Directed by: Sebastián Cordero
Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Sharlto Copley, Christian Camargo
Available On: Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Blu-Ray, DVD
I love space. The planets, the sun, the moon. Our solar system is an amazing backyard of equal parts mystery and beauty, a place that begs to be both explored and understood. In time, humans from Earth will branch out to discover the wonders of our mighty night sky and to answer the question: Is there life, other than ours, in this solar system?
Europa Report is a movie that attempts to answer that very question, and in-turn, entertain us at the same time.
Taking place in the near-future, a privately funded crew six of six astronauts is dispatched to the surface of Jupiter’s sixth moon, Europa, in search of microbial life deep under the ice within the moon’s vast ocean.
After a year of mission time, a solar storm hits the ship, knocking out communication with mission control. Engineers’ Andrei and James perform an extra-vehicular activity (EVA) to repair the system from the outside, but an accident contaminates James’ suit with toxic chemicals, leaving him stranded outside the ship as it continues its journey to Europa. In addition to losing James, the crew is also beginning to suffer from “cabin fever”, as the journey to Europa has been a long one, with very little to do other than study and exercise, as the zero G environment demands constant fitness to combat muscular degradation.
Upon arrival, the crew safely lands on Europa’s extremely icy surface, although a mile away from the intended landing zone. They soon realize that their current position will severely hamper their ability to drill through the thick layer of ice in order to deploy a mobile camera and biological data collector into the water. Katya, the mission’s marine biology science officer suggests that she leave the lander in order to collect samples from the intended landing site, although the ship’s computers show that radiation levels outside are not only dangerously high but are fluctuating unpredictably. One thing is made absolutely clear once the crew begins their investigations. They are not alone on Europa.
From the beginning, Europa Report is an incredibly sleek-looking film, very reminiscent of other space flicks like Moon, Love, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more recently, Gravity. Although primarily a “found-footage” style film, cinematographer, Enrique Chediak, does a marvelous job capturing the visual quietness of space and the degrading emotions and desolate environment of the ship and its crew. Director Sebastián Cordero (2004’s Crónicas) succeeds, for the most part, in bringing a cohesive feel to the ship’s crew. You really sense that the first few weeks and months of the journey went by without a hitch, but as time goes by, six people cramped together in close quarters can and will wear on even the most trained of cosmonauts.
Pilot Rosa Dasque, played by Anamaria Marinca, is both staunch and powerful in her role, and often finds herself being the voice of reason even as the impending chaos mounts around her. I found her character of Rosa to be somewhat similar to Radha Mitchell’s character, Caroyln, in Pitch Black- wherein Carolyn finds herself the unlikely hero of the day despite insurmountable odds.
I also found myself strangely attached to the character of Katya (Karolina Wydra) and her all-or-nothing, selfless decision to brave the dangerous radiation and unknown peril by leaving the ship to collect data samples for the good of the mission. A subtle aspect of her role was also the fact that she was the first human being to set foot on an alien moon, which I’m sure would have gained her immortal stardom and perhaps a high school or two named in her honor.
Europa Report does a lot of things right, but also stumbles a few times and nearly collapses under its own weight at one point. The entire idea of a mission to Europa is both entirely possible and most likely probable in our space-faring future, however I would have liked a bit more back story on the lead-up to the mission. Dropped smack dab into a movie like this without a proper explanation is assuming that you, the viewer, will by-default accept the idea that we now have the means to travel great distances through space and at the same time remain relatively safe and somewhat comfortable. I have no problem with movies that want me to wrap my head around fanciful technology, but at least give me a little explanation time so I can say, “oh I see, that’s how they did that”. While I don’t expect this sort of lesson in any movie (we still don’t understand how the Death Star moves from system to system), a semi-realistic film like Europa Report might have done well to include some kind of background on the tech at play here. It’s really not a big deal, and by no means a deal-breaker.
My only other problem was that at its most brilliant moments, Europa Report left me empty-handed, wanting more than what was being offered. I don’t require huge payoffs from every movie I see, but in the case of something like Europa Report, where the filmmaker is toying with the notion that life might exist in the oceans of Jupiter’s moon, I want a little bit more than just a glimpse of some cheese and a “thanks for stopping by.” Several scenes were right on the cusp of doing incredible things, yet 9 times out of ten, I was left with the feeling of being teased by a buxom exotic dancer that won’t dance. This particular complaint is mostly topical, as I still heavily enjoyed this movie and all of its weighty themes. And hell, it’s space for crying out loud!
Europa Report is an odd bird, but one I heartily enjoyed. If you like films that take you on a journey through the dark-empty of space and you revel in the amazing possibility that extra terrestrial life might exist in our own solar system, by all means watch.