'Europa Report': Small-Budget Film, Big-Picture Questions

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These days, science fiction movies are often expensive extravaganzas designed to be blockbusters. Europa Report was made on a small budget, but it asks the big questions that the best science fiction poses.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And now to movies. Summer science fiction movies usually have some of the biggest budgets in Hollywood. Not the new film "Europa Report." It's out this weekend and our film critic Kenneth Turan says good things can come in inexpensive packages.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Europa Report" is a Grade A version of a B picture. It's a mock documentary that says it's compiled from thousands of hours of footage shot inside a spaceship speeding nearly 400 million miles from Earth.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "EUROPA REPORT")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) T minus 10, 9, 8...

TURAN: The ship is headed to a moon of Jupiter called Europa to search for extraterrestrial life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "EUROPA REPORT")

EMBETH DAVIDTZ: (as Dr. Samantha Unger) This really is a new first step for mankind.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Ignition.

TURAN: The six astronauts on the ship get a jolt early on when communication with Earth is lost. The crew has to go on for months and months, burdened by the knowledge that no one on back home knows they're alive. Everyone is on edge as they get closer and closer to Europa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "EUROPA REPORT")

DAVIDTZ: (as Dr. Samantha Unger) What was that?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) It's like (unintelligible). Can you stabilize this?

DAVIDTZ: (as Dr. Samantha Unger) Trying.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Andrei, I need (unintelligible) for emergency landing. Vessels coming from the area around our target sight...

TURAN: Cinematic spaceships have been leaving our planet for distant destinations at least since 1902 and George Melies' "A Trip To The Moon." And "Europa Report" truly captures the excitement of space travel.

The filmmakers were determined to create as realistic a look for the spacecraft as possible, not to mention a credible moonscape for Europa. So they consulted closely with scientists from NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and SpaceX, a privately funded space travel company.

And in an age of cynicism and sarcasm, "Europa Report" manages to maintain an air of idealistic hope and a belief in the value of asking classic questions like: are we alone? One of the crew speaks up and says: What does a life matter compared to the breadth in knowledge to be learned? That's the message of the film as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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