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Europa Report – film review

July 25, 2014

EUROPA REPORT

Where hard science, sci-fi and found-footage converge.

europa report - spacecraft europa 1

Directed by Sebastián Cordero. Written by Ben Browning. Starring Christian Camargo, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Sharlto Copley, Embeth Davidtz, Dan Fogler, Isiah Whitlock Jr. Year of release: 2013. Running time: 90 minutes.

A manned space mission to Europa (a frozen moon of Jupiter) is sent to determine whether or not life exists in the oceans beneath the satellite’s icy crust. When a series of unforeseen disasters threaten to derail the mission, sacrifices must be made.

In 2005, legendary filmmaker and deep-sea explorer James Cameron produced and co-directed Aliens Of The Deep; an IMAX 3D documentary detailing Cameron’s teaming with NASA scientists and marine biologists for a deep-sea expedition to explore the abundant eco-systems surrounding hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The documentary posits the idea that since these organisms do not require sunlight (as other terrestrial creatures do) – but gain their energy from the super-heated and sulfurous vents; they may well resemble alien life which may exist elsewhere in the solar system – particularly below the icy surface of Europa; where liquid oceans are thought to exist. I bring this up because, in some respects, this 2013 film Europa Report could easily be considered a ‘fleshing out’ and extrapolation of concepts raised in Cameron’s doco. It employs the ‘found-footage’ conceit to present itself as a fictional documentary and is the first English language film directed by Ecuadorian filmmaker Sebastián Cordero (incredibly it was shot over a period of eighteen days).

Cordero’s film has often been compared to Gonzalo López-Gallego’s 2011 found-footage movie Apollo 18, although López-Gallego’s film is more like a straight-out horror than a hard science sci-fi like Europa Report. And while Cordero’s film             is considerably less goofily entertaining than Apollo 18 – it does surpass its predecessor by maintaining attention to detail in the logistics of its found-footage aesthetic, ie: the camera is never where it could never be and the retrieval of the footage is entirely plausible (issues which most found-footage films otherwise fail     to address for one reason or another). And unlike most other found-footage films, Europa Report is composed almost entirely of locked-off static shots (eschewing     the nausea-inducing shaky-cam usually employed in such fare) – the reason being there are numerous cameras mounted at various vantage points throughout the ship recording events. The only times we ever really see the camera moving around is during scenes where it is attached to space-suited characters during EVAs on     Europa and space-walk scenes. Ironically, this lack of kinetic dynamism in the cinematography tends to lend a laid-back momentum to proceedings – which kind of negates the possibility of generating any real excitement. Structurally too, the film has its problems. The non-linear aspect of Europa Report doesn’t really add a great deal and, if anything, makes the unfolding narrative unduly confusing at times. But having said this – it really is the startling final reveal in the film’s last few moments which makes up for all previous narrative issues – making the journey ultimately worthwhile and memorable.

As one would hope from a film of this type; the performances are low-key and natural (particularly during the pre-flight on-camera interviews) and the actors do well in conveying the idea we are watching real people – as opposed to just fictional characters. The international cast is mostly made up of lesser known faces; with the most recognizable actors being Michael Nyqvist (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and Sharlto Copley (District 9) – the latter chewing less scenery than usual and giving a rather nicely understated performance. The stand-out performance though for me belongs to Dan Fogler (a stand-up comic known more for his voice work) who appears as Doctor Sokolov; an enthusiastic mission specialist back on Earth. Being unfamiliar with him as an actor; I immediately figured him to be an actual mission specialist brought in to fill the role.

By no means a visual effects extravaganza; the sparse use of computer generated VFX (sparse due to budgetary restrictions more than anything) work well in giving an impression of the environment, without taking focus away from the human element. The minimalist score by Bear McCreary (Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV series) is also effective in creating a semblance of tension.

While hard science sci-fi films are always a welcome diversion from the usual pulpy cross-genre fare on offer and should be embraced whenever one appears, Europa Report doesn’t quite hit the mark as a fully engaging experience. Although having said this – it is still most definitely worth a watch; especially for lovers of deep space exploration themed sci-fi or cosmology in general.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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3 Comments
  1. Been waiting to watch this for what seems ages (chiefly from my interest in composer Bear McCreays work), but it still doesn’t seem to have been released here in the UK yet. Probably end up dumped on a cable channel. Really, the vagaries of film distribution are mystifying.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Always loved his work on BSG …

      • He’s done some great work since (his DaVinci’s Demons scores are great) but I don’t think he’ll ever match BSG; that show was lightning in a bottle for everyone involved. I really want to watch BSG all the way through again as its one of my favourite shows but its just the sheer time and effort I’d need to invest in it, its such a daunting prospect (and I have the Twin Peaks box waiting my attention now too). The other day I heard one of the BSG score discs again and goodness, it was wonderful. McCreary’s just too good for movies.

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