STARRING: Michael Nyqvist, Sharlto Copley, Embeth Davidtz, Daniel Wu, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra, Anamaria Marinca

2013, 90 Minutes, Directed by: Sebastián Cordero

With such a deficit of hard science fiction movies out there – the last one we can think of was 2009’s Moon – one desperately wants to like Europa Report, a low-budget movie starring Sharlto Copley (of District 9 fame) which goes out of its way to depict space travel as realistically as possible. That the movie is merely admirable as opposed to genuinely likeable comes as a mild disappointment, but serious science fiction buffs should still seek it out.

It is the near future. NASA has detected heat signatures beneath the frozen ocean of Europa, one of gas giant Jupiter’s moons. Could it be signs of life? A privately funded spaceship crew is sent on an eighteen-month mission to investigate. So far, so 2010.

Not much of the movie’s running time is spent on the journey to Jupiter. It must be tedious and boring as hell, and the astronauts must have a serious case of cabin fever after being cooped up together all that time, but the movie merely hints at possible interpersonal conflicts. This is a pity. Little time is spent on developing the characters and when they start dying one by one, we feel little for their predicament.

Part of the problem is that Europa Report is a so-called “found footage” movie like Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Apollo 18, et al. We follow the astronauts on their doomed mission (no plot spoilers: it is revealed pretty much early on) while we have a bunch of talking heads back on Earth spelling out onscreen events in the most patronizing way possible. Here is a movie that desperately needs to be re-edited. Dump the found footage angle and the talking heads back on Earth we say.

"Serious science fiction buffs should seek it out!"

On the plus side, Europa Report doesn’t have a lot of Vomit Cam ™ sequences because the action is technically recorded by stationary onboard cameras. For a small budget affair, the effects and sets are pretty decent too. Same goes for acting.

Mainstream Hollywood movies such as Star Trek and Star Wars have done a great disservice to the efforts of our current space program. They did a lot to make space travel look easy. The crew of the Enterprise breezily zip light years across stars and galaxies without even bothering to install seat belts on their Apple store lookalike command module. In reality, space travel is quite a hazardous endeavor.

“You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder” as Steve Buscemi’s character reminded his co-stars in 1998’s Armageddon. A lot can go wrong. The crew in Europa Report has to cope with anything from solar flares to malfunctioning equipment.

The ending may be underwhelming for movie audiences weaned on the likes of Nazis on the moon, but hard sci-fi fans will be appreciative.

Ultimately, the movie could have done with a longer running time and a more substantial storyline. Still, serious-minded science fiction fans tired of mind-numbing action spectacles should cough up for a digital download of Europa Report at Amazon (see link below) as it somewhat restores a sense of wonder to a genre consisting almost entirely of spandex-clad superheroes nowadays.


Sci-Fi Movie Page Pick: Europa Report is flawed and should be filed under “could have been better” but serious sci-fi fans will find that this low-budget movie is the perfect antidote to a lot of the Hollywood nonsense floating out there right now.


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