Europa Report

Europa Report2013
90 minutes
Director: Sebastián Cordero
Writer: Philip Gelatt (screenplay)

I hadn’t heard of this movie until I found it on Netflix, at least not that I remember.  Europa Report was outstanding, almost as good as District 9. The cast includes: Daniel Wu, Sharlto Copley, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra,Michael Nyqvist, Anamaria Marinca, Embeth Davidtz, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Dan Fogler, with a cameo by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Performed in a found footage-type format using stationary observation cameras aboard the Europa One, at all times you feel like part of the environment and at no time do you feel you are being played at or patronized.  The images are clear and effectively constructed to draw you into the story without making you feel ill – if you’re like me and suffer from motion sickness when driving your own car. (Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project were unpleasant viewings.) The story also leaves you with a sense of satisfaction, even though none of the astronauts make it home.

The movie starts at the end, with the cameras being blacked out one by one by a radiation surge. In the near future, the space ship Europa One has been sent to the moon of Jupiter to investigate the subsurface oceans and look for signs of life; and, about half way there, an intense solar storm fries the communications equipment. These somewhat confusing images are punctuated by Dr. Samantha Unger’s (Embeth Davidtz) emotional explanation on camera that the images we just witnessed were the last they saw of the mission, leaving Mission Control with no idea if the ship was in tact or if the crew survived. The found footage arrived months later to explain what took place in the lost period.

The remaining hour-plus takes us through the astronauts’ story camera by camera with intermittent interludes of news footage and interviews. The astronauts struggle to keep the mission going as planned, despite the loss of a crew member who floated away in space while attempting to repair the communications panel. The “stationary” cameras are labeled in the corner of the screen as “CAM A”, “CAM B”, and so on, including helmet cams for EVA walks and exteriors cams.  The characters are developed by indirect actions and dialogue, because you see them as they are living with each other on a lengthy adventure in space, using their living space and crew space without apparent posing. There is a natural feel to the interactions and motions.

Throughout the playback of selected points in the two-year journey to Jupiter, other scientists are interviewed about why the mission was launched, why they chose Europa, and brief explanations of certain mission milestones, since the astronauts themselves aren’t explaining to the cameras what each of them already knows, unlike traditional movies where points in the plot are self-explained by the characters for the benefit of the audience. For instance, when the ship misses the planned landing zone on Europa’s surface, a scientist interview explains why the particular spot was chosen and why the offset posed issues with the mission.

I recommend this movie for any fans of science fiction or those interested in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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