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'Europa Report': 'Gravity' meets 'Apollo 18'

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Europa Report

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About the same time that "Gravity" came out, another movie came out the same year with a similar premise: a space mission's crew and their struggles to survive in a hostile environment. It's a bit like "Apollo 18," in its found-footage format, only much less goofy.

The story is told by the CEO of Europa Ventures, Dr. Unger (Embeth Davidtz), who sent the six astronauts on a twenty-month mission to Jupiter's moon. What unspools is a variety of footage -- plausibly recorded, given that it's a space mission -- in which one mistake compounds another. A solar storm requires a repair, and when an EVA goes horribly awry, someone is left behind. SPOILER REPORT: You know, like Clooney's character in "Gravity."

To be fair, there's only so many ways to die in space, so it's perhaps no surprise that the two films have that in common. There's also concerns about radiation, air, and the psychological erosion of the crew's sanity.

Things really heat up (or cool off) when the crew lands on Europa and the search for life turns into a battle for survival. As the crew loses its cohesion, as the ice cracks, and options dwindle, "Europa Report" takes a decidedly noble turn. There is no turning back, no calling for help. The crew is nakedly alone on a hostile planet and it brings out the worst and best in the scientists who have to consider the good of the mission above their petty concerns.

"Europa Report's" greatest strength is also its flaw: it is slow, leisurely, and occasionally plodding as silent, grainy images show the claustrophobic conditions of the crew. Some of the actors' accents are impenetrable, and at least one actual rocket scientist realizes that going on a 40 month mission is probably not a good idea for relationships back on Earth.

But while "Gravity" offered the thrills and chills of a woman against the odds, "Europa Report" is content to let its events march to their inevitable conclusion. A serious sci-fi film that treats its horror tropes with the appropriate weight.

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