2017.33: Europa Report (2013)
Hollywood doesn’t do low-budget sci-fi too much these days, if at all- it much prefers the big blockbuster bubblegum sci-fi that attracts the multiplex crowds looking for ever more-spectacular effects. Consequently the low-budget stuff is in the indie domain of late (if you can consider anything up to $30 million low budget) and unfortunately distribution complications in this indie domain can make them tricky to see: limited theatrical runs and exclusivity deals with Netflix and Amazon mean you can be shit out of luck if you are with the wrong distribution platform – and its isn’t being helped with disc releases getting rarer (and limited to territories) all the time.
So I’ve only now finally been able to watch Europa Report, even though it has been on my to-watch radar ever since I discovered that Bear McCreary was working on the soundtrack, with the film finally arriving on terrestrial television via Film Four.
Europa Report is another of those ‘found-footage’ pictures, sequences cobbled together from onboard cameras recording the mission and (eventually) transmitted back to Earth for people to figure out what happened after communications dropped out and the mission never returned. This central conceit works rather well -its certainly a neat way of justifying that method of film construction- but unfortunately, as usual it impairs character development and distances the audience from the events. It doesn’t help that some of the footage is constructed out of sequence too, which jarringly took me out of the film a little. Ultimately I have to say I would have preferred a more traditional approach, simply telling the story without being forced to weather the rather stiff POV of onboard ship and on-suit cameras.
All that being said, the film is certainly no disaster and it is technically rather accomplished in its set-dressing and use of cgi. It may not be up the standard of that same year’s Gravity, but its budget is clearly nowhere near that film’s $100 million. I have a fancy that one day someone will make a ‘new’ quality space movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey and it may come from a direction other than the traditional Hollywood route, in just the same way as real-life space exploration seems to be being galvanised by private industry as opposed to NASA.
Frustratingly though, I have to say that I wish that Europa Report had adopted a more traditional film-making approach, and even, for that matter, had been chiefly set on Earth. A story about the backroom personnel and the astronauts families all dealing with the apparent mission failure, and perhaps an investigative storyline regards what happened and the revelation of the final transmission from Jovian space of all the missing onboard footage, unveiling all that happened, might have been more interesting. Imagine if it centered on a reporter who stumbled on a rumour of a sudden transmission a year after the communication failure, and of revelations being hushed-up in favour of expediencies required for a Europa 2 mission? Something of a 1970s political thriller building up to the final stark reveal of alien life and the icy world of Europa becoming something dangerous and cautionary?
It’s a fairly good effort though, given its inherent ‘found footage’ limitations (it’s the sub-genre that refuses to die, isn’t it).
I should also mention that it includes in its cast the recently-passed Michael Nyqvist; it’s the first film I have seen him in since he died, and it is rather sobering indeed to see him in this. He has a good part that probably deserved more screentime than he got, but that is all part of the limitations of the ‘found footage’ format. It isn’t his film- its simply that of anyone who seems to appear in front of one of those onboard cameras at particular moments. It would have been an interesting film indeed had it centered on his rather ‘background’ character throughout, particularly with how he dealt with a fellow crewmember sacrificing himself to save him. I think that’s chiefly what the film lacked, a central protagonist. We never really ‘know’ any of the characters, they are just cyphers, people stuck in a kind of ultra-expensive reality tv show that goes off the air rather abruptly.