I’m a science fiction fan and the set up of this movie is appealing to me. It resembles the kind of SF that began to distinguish the genre from simple space opera and earned it more respect; this was done through stories that involved problem solving. Problem solving in good SF is both thrilling and requires intense intellectual engagement of the characters and elevates the story to the higher realms of storytelling.
In “Europa Report,” in the near, but not too near future, a discovery makes it likely that some form of life might exist on Europa. A privately funded, manned mission to Jupiter’s most interesting moon is launched. Things gradually go wrong and then wronger forcing the crew to use all their wits to carry on the mission and save themselves.
Unfortunately the filmmakers felt the material couldn’t succeed on its own and have framed the movie within the frequently annoying found footage genre. We see the movie through arranged footage taken from cameras placed around the spacecraft. It’s annoying because I always find I’m trying to see around the inconveniently placed camera and I don’t get much from the purposely sloppy aesthetics.
Consider the scene where one astronaut is at the controls while another one is on the surface of Europa desperately trying to fix a damaged part of the spacecraft. This is supposed to be an emotional scene with a close-up of the face of the astronaut with tears in her eyes. But the camera is partially obstructed by some knobs in the foreground that it’s auto-focused on. Likewise annoying is that when the astronauts leave the spacecraft we get a lot of shots of their faces because for some reason there’s a camera in there facing the inside of the suits instead of out.
In a movie like “The Blair Witch Project,” found footage feels like a new and intimate way of discovering something horrifying. In “Europa Report,” found footage is pure gimmick. It begs the question, who is arranging this footage for us? The movie plays like a documentary and even includes a couple talking heads from the space program. Are we supposed to imagine we are watching a documentary someone made which is really the movie “Europa Report?”
Besides the camera aesthetics: in places the special effects of this relatively low budget indie put many blockbusters to shame, and in other places they’re not so great. The set-up of the movie doesn’t seem well thought out. The purpose of the mission is to collect samples so I’m not sure why humans had to go and a probe couldn’t be sent instead.
Europa is a fantastic place and I would rather have the movie do more to explore that space. The astronaut’s problems mostly consist of things going wrong inside and on the outside of the spacecraft. I often didn’t understand what the nature of these problems are and what was being done about it. Either this is hard SF that went over my head or the script didn’t make any sense.
** (out of 4)
David Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.