a fantastic voyage (nod to Mr. Asimov) without feeling the need to rely on fantasy.  For example, the audience learns very early on that a member of the crew was killed at the same time the com signal went dead, and that another crew member might have become unstable, but if you’re expecting horror cheez to follow, guess again.  Instead, a genuinely fascinating story unfolds (in non-chronological but none the less logically linear fashion): one that doesn’t rely on cheap thrills and clichés, but rather, one that always stays within the realm of the possible... the amazingly possible.  And when occasions arise for things to happen, the cast and crew resist every temptation to step over the line, revealing just enough: nothing more… and nothing less, either.  To be honest, I can’t think of a single revelatory moment during the course of the entire picture that isn’t dead solid perfect.

The atmosphere is both heightened and respected thanks to excellent music from Bear McCreary (of “Battlestar Galactica” fame), who keeps the cues sane and defers to the quiet when quiet – or silence – is called for, thus assuring that a mood is provided without drowning out the substance of what’s happening on the screen.  The incredibly solid cast in turn makes sure that there is indeed substance there, even when the characters they’re playing are just going about their normal day-to-day routines… or losing a toothbrush.  And therein lies another secret to the success of Europa Report: it may be the story of a mission to outer space, but it’s a mission being carried out by human beings, and the movie remembers to keep them human rather than turning them into archetypes.  People aren’t cut outs, and people aren’t plot lines.  This may sound simple, but it is in fact yet another example of extraordinary restraint; indeed, it’s one that just isn’t seen in Hollywood anymore, for any genre.

It’s tempting to say there hasn’t been a science fiction movie like this since 2001: A Space Odyssey, but really, I think Europa Report hits a level that in many ways surpasses the hard sci fi standard set by that film.  And the more I think about it, the more impressive it gets.

Bottom line, if you are at all interested in hard science fiction, or in the real possibilities of what’s waiting for us out there in space, you absolutely need to see Europa Report.  It’s definitely earned a spot in my next revision of my “Eighteen Essential Favorites” list, and also holds the distinction of being, in my eyes, the Best Picture of 2013 thus far.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2013

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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