Caught between straight science fiction and a monster flick, Europa Report is about a team of scientists sent to one of Jupiter’s moons in search for signs of life. Shot in the found footage style with elements of a documentary film, it hopes to bring our infinitesimal significance in the universe to the foreground of scientific discovery. Unfortunately, through melodramatic editing and poor choices involving the inclusion of cheap thrills, Europa Report looses its focus on a pertinent topic surrounding scientific discovery today: the insignificance of human life compared to the discovery of the cosmos.
Filmed in conjunction with the real life discovery of bodies of water on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa Report sits on the fringe of fiction. A scientific journey into the not-too-distant realm of possibility, it positions itself early on as an exploration of the value of human life in the face of the infinite abyss of space.
Presumably set in the near future, perhaps even today, a team of specialists is sent on a journey of undefined extent of time to Europa. The team is tasked with collecting samples from Jupiter’s moon, and hopefully discovering signs of independently evolved life forms. The journey to Europa is long, spanning approximately two years. As is expected with such a distant and unfamiliar journey, things go wrong, and lives are put at risk.
As they approach Europa, it seems evident that, not only have microorganisms such as algae begun to grow on the moon, but so have larger, more complex creatures. What began as a quest for knowledge quickly turns into the team fighting for their lives, terrified of the very real possibility of never making it home.
The found footage style used in the film could have taken it to incredible places. If used properly, it could have emphasized the isolation of the Europa One project, allowed a unique approach to character development, and given the entire film a level of gravitas that hasn’t been seen in science fiction for some time now. However, rather than allow the naturally slow pace of surveillance footage to run its course, melodramatic editing tactics were employed to make the film more accessible. Rather than allowing us to naturally become familiar with the characters and come to feel their pain and fear along the journey, the audience is manipulated into caring about them in a hackneyed manner that belittles the weight of the subject matter being handled.
Similarly, space is portrayed as a daunting abyss, almost as monstrous as what they encounter on Europa. Rather than showcase its endless potential, wonder and the natural fear that comes at the realization of our cosmic insignificance as a race, space is instead vilified. Though it should terrify us, there is no need to represent the infinite vastness that has yet to be discovered as an obstacle, but rather an element of wonder. This awe is briefly explored at the film’s conclusion, and not nearly in enough depth.
Europa Report unfortunately comes across as a space odyssey that can’t seem to focus on a point. Is it exploring the moral conundrums of the value of human life in relation to the discovery of our solar system? Or is it simply a group of scientists hunted by an unknown entity? The tension runs thick, but its origins are left unclear, adding confusion to the plot. The manipulative editing style only further amplifies this ambiguity, doing a great disservice to what could have otherwise been one of the better science fiction films in the past decade. Sadly, it misses the mark, leaving yet another simply adequate film on the roster of new releases.