What’s it About?
An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon.
Directed by Sebastián Cordero
8 out of 10
Wow. I was really surprised by Ecuadorian director Sebastian Cordero’s (Rage, Cronicas, La Caverna) science fiction thriller, Europa Report. Pleasantly surprised. Cordero, working from a tight and lean script from “The Bleeding House” scribe, Philip Gelatt, does one thing right as soon as the film begins. He infuses it with realism and brings back actual science to a genre that is ripe and over saturated with CGI (Gravity being the respectable exception of course), aliens, big battleships and exploding planets. His die hard and straightforward storytelling is unique and refreshing since he treats the realism with tension, accuracy and starry imagery that lingers way after the film has concluded.
Cordero even manages to tip his hat off to scientists and film-makers alike in this movie. Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick being chief among them. (Cordero’s film leaves the meta physical stuff to loftier directors respectively) Meanwhile, what is shocking is that the film falls under that most dreaded and over-revered sub-genre of the “found footage” movie. But, strangely enough, the film doesn’t feel like one. It is most often, and smartly, just a collection of small scenes that were recorded from various cameras set up around the Europa bound space craft Europa One. The footage caught by the closed circuit cams give the movie a documentary feel that is clinical, precise and very damn compelling.
What makes this happen is that Cordero inserts scenes of actual drama that occurs not in space but back home on Earth by using a narrative incorporating characters expounding on the mission that eventually led to an un-foreseen communications blackout that lasts many months and a mysterious crisis. Cordero manages to use actual science and the pursuit of alien life, in it’s simplest form, as a springboard. For many years, astronomers, like the famed Neil deGrasse Tyson, (who is actually in a quick news clip in the movie) have been vocal about fishing for life under the ice of Europa (Jupiter’s 6th closest film) and are determined to find it in the mineral rich water.
Embeth Davidtz (Matilda, Mad Men) plays Sam Unger, who is the CEO of the company that launched Europa One into space. She is one of the few people, along with further insight provided by Dr. Sokolov (Dan Fogler) and, in news feeds from the time of launch, Dr. Tarik Pamuk (Isiah Whitlock Jr.). who give us observations into the preparations, the science, the launch (The Blue Danube is actually played for the astronauts by Mission Control at one point) and the risks of the actual mission to Jupiter’s moon. Apparently something goes wrong and when the company is forced to make an announcement, then we are shown declassified video footage of what happened. The timeline and the order in which the footage is shown and examined is thought provoking and even a bit laborious to understand. But we do get it in a fashion that mirrors an actual space movie with a tense and exciting premise.
Chronologically, things start to go wrong, not only with the crew: (William Xu (Daniel Wu), the commander; Andrei Blok (Michael Nykvist), the chief engineer; James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley), an engineer; Dr. Katyva Petrovna (Karolina Wydra), a marine biologist; and Dr. Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo ), an astrophysicist) but with the equipment. After several periods of showing the normalcy and monotony of living in space (along with more “talking heads” segments from the crew), Cordero kicks up the tension as soon as they arrive to Europa and land after being slingshot around Jupiter.
Once there the crew grapple with landing way off target, sick crew members, seeing lights in the radioactive distance, walking out into the icy climate and a desperate take off that is wrought with danger. Cordero leaves no stone un-turned in this gripping distant cousin to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film warrants repeated viewings because the layers of information, confessionals and foreshadowing compels us to dig deeper into the mystery of the exploration. And there are quite a few and Cordero makes us actually think and doesn’t spoon feed us every detail in order to clarify.
Now, the science. I may not know if the movie’s actual science is accurate but Europa Report displays that it does not dumb down and respects the intelligence of the viewer. Meanwhile, the transmissions of pilot Rosa Dasque, played by Anamaria Marinca, are strange but enlightening. Her video testimonies give us incredible insight to what the crew were feeling and the dangers involved with the mission to find life on Europa. Her videos are surely a guideline to way the events unfold.
Props to Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) who gives a compassionate and nuanced performance as the engineer James Corrigan. Copely does a great job at provoking emotion and understanding. Especially during a tight moment in the film where he needs to do a spacewalk to fix a technical problem outside of Europa One. (You’ll never look at hydrazine that same way again) Cordero manages to make this a very good ensemble piece not too unlike what Danny Boyle did with “Sunshine.” (Another distant cousin to 2001)
In closing, Europa Report has the right stuff. (yeah, I just said that) The film is full of knowledge, drama and is smart and feels very real much to it’s credit. It is also beautifully shot by DP Enrique Chediak, who has actually worked with Danny Boyle. He captures the vacuum, immensity and isolation of deep space with a wonderful eye. Even as the film makes it way to the unique conclusion, we still feel that all of this is very plausible and authentic. Also, the interior and exterior sets and FX are quite impressive, here, adding even more to the realism.
The movie tackles big things in a very little space and minimal budget and does so with finesse and resourcefulness that really resonates. The dialog is interesting and the drama appropriate. The straight narrative using the video feeds throughout, never feels hokey or sentimental. Actually the video examine by Europa Ventures actually raises more questions than answers thus giving us more fodder to debate and dwell upon. Cordero delivers a taut, suspenseful little sci fi gem with a large heart and lofty themes. Highly recommended.
Vic’s Note: “Europa Report” is available on Netflix Instant Streaming. Enjoy!