Although overly fraught with lots of techno-gab, this is a pretty compelling story of the first journey to Europa, the Jupiter moon most often thought to have the possibility of life. Six astronauts from around the globe sign on to a private company’s mission that will take almost two years of space travel to get to Europa. While many ordinary movie-goers might not recognize the actors who fill out the crew, they are an accomplished group, headed by the one who is pretty well known, Michael Nyqvist, who starred in the Swedish (and much superior) version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and its two sequels. Rounding out the cast are Anamaria Marinca, who won the Palme d’Or for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, Chinese American Daniel Wu, Christian Camargo from The Hurt Locker, Embeth Davidtz, known for the American version of ‘Dragon Tattoo and TV’s Mad Men, Karolina Wydra, and Sharlto Copley, who was also in District 9, a sci-fi film I found disappointing. Their performances are what make the movie credible.
However, credit is also due to Director of Photography Enrique Chediak, who captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of the space ship and the bleak, frightening landscape of Europa memorably, and the score by Bear McCreary who blends classical and contemporary sounds and techniques to enhance the film’s ambience.
Ecuadorian director Sebastián Cordero specializes in psychological thrillers. He conquers the challenge of giving pace to a film that is basically a set piece about a crew on a ship on a 22-month trip to a moon. It never seemed slow to me as the tension slowly mounts.
I don’t know what the budget was for this, but even though the special effects are not mind-numbingly omnipresent and overwhelming like those in Man of Steel, they are very good. Since this is an indie and not a major studio, they obviously didn’t have the budget to overpower the movie with major special effects, and this movie is better for it.
It is mostly shot on the space ship, which was designed by Production Designer Eugenio Caballero, Oscar?-winner for Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), a visual tour de force. One of the main points that makes this film work is the realistic space ship in which the astronauts travel. The creation of the surface of Europa and the space walks are exceptionally good. His work is buttressed by that of the visual effects team led by John Bair who was responsible for the spacewalk scenes and the scenes on the surface of Europa.
Told with some flashbacks, the story is realistic and tense, as the astronauts are facing unknown perils. The trip and what happens are as believable as possible for science fiction. This is a long way from Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (an early ‘50s TV show, also shot almost entirely on what the ‘50s thought the inside of a futuristic space ship would be).
In addition to the fine special effects are the sound effects, which pretty much put the audience on the ship, allowing it to experience the dangers and shocks to be found in outer space.
This might not win many awards, but it’s a film one won’t soon forget.
Starting with mobile phone camera film of the actual killing of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) at the BART Fruitvale Station in Oakland, the film then flashes back to develop the character of Grant so we know him pretty well when he’s killed once again at the end of the film. The first hour is very slow and drags far too much leading up to the climax.
Writer/director Ryan Coogler doesn’t pull any punches as he paints Grant as a hot-tempered drug dealer who fathers an illegitimate daughter with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and is “thinking” about marrying Sophina. He doesn’t work much but she does. He’s an ex-con. The only things admirable about him are Sophina, his daughter, and his apparently unwed mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer).
Even so, Coogler creates a relatively sympathetic picture of Oscar leading up to the tragedy at Fruitvale Station. The acting is exceptionally good. While I thought the first hour interminably boring, it is more than made up for by the way Coogler stages the deadly confrontation and an ending that leaves one in tears.
What follows is a spoiler, so if you want to see the film without knowing, stop here.
This was a case in which the legal system showed a dismal weakness. The transit officer who shot Grant claimed that he thought he was reaching for his stun gun, but pulled his revolver instead and administered a deadly wound. His punishment? He was convicted of “involuntary manslaughter,” sentenced to three years and got out in one. This is ridiculous. People who are given the right to carry a gun and use it should be held to an extremely high standard. If they are so irresponsible that they cannot tell the difference between a stun gun and a real gun, they should be responsible for their actions. An innocent man died as a result of this person’s actions. Maybe what he did does fit the definition of “involuntary manslaughter” but it was also criminally negligent and the penalty for a man’s death should have been much more severe than a three year sentence and back out on the street after only serving one year while an innocent Oscar Grant lies moldering in his grave for all eternity.