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Europa Report
  • Composed by Bear McCreary
  • Sparks and Shadows / 2013 / 57m

A “found footage” movie documenting a mission to Europa – one of the many moons of Jupiter – to search for signs of life, Europa Report was recently released “straight to video-on-demand” in America and has received generally positive reviews, particularly for its acting (the cast includes the wonderful Michael Nyqvist, who was so good in the Swedish Millennium Trilogy movies).  Most of these “found footage” films don’t feature much, if any, score, but since this one was presented as if it’s a retrospective documentary put together by the company that founded the mission, director Sebastián Cordero thought it would work and so brought on board Bear McCreary.

The composer was only 25 when he first burst onto the scene with Battlestar Galactica, writing music that was distinctive and initially unexpected but which proved to be highly popular and has led to him building a large base of fans eager to follow his career.  Since that show finished, he’s worked on various other tv shows, including The Walking Dead and Defiance; and I loved his elegant music to Da Vinci’s Demons.  So far he hasn’t quite made the break into big films, but I’m sure his time will come – Europa Report might not be a particularly “big” film but his excellent music is likely to receive a lot of attention.

Bear McCreary

Bear McCreary

Immediately striking as the album begins with “Lift Off” is a contrast that McCreary will play with throughout the score – a dirty, mechanical synth pulse is played against a classical string figure and beautiful piano melody which introduces the main theme, the melody subsequently taken up by the strings.  This “light and dark” contrast very cleverly expresses that between the astronauts’ personal tragedies with the astonishing nature of their discoveries, a fine line to tread but one which the composer does very well.

The main theme itself is really quite something, and explored frequently through the album.  In the second track, “The View”, the violin solo lending it a remarkable serenity.  “Landing on Europa” sees the return of the grim synth beat, this time accompanying a remarkably elegant swirling string passage that builds up to a crashing, crushing period of dissonance before the main theme rises like a phoenix from those ashes.  It’s colourful, vivid music.  “Mausoleum” is – as you might expect – colder, a slightly harsh chill emanating from the piano solo.  The tension cranks up further in “The Drill”, the electronics becoming ever-more mechanical and uncomfortable; then the score of contrasts provides another as the exquisite “Europa Report for Solo Piano” does just what it says, McCreary himself passionately playing his main theme.

The dark “Cosmically Astounding” sees a more prominent role for harsh electronics, layered strings providing a stark accompaniment.  Then McCreary introduces a new element, a solo vocal (sung by Raya Yarbrough) in the pivotal “Water” which is really soulful.  “Under the Ice” sees the composer bringing an unsettling sense of foreboding to the music, eventually manifesting itself as pure terror, which continues in the more action-orientated “Hydrazine”, pulsating electronics giving the piece a compelling momentum.  It’s the human aspect that’s emphasised in the lengthy “That Brings Us to Now”, awash with feeling (a pretty tragic feeling) before some more dissonant histrionics again bring terror to the fore.

“Airlock” has the score’s one last moment of darkness in its initial stages before the vocal returns to lend an uplifting feel, which continues in “A World Other Than Our Own” and then the lengthy “Theme from Europa Report”, which explores the main theme in a little more depth.  That main theme really sums up McCreary’s approach to the whole film – there are moments when it simply soars with beauty, it carries a real sense of magic and wonder, a feeling of discovery, yet there’s always that underlying hint of a certain sadness.  Europa Report is one of his most impressive efforts to date, smart and engaging, and I recommend it highly.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Chris Avis (Reply) on Saturday 3 August, 2013 at 16:07

    Nice review James! This is indeed one of Bear”s best albums to date and very enjoyable.

  2. Chris Avis (Reply) on Saturday 3 August, 2013 at 18:42

    By the way, James, if you’re keen on McCreary’s work, you really should try his later work on Battlestar Galactica. I know you weren’t that fond of the first two albums, but his Season 4 score is the high water mark of his work thus far and is just phenomenal.


  3. Tom Kiefner (Reply) on Saturday 3 August, 2013 at 20:44

    I have mixed feelings on McCreary’s latest offering. I like some of his material and I think he has found his niche in Hollywood with what he does. I would have liked to hear a stronger classical presence on the first track; it cries for some brass harmony. The listening experience with or without headphones is completely different. In this case I prefer speakers. I will give him an ‘A’ for the Europa piano solo. The sound of the Steinway comes across loud and clear. I think I’ll do a review of this one also.

  4. Josh (Reply) on Saturday 3 August, 2013 at 21:06

    Great review! I’d love to read a review of Da Vinci’s Demons. I think it’s my favorite McCreary so far.

  5. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Sunday 4 August, 2013 at 02:46
  6. Clark Provence (Reply) on Monday 5 August, 2013 at 19:59

    Excellent review, James. Don’t know if you’ve seen, but McCreary wrote a blog post about this score which I found quite fascinating:

  7. Matt (Reply) on Monday 5 August, 2013 at 22:35

    I didn’t care for this score very much. I like some of Bear’s work but in this case, I found this score rather boring. The solo piano theme is nice, but the whole thing just left me cold.

  8. Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Tuesday 6 August, 2013 at 02:13

    So when do we get more Bear McCreary reviews? You spent the entire Man of Steel review declaring how film score has gotten so dull, simplistic, unimaginative, no heroic theme, etc… Between Battlestar Galactica Season 3, 4, Caprica, Human Target, The Cape, and even Di Vinci’s Demons, you have the complete antithesis of that.