For years (decades even) we have had our collective eyes set upon Mars. “When are we going?”, “What mysteries lie on it’s red surface?”, “Could there be life?”. So in true form, Hollywood has seen fit to try and answer those questions to the best of their ability with a handful of interesting films that ranged from insightful to a truckload of manure. But why only Mars? Our solar system is vast and ripe for exploration. Why limit ourselves to just one planet?
That is where Europa Report comes in, a film about a manned mission to one of Jupiter’s moons called Europa. Anyone that watches Discovery channel is likely to already know that besides Mars, Europa is the next likely place we could possibly find life. The science is sound, where there is water, there is most likely life of some sort and Europa, with it’s entire surface covered by an ice sheet and a watery center buried deep inside (think of it like a tootsie pop), its more than probable there is some sort of life that lives there.
Using a faux documentary style, similar to that of the found footage genre, but presented more like recovered footage, director Sebastian Cordero’s film has a great many things about it that help forge one of the most unique and interesting science fiction films to come about in a long time. Not since Danny Boyle’s Sunshine has a film been able to grasp the logic and dangers of long term space travel and exploration as perfectly as Europa Report captures it.
Starring no real quantifiable star in a leading role, Cordero isn’t interested in using star power to sell his film. By using a cast of virtual unknowns, he does what most filmmakers fear, he puts all the attention on the story being told. We are introduced to the diverse members of the crew through these EPK style interviews as well as some invasive cameras that are scattered about all over the shuttle that gives us glimpses of life during their 2 year journey.
They are comprised of your usual set of professionals and personalities that would be found on a mission of this type. The pilot/captain (Anamaria Marinca), the co-pilot (Daniel Wu), the engineer (Sharlto Copley), veteran astronaut (Michael Nyqvist), the marine biologist (Karolina Wydra) and the doctor (Christian Camargo). Instead of wasting time and setting each member of the crew up as an individual, we get to know them first and foremost as a single unit, a group of people working together to complete Earth’s most important mission to date.
Anything lost by never knowing their individual back stories is immediately compensated for by the mission itself and the tension established by this very fragile living environment the astronauts are forced to endure from day to day. No one expects long term space travel to be a luxury cruise, but aside from the cramped quarters and mundane daily existence, there are the unknown factors that always have the potential to be at best an annoyance and at worst, deadly, to spice things up and keep both us and the astronauts on their toes.
While the filmmaking prowess at work here is without a doubt inspired, there is still the fact that this is a found footage style film which always presents its own unique set of problematic situations, most of which is the limitations the genre itself. Long embraced by the low budget filmmakers of the world (the format does help limit costs), found footage is usually a make it or break it deal. You are either on board with it or you find yourself endlessly annoyed by it.
For a film like Europa Report however, the style fits like a glove. There is no shaky cam to speak of, most all shots are from a stationary perspective with only a handful of exceptions and it doesn’t feel forced (as in you understand why they are being filmed at all times). But we do find ourselves at more than one instance where we are dealing with moronic decisions made by characters that are supposed to be the best and brightest our world has to offer, yet they still feel the need to investigate a light source a few meters away even though their oxygen supply is gone. Not exactly what a sound mind would do.
It isn’t exactly fair to put such expectations on characters in these types of films, but considering we are dealing with what must be extremely intelligent individuals, their decisions feel out of character and a little suspect to say the least. But the many successes of the film, such as its sense of wonder and discovery, far outweighs any of those minor complaints. When they do finally reach Europa, it is impossible to not get caught up in the same excitement that the astronauts do, which makes what eventually happens to them and their mission that much more saddening and regrettable.
Ultimately this is a film of discovery and the sacrifices made by those first out the door who are responsible for ushering in a new era for humanity. Its about the courage of those who aim to expand our knowledge of the world around us and help us understand our place in the universe. Europa Report isn’t a film that will excite you, scare you or make you happy or sad, it is a film that makes you think about the vastness of the universe and how much more we still have to learn from it and its many mysteries.
More so than that though, it is about the men and women who are strong and brave enough to forge ahead and discover first hand what awaits us in the great beyond. With a solid cast, an impressive scope for a low budget film and retaining an established realistic setting whilst taking us into the great unknown, Europa Report is that rare film that gets nearly everything right despite its few problems. If you are looking for an intriguing space adventure and like your Sci-fi more “Sci” than “Fi”, there is no doubt that this is the film for you.