I noticed iTunes has Europa Report in it’s “See it before it’s in theaters” section, so the wife and I decided to attempt a movie night. I’d been looking forward to this movie since it popped up on my radar about six months ago.

The basic premise is nothing new: first manned mission to [enter place] goes awry due to technical, personal, or external forces and the crew must strive to survive and/or complete their mission. We’ve seen this from Destination Moon through 2001, to Apollo 13 or the double whammy of Red Planet / Mission to Mars. Most of the bad reviews for the film to stem from this complaint of the film being “predictable.” Additionally, we’ve seen plenty of “found footage” movies like the Blair Witch ProjectCloverfield, etc.– a category which this also falls into.

To avoid spoilers, I’m going to be vague on the basic plot elements. You know one of the crew will die early on in a technical problem, ala Frank Poole in 2001. You know they find something on Europa and things go badly. This is all teased early, and the movie steadily puts the pieces together for you, but does so non-temporally.  This is to my mind, the biggest downside to the movie. It’s overly artsy and can confuse the viewer, if they aren’t paying close attention. The use of quick cuts between the cameras around the ship is supposed to give us a feeling of “being there”, but I found it distracting. The out of sequence storytelling tightens as they get closer to Europa, but it can pull you out of the movie early on. If you stick with it, they get better about telling the story in a more linear fashion.

The movie advertises its attempt to be more hard science than most science fiction films. The style of photography is very evocative of the remote cameras that NASA and ESA plaster all over their vehicles for the news. It looks good; it looks right. They use centrifugal gravitation, not “magic” artificial gravity; the sets are very claustrophobic and have exposed piping and conduits — it looks very much like a cleaned up International Space Station — and the commentary on the dull, lonely, and uninspiring living conditions also enhances verisimilitude. There is no sound in space, save for a few spots I caught them doing it to heighten the atmosphere, but it’s subtle. The music by Bear McCreary is spare and effective.

The actors — mostly unknowns to the American audience, save Sharlto Copley from District 9 and Michael Nyquist from the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — are good in their respective roles and they capture the tightly-controlled personalities of astronauts. There’s none of the Kubrickian dehumanized robots of 2001, but they also don’t lose their crap when bad things start happening. Honorable mention for having Isiah Whitlock, Jr. —  the guy that played Clay Davis in The Wire as one of the misson’s leadership, although I kept waiting for the trademark Davis “shhiiiiiiiiiiit” to come out of his mouth.

The Europa portions of the movie are ore straightforward and move quickly, although this is where the film changes gears from artsy sci-fi movie to more straightforward thriller/horror movie. The final reveal might leave audience members a bit underwhelmed after the journey, but for those who want a science fiction movie that at least makes the attempt to be more than the latest bug hunt or  action movie that happens to be in space, you might like it.

So how was it? For style, I’m split — the look and sound of the movie is great, but the out of sequence storytelling and quick cut nonsense bring it from a 5 to a 3 of five. For substance, I’d give it a 4 out of 5, although I could see where some might want to give it less. Or in my terms — it’s definitely worth a matinee or a DVD/download buy, but I don’t know i would have felt I got my money’s worth full price.

Which is more than I can say for Star Trek: Into Darkness.