Europa Report (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Six cosmonauts are sent on a once-in-a-lifetime mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, to gather evidence of a possible extraterrestrial life form(s). After months of traveling through space, William (Daniel Wu) and his crew have landed safely on the icy terrain. Everyone is excited to explore and discover what Europa has to offer. However, strange interferences in technology and a sighting suggest that they may not be alone.
Small in scope but large in ambition, “Europa Report,” directed by Sebastián Cordero, is a tense experience because the material manages to combine wonder, curiosity, and horror in a flask. No, it does not offer aliens running about and killing people–nor does it have to. Its confidence behind a subtler approach shows that the found footage sub-genre has a place in the movies when done exactly right.
I often complain about statics and glitches coming off too gimmicky in found footage flicks, but it works here. It becomes a part of the characters’ frustrations: not hearing a fellow astronaut over the mic, cameras tuning in and out due to solar flares, among others. Most notably, the camera does not shake vigorously when absolutely nothing is happening. Though a seemingly elementary concept, too many pictures that might have been good–but ending up nauseating–make such a critical misstep so consistently.
I enjoyed that small moments made a lasting impact on me. James (Sharlto Copley) has a little boy back home and at one point he says that the next time they will see each other is when his son is six. The journey to Jupiter and back is about two years. That may not sound too long but I think that if one is a parent, two years of not seeing your child is a long time. James may not have been given a proper character arc but, like the others, he is given one or two scenes that gives us important information which may inspire us to imagine how his or her life might be like on Earth.
The special and visual effects are a marvel at times but never ostentatious. We see plenty, like the surface of the moon and what is underneath the ice, but there is no constant reminder that what we are seeing should be noticed. It is all a part of the experience; it feels like we are in the middle of what the explorers are going through.
Based on the screenplay by Philip Gelatt, “Europa Report” may have benefitted from tighter editing and excision of certain scenes, especially toward to end, but its deficiencies do not get in the way of us wanting to know what is going to happen or how will things play out given that Routes X, Y, and Z have been exhausted. I was so into it that it really made me think about whether a scientific advancement, big or small, is worth a person’s life.