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Review: Europa Report (2013)

Europa Report (2013)

Directed by: Sebastián Cordero

Premise: Set in the near future, a team of scientists travels across the solar system and lands on Jupiter’s moon of Europa. The film is a collection of found footage from the mission as the crew copes with the challenges of space travel.

What Works: The science fiction genre is about the interaction between human beings and technology and how advances in knowledge and mechanization impact the human experience. But over the past few decades the filmmakers working in the genre have shown less interest in these issues and gradually given themselves over to fantasy tales with advanced technology. There is nothing wrong with the fairytales of Star Wars and Avatar but the emphasis on that kind of storytelling has come at the cost of proper science fiction. In that respect, Europa Report is a refreshing relief as it is a science fiction film with actual science in it. The movie exists somewhere between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien; in many respects Europa Report is what Prometheus was trying to be but this film is far more successful. It’s smarter and more coherent and it balances scientific realism with the demands of dramatic moviemaking. This is apparent in all aspects of the film. The production design is very practical. The spaceship sets include a lot of convincing detail and the props and costumes have a credible look. The cinematography is also impressive, especially for a found footage movie. A common problem of found footage pictures is that the existence of the footage is often incredible and the justification for continued shooting when the situation gets chaotic becomes increasingly strained. But the premise of Europa Report is such that the existence of the footage is completely plausible and never distracting. The film also does a nice job of teasing the audience. There are no grand visuals of the characters set against the landscape and the limitation gives the movie additional credibility while also keeping the focus of the film on the experiences of the characters. This balance of scientific realism and dramatic moviemaking is most apparent in the performances. All too often in movies, academics are presented as either absent minded professors or mad scientists. But the cast of Europa Report are fully characterized people motivated by an altruistic desire to expand human knowledge. The performances of the actors play into this and they come across as common people trying to do something extraordinary. That further distinguishes this film. Europa Report is a movie that dramatizes the heroism of scientific endeavors, a value that is underrepresented in mainstream movies.

What Doesn’t: Europa Report is a found footage movie and this film approaches its story with a nonlinear assembly. There is no apparent reason why the footage is presented out of chronological order. It doesn’t add to the drama or create meaningful juxtapositions of events or images. Instead it makes the narrative confusing, if only for moment, as the viewer has to reorient him or herself in order to figure out where the movie is in its timeline. Europa Report also suffers from a weak ending. This is a film about the danger of exploration, analogizing these astronauts with explorers of earlier centuries who traveled to distant lands and expanded human knowledge at great personal risk. The story is intended to embolden the audience and honor the heroic spirit of exploration but the very end of the movie undermines that goal. The finale is not executed in a way that sufficiently emphasizes the honor of sacrificing oneself for the sake of human advancement. Instead, the movie concludes on a note that is more akin to a slasher film, with a mysterious threat remaining in the wilderness. 

Bottom Line: Europa Report may appeal more to those who read the literary science fiction of authors like Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan than those who look forward to the latest Hollywood shoot-‘em-up. But Europa Report is both intellectually and dramatically engaging and impressively produced.

Episode: #452 (August 18, 2013)