By Don Simpson | August 1, 2013
Director: Sebastián Cordero
Writer: Philip Gelatt
Starring: Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Sharlto Copley, Dan Fogler, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
For six months, the world watched as the Europa One — a private, multinational venture — ventured into deep space. By the time the mission feed went dead, the Europa One crew had ventured further than human beings have ever traveled away from Earth. Thankfully for us, thousands of hours of recently declassified footage has been edited into a feature length film. Ah, yes, Europa Report is a low budget, sci-fi found footage film, assembled from the Europa One’s many on board cameras that — despite the feed to Earth going dead — continued to monitor everything that happened on the ship.
Europa One’s primary mission is to search for signs of life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon after receiving reports that seemed to suggest the presence of lakes beneath Europa’s frozen surface. As we all know, wherever water has been found, life has also been discovered. The journey to Europa is one of unabashed mundanity, claustrophobic emptiness and psychiatrically traumatic seclusion. The crew must make a series of difficult yet mathematically calculated choices (the first one being to continue the mission after losing contact with mission command) and sacrifice themselves for the ultimate purpose of history-altering, scientific discoveries. Despite their precision, the crew’s greatest enemies seem to be technical glitches, human errors and the unknown…
Director Sebastián Cordero’s Europa Report excels in its subtle attention to detail and logical grounding in scientific reality. Though we do not currently have the technology to support human travel to Jupiter’s moons today, Cordero and his production team create a fathomable spaceship for the future. It all makes perfect sense, and when things do go wrong — which of course they do — it never seems unfounded. Even the characters act (and speak) like scientists, not Hollywood action heroes.
In the found footage genre, the editing structure and camera angles are two of the most important components to consider in terms of maintaining a high level of realism. I often wonder what the motivation and goal is for the fictional person who accesses and reconstructs the found footage; we never get to meet that person or figure out why they did what they did. For Europa Report, it is overwhelmingly clear that the footage was assembled by a fictional editor who wanted to construct a dramatic film. The seemingly random, non-linear assembly of the footage is meant to derive tension and intrigue, but it ends up muddling the authenticity of the narrative. That said, Cordero’s unflinching dedication to only using authentic camera angles almost makes up for the haphazard editing. The bevy of on board cameras are purposefully placed, both in terms of the logistics of the spaceship but also in the framing of the narrative. When the static camera angles seem too boring, Cordero is able to cut away to the confessional handheld video cameras operated by the crew. Even with its budget restraints and found footage techniques, Europa Report is a visually intriguing film that is also quite profound.