Director: Sebastian Cordero
Writers: Phillip Gelatt
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Christian Carmargo
“Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known… what does your life actually matter?”
Europa Report sees the found footage gimmick finally conquer the last known frontier as it makes its way into space where no footage has been found before. Presented as a documentary reconstructing a historic mission to Jupiter’s ice moon Europa, it pieces together interviews with the ground control on Earth, news reports during the mission, and recently released surveillance footage retrieved from the craft.
The timeline of events confusingly jumps around all over the place, filling in gaps in the story at random moments. It is established early on that not all went well with the mission and – this being space after all – we may be in for a bumpy ride. In an annoying and unnecessary moment we even told that a character has died long before we actually get to see the section where he does. These continual cuts backward and forward are irritating and unnecessary for a story which has such a linear course of events.
Otherwise the documentary approach is generally done well enough and establishes a convincing authenticity to the mission. The international cast of relative unknowns complement this with restrained natural acting rather than chewing the scenery. The dialogue often sticks to the humdrum and gritty side of an astronauts life, a reality often ignored entirely in space faring films, but there is enough tension between the crew to keep things interesting.
This devotion to realism does however mean that the drama and action is fairly minimalist and subdued for the most part, and the characters are not as strongly defined than we are accustomed to with space adventures.
It remians hard to avoid the suspicion that directors primarily choose the documentary/found footage approach to unburden them from the need of visual flair and attractive cinematography. This is not a film which will leave you mentally revisiting glorious scenes of artistry, or trying desperately to explain to someone how emotional a simple camera shot made you feel. All together Europa Report often feels a little flat despite its interesting subject and worthy story telling.
Otherwise the low budget visuals are very impressive, with a realistic looking spacecraft convincingly designed and easy to accept as a real environment. Jupiter and Europa themselves look absolutely stunning and the last section set on the surface of the alien moon is simply superb, capturing the awesome sense of wonder, and the fear which would come with such a dangerous en-devour.
Despite its pretensions to realism the science is unfortunately a little sketchy. Even when factoring in the ambiguous level of technology available to the mission it seems unlikely that the familiar rocket tech and landing modules of yesteryear could take a crew of seven all the way to Jupiter and back. It is also made clear that Europa is the first manned mission since the moon landings and it seems unlikely we could head to Jupiter before having first conquered Mars. It seems like the film makers have assumed no one would be too bothered to take apart the logic of the mission but for a film which is taking itself seriously to play so loosely with its logical foundations kind of undermines the experience.
Most importantly of all Europa Report pushes a worthy and important message which seems to be getting lost as our space exploration becomes more robiticised; the message that human sacrifice in the name of exploration is not something to be feared or regretted. Many people fearlessly died and suffered exploring our own world and it will be impossible to go to the hostile environment among the stars without some sacrifice. That astronauts are usually drawn from among the best and brightest of society does not make their lives worth more caution – they are often willing to die for their mission and it is unfortunate their deaths often get used as political ammunition.
Europa Report is an interesting and worthy idea but one which falls short in some aspects of execution. With a little more cinematic flare and more interesting characters its well made point could have been delivered with more energy and left us with more memorable moments.
VERDICT: Worth a watch