Another year, another set of fascinating panels here at San Diego’s Comic-con international 2013. First off this Thursday is a panel for Europa Report, the film Space.com called “One of the most thrilling and realistic depictions of deep-space exploration since Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
The panelists were director Sebastian Cordero, composer Bear McCreary (composer of Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead), producer Ben Browning, and actress Karolina Wydra, alongside JPL scientists Steve Vance and Kevin Hand. Astronomer Dr. Phil Plait moderated.
Starting the panel off, Dr. Plait mentioned that the three reasons we explore space are resources, danger, and simply to explore — sheer curiosity. And sometimes that exploration comes with a price.
Cordero said he was inspired to tell a story about Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, by films like 2010 and the fact that the script was so well-grounded in scientific accuracy. It was his research on Europa that intensified his fascination with pursuing the project. Europa represents historically the first time humans noticed an object circling another planet. There’s a mythical value in Europa’s mysteries. For Browning, he felt it would be cool to create a film about First Contact, uncompromisingly, without cheating the science. The budget motivated the choice to film it as “found footage.”
Dr. Plait noted that Europa is the first object in the solar system that we’ve discovered that might have liquid water, and therefore, potential extraterrestrial life. Vance and Hand discussed their roles at NASA to help determine an actual potential flight to Europa. Europa harbors 2-3 times the liquid water as on Earth, helping us ask the question, “Is life on Earth all there is?” Hand said that none would go to a movie if it’s just about science, so he was pleased at how rich the characters and the drama is. As a scientist, Dr. Plait liked the realistic portrayal of scientists themselves in the film. Wydra said she read a lot of books like Packing For Mars, about preparation for space travel, and did 2 weeks of rehearsal to ready herself for her role. Her suit weighed about 50 pounds, and its weight included its actual camera. She could only wear it for ten minutes at a stretch. It was a replica space suit modified for film recording. She was drawn to the role because her character, a first-time astronaut, was so passionate about discovery. She gave props to her co-stars for their realistic portrayals.
McCreary is no stranger to the sci-fi genre, but as he approached scoring the project, he’d never seen anything quite like this. He had to redo the score several times to dial in the appropriate mood for the balance of drama and science. He loved the documentary-style approach, because it allowed him to score the film with a dramatic flourish, as if the film-within-a-film’s producer’s made the artistic choice to score the fateful journey in that manner.
Many of the film’s shots are based on actual NASA imagery of Europa from past probe missions. Cordrero had extensive access to NASA materials, and was also inspired by documentaries like For All Mankind and Apollo footage. Cordero built a real spaceship on a soundstage, in order to shoot it in the round, via onboard cameras, as if it was a real mission.
Dr. Plait asked if there was any point where he was told his narrative would clash with actual science. Cordero mentioned that in the third act, dealing with the realism of Europa’s surface ice, and the life below it, he had to rethink how the ice would actually react, and made the decision to fudge a little realism in sake of dramatic tension. Browning took the film to JPL, played it for actual Mars rover pilots, and was pleased to get their positive reactions.
Vance said that before actual manned missions to Europa can commence, trial runs have to be planned. A new probe designed for that purpose, the Europa Clipper, is currently in the works.
Europa Report is available for viewing on demand now, but will be released in theaters on August 2, 2013.
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