Starring: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Christian Camargo
After the discovery of the existence of water on Europa, Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, a crew of six Astronauts are sent on a mission to investigate this ground breaking discovery and see if there may actually be evidence of life elsewhere in our galaxy. Privately funded, it was a mission that could be viewed around the world by everyone through the various cameras around the spaceship called ‘Europa One’ 24/7. However, after a technical failure the crew lose all communications but decide to continue their mission regardless. The emergence of the footage after the technical failure reveals both the tragedy and ground breaking discoveries that the crew experienced.
Yes, I am afraid Europa Report is essentially a ‘found footage’ film, but hang on, come back! Rest assured, Apollo 18 this is not and for me the mixture of documentary style and found footage actually enhances the atmosphere and involvement of this thoughtful slow burning Sci-Fi film. At only 90 minutes it is not a long film and admittedly the found footage style of everything through the eye of set cameras within Europa One along with a back-and-forth narrative structure at first makes things difficult to watch and admittedly the film is at first hard to get into. However patience is rewarded as the film seems to grow in confidence and come into its own as the narrative develops, emerging as a film of subtle philosophical ideas.
Of course the whole concept of six astronauts on a mission in space sounds like a humongous cliché, well thankfully Europa Report avoids the clichés by giving us little background into the personality or situation of these six characters. For the entirety of their 20 month journey their sole focus is the success of the mission and that is what motivates all of their actions. They do not have the usual cliché of conflicting personalities, and this allows Europa Report to avoid getting bogged down in clunky caricature exposition that wastes everyone’s time and allows the film to be Sci-Fi that primarily focuses on the science.
Through documentary style interviews with fictional experts set after the mission and what happens during the mission, Europa Report features a narrative that encapsulates many of the ideas that motivates mankind to explore space. The idea of confirming life on other planets has always been an obsession of mankind and it solely is what drives the characters, the mission and therefore the narrative. Europa Report also serves as a cautionary tale of mankind’s arrogance in that we think we can actually understand life if it existed on other planets. These themes and ideas are never over emphasised are preached, but explored with enough subtlety and intelligence to make the viewer think and provide substance to the narrative.
As the mission goes on and things inevitable go wrong, the narrative structure and found footage style camerawork actually enhance the experience in my view. The moments we go back to are emotionally powerful and feel all the more poignant when we see them in context in the final third. Likewise the fact we can only view things from set cameras enhances the claustrophobic isolation and overall feeling of insignificance and helplessness that the crew feels when so far away from earth and in uncharted territory.
The cast, perhaps with the exception of Sharlto Copley and Michael Nyqvist, are all unknowns and give excellent and naturalistic performances. Without the character background we genuinely share the experiences and feelings of these characters and when the characters make their discoveries in the final third we genuinely share their feeling of wonder, helplessness and terror. Many people have criticised the film’s final shot, I personally thought it was perfectly judged and entirely in tune with the film’s ideas and themes, and is a shot that I found genuinely haunting and poignant.
No, Europa Report is not a perfect film; it has its flaws and certainly requires the viewer’s patience and tolerance at first, as well as characters fixing things because it is future technology so it does not have to be fully explained how they do it.
For those of you in the UK like myself, Europa Report is actually yet to be released here, but is available via the PlayStation Store for anyone with a PS3/PS4.
Despite a shaky start and using a format that should have been put to bed a long time ago, Europa Report rewards the viewer’s patience to emerge as an intelligent and thought provoking low key Sci-Fi of genuine atmosphere and intellect.