Europa Report [PG-13]
This one snuck into teeny tiny release in August. It might have played in Grand Rapids, but it only had a $125,000 U.S. box office, probably affected by the online streaming availability two months earlier in iTunes, etc. Still, it looked intriguing.
Sort of like last year's Apollo 18, we see a lot of video footage. Sounded like the Europa Ventures corporation might have made their privately financed mission the ultimate real reality series. But whereas Apollo 18 was a sci-fi horror movie, this is much more of the adventure of science. Sure, things go wrong, but unlike the short-lived Defying Gravity, Apollo 18 and the unfortunate 2000 pair of Mission To Mars and Red Planet, aliens aren't invoked just because going off to the planets isn't interesting enough, Jupiter's moon Europa has conditions which might actually harbor life. In that respect, this movie has much more in common with 2010: Odyssey Two -- without the interstellar aliens.
Visually the Europa mission spaceship looks really good. I gather they used video from the International Space Station as a model. It's certainly not as bad as 2007's Sunshine in terms of putting all the eggs in one basket and having neither backup systems or backup crosstraining among the crew. Think about Sandra Bullock in Gravity versus the INCOMPETENT crew and scientists of the also privately funded Prometheus. Still, there are going to be dangers and limitations to what you can carry with you and that makes things dangerous.
Thank goodness they assume the audience has some familiarity with real space missions so as to cut down on either hokey scenes or As You Know Bob moments. In fact, there's a documentary aspect to some of the film and a nonlinearity to the timeline which let's you pay attention to what's going on. Offhand I don't recall what the surface gravitational acceleration is on Europa, but I know it's less than Earth's 9.81 m/s². However, unlike even trying to simulate zero gee, there is no easy way to simulate less than Earth gravity in interiors. Even the excellent Moon made no attempt inside to deal with one-sixth gravity.
Besides looking and sounding good and making a real pass at science, the thing I really appreciate about this movie is that there's a minimum of stupid. Yes, things go wrong. But the characters, while they don't just shrug it off, they also don't go nuts and decide I Have To Kill Us All!
This doesn't mean it's perfect. I have a real problem with the camera view of the orbiting ship watching the lander going down. At those lateral speeds and those distances, the lander would have slid out of the frame and disappeared to smaller than a dot anyway. And for all the expense, I would have sent probes down first. And they really needed some more remote capacity or even a free flying robot. And goddammit, you need more than one airlock. NASA also had the right idea of not leaving the orbiter unmanned. (grin)
However... Europa Report is a good 89 minute movie for both the SF fan and the space nut. Fact is, whether manned or robotic, we will be going to the surface of Europa and drill some holes.