Europa Report is able to bring in a few startles and a fair amount of suspense, but no true surprises.
After seeing enough films on the subject, can we all agree that space travel outside the orbit of the earth seems to generally be a bad idea? This general consensus is why a film like Europa Report is able to bring in a few startles and a fair amount of suspense, but no true surprises. It certainly isn’t re-writing the deep space travel handbook, though it is trying to present it in a new and interesting way. Europa Report combines (highly improbable) found footage style filmmaking with (attempted) emotion-evoking documentary style filmmaking, but as it turns out the pairing of the two is scripted-reality overkill.
The film chronicles the voyage of a manned space mission to one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, which appears to contain water. Believing “where there is water, there is life” and backed by a private sponsor, a team of six experienced professionals embark together on the several years journey. There’s the confident pilot, William (Daniel Wu), and his ace co-pilot Rosa (Anamaria Marinca, whose big dark eyes work well staring directly into camera lenses). They have a sensible doctor (Christian Camargo), a brooding handyman (Michael Nyqvist), a beautiful biologist (Karolina Wydra), and a chummy all-American astronaut, James (District 9’s Sharlto Copley, whose appearance just made me salivate for Elysium’s release later this summer).
From the beginning we know the trip to Europa did not appear to go as planned. The team’s on-Earth leader, Dr. Samantha Unger (Embeth Davidtz), gets emotional as she recalls the day they lost contact with the team and from there the footage is used as our primary means of recounting just what happened. Watching as the crew sleep and work in their rotating artificial gravity area (just one of many 2001: A Space Odyssey references), working at their various stations, and sending messages to their loved ones back home. Halfway to Europa tragedy befalls a crewmember and it seems as though this may be the main mystery of the film as they certainly delay revealing just what happened.
Eventually the team reaches Europa and the suspense holds up better as the team realizes they’ve found more than they could have hoped. But with such a slow journey the end is like a quick rollercoaster ride at the end of a long wait in line. And the thrills, while rapid in succession, don’t feel quite gratifying enough.
If Europa Report had presented itself solely as a found footage film, it may have worked wonderfully, as the “footage” is cleverly pieced together and the look of it all is quite well done. If anything it’s a tribute to how hard it is to pull off a good documentary because the attempt here is so contrived we’re keenly aware we’re being manipulated, and it backfires. Europa Report plays coy – focusing on the characters, the mid-way tragedy and the emotional high of the potential of alien life—but the film’s end offers too many questions and answers only one: Are we alone in the universe? At which point it’s an answer that seems less significant than we’d have thought.