Europa Report (2013)

Europa Report poster

Europa Report poster

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

I watched Europa Report because Netflix thought that I wouldn’t like it; I found that suggestion both mysterious and slightly offensive. For the record, I did like the film, but in fairness to Netflix, I suppose that I didn’t love it.

Briefly, Europa Report focuses upon Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, and perhaps the most likely place within the solar system to find life outside of Earth. Specifically, the movie follows the journey of an international team of astronauts and scientists that embark upon an ill-fated mission of exploration to the eponymous moon. Is that a generic enough synopsis for you? On the one hand, that’s intentional, in order to avoid spoilers, but it’s also because the film is, to be sure, rather uncomplicated, though it is very sophisticated.

On its storytelling merits, I think this is a solid three (out of five) star movie, though as work of science fiction, I think that it might be somewhat better just owing to the craftsmanship evident in the production and the pains that the filmmakers took in order to imbue the overall experience with a good degree of plausibility and scientific authenticity.

I also can’t fault the acting, which on the average is quite good, particularly in light of the fact that the script spends hardly any time at all defining the ensemble cast. It falls squarely on the shoulders of this capable group to convey the essence of these people we’re meant to care about. And we do. Care about them, I mean. Sharlto Copley gets some of the best character building material in the film, but he deserves it–he’s a stand-out character actor and always fun to watch.

Where I fault the filmmakers is at the level of narrative structure, which they’ve somewhat awkwardly shoehorned into the mold of a found footage horror film. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but they’ve also decided to order the scenes non-chronologically for dramatic purposes in addition to employing another kind of narrative flip in the climax that, while not unclever, feels a bit over-contrived. These contrivances are especially problematic in Europa Report, because the film suffers a bit from multiple-personality disorder. It starts as a documentary, with commentary from the ground crew juxtaposed against the main action, but the filmmakers have no follow-through for that storytelling conceit.

In short, I think that Europa Report would have benefited from ditching the horror genre trappings and playing it more or less straight. But…I don’t know. Maybe that’s just pointless Monday Morning Quarterbacking. On the whole, I enjoyed Europa Report, but I nevertheless felt that I had been sold a bit short on something.

Europa ReportWith that said, if you consider yourself a connoisseur of science fiction films (one apt line that I read somewhere stated that Europa Report puts the “science” back in “science fiction”), I would suggest that you probably owe it to yourself to watch Europa Report, if for no other reason than to support filmmakers who elect not to dumb down the science content in order to court mass market appeal. Make no mistake, this is a niche film, but if you frequently find yourself within that niche, I think you’ll enjoy the journey, even if the destination isn’t, perhaps, terribly thrilling.

After all, Europa is probably a bit difficult to get really excited about unless you are an inveterate science nerd. And try as they might, the filmmakers behind Europa Report faced an uphill battle making ice and radiation into compelling drama, twists notwithstanding.