Europa Report Review

(3.5 STARS)

Mere minutes into Europa Report, we’re told the space mission being chronicled—one that would, for the first time, send man into deep space—was watched intensely by the general public for six months before it went dark. The four men and two women on board Europa One—a vessel headed for the icy Jupiter moon it’s named after—wouldn’t be heard from again on Earth for quite some time, but the cameras remained rolling.

Yes, Europa Report is a “found footage” movie. Yes, the last sci-fi film to employ this technique was Apollo 18. But like last year’s tremendously engaging found-footage cop film End of Watch, this film is a textbook example of merging style and substance. The you-are-there approach is essential to Europa Report‘s story, and coupled with its jumbled chronology, it helps create a mesmerizing mystery.

The six individuals aboard the vessel are William (Daniel Wu), the crew leader; Daniel (Christian Camargo) and Katya (Karolina Wydra), both science officers; Andrei (Michael Nyqvist) and James (Sharlto Copley), engineers; and Rosa (Anamaria Marinca), a pilot. In much of the footage shown after the mission went dark, James is curiously absent. And only one of the crew members appears to be recounting the story documentary-style, along with the mission’s financier, Dr. Samantha Unger (Embeth Davidtz). So how exactly did the crew shrink from six to five to, presumably, one?

Europa Report could have been edited together chronologically. It would have given the film a very Sunshine-esque feeling. Instead, director Sebastian Cordero gives us all the information we need to know about his characters and their fates up front. It’s a rather bold approach that sort of negates the idea of spoilers. Is Europa Report less thrilling because we (think we) know who survives and who doesn’t? Absolutely not. That’s because the visuals are awe-inspiring and the film is ultimately all about discovery. No one knows what’s out there, what’s in store for them next.

The film, thankfully, doesn’t rely on terribly shoddy sci-fi concepts to get its characters to Jupiter. It’s based in the real world, even if the notion of sending men and women to Jupiter seems impossible, even a little laughable. But the relative verisimilitude also adds to the film’s tension and your ultimate enjoyment of it. And yes, things get a little crazy once the characters arrive on Europa, but by that point, you’re strapped in and ready to follow them anywhere, doing anything.

While the film isn’t exactly an actor’s showcase, there are some decent enough performances to be found. Sharlto Copley (of District 9 fame) and Michael Nyqvist (of the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as well as Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol) are arguably the two biggest names in the cast. They also give the two strongest performances, but don’t sleep on Anamaria Marinca (one of the women from Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), who wears the pain of far too many mission mishaps and malfunctions on her face at all times.

In a lot of ways, this is the film Prometheus should have been. While I enjoyed the visual grandeur of Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, a lot was lost trying to turn that film into some grand parable for the human experience. Europa Report aims lower, but not so low that it feels cheap or anything less than essential sci-fi.

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