Europa Report 2

This is an independent science fiction movie. It was released a week ago, but the release is so limited it’s not in any theaters near me. Thankfully, it’s also available from On Demand for $8, which made it cheaper than actually seeing it in a theater. I was excited about this movie. It didn’t disappoint.

To be honest, watching it on the home screen I think might have worked better than at the theater, just because of the film style (found footage, so generally not high quality) and the CGI wasn’t the greatest; what flaws I was able to see on a 55″ flatscreen would have no doubt been all the more glaring on a movie screen.

This is definitely one of the most scientifically accurate movies I’ve seen in a long time. (Per Phil Plait, JPL scientists were consultants on the film, and it looks like the filmmakers really took what they said to heart.) And the science really plays into the story and helps drive and define the plot. It’s the motivation and not the villain, which was very refreshing. It also serves as a good reminder that accurate, basically present-day science still has some amazing storytelling possibilities for speculative fiction in it.

At its heart, I think the movie is very much about science, and the wonder scientists feel, and the sacrifices they are willing to make for the sake of answering one of the greatest questions to ever face our species: are we alone? The cast really sold it, I think, and Daniel Wu and Anamaria Marinca were particularly good I think.

And there’s an adorable reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey at the beginning, which I loved.

The movie is mostly found footage style, which is a format I’m increasingly disenchanted with, though I understand why it’s used–it’s generally a cheaper option. For the most part I felt like it worked pretty well, and it put us in the action with the crew. I didn’t like how some of the jumps and cuts were done, since it really didn’t fit with the narrative frame of “here we edited this together for you.” It felt like a transparent attempt to make the movie seem scarier than it was or needed to be.

This was not a scary movie, despite what the trailer wants you to think:

If you believe the trailer, this is going to be a “found footage thing where team of astronauts goes to alien world and gets horrifically eaten by sneaky, evil aliens that may or may not look like giant space spiders.” And it’s really not. It’s tense, it’s heart-wrenching at times, but this is definitely not a horror movie.

SPOILERS

Ultimately, this is a failed mission disaster story everyone dies thing. But they put enough of a twist on it that I ended up really enjoying the direction it went. The alien life is simply alien; it’s not overtly malevolent, it’s not even necessarily intelligent. It’s just life that seems to be attracted to light, and that unfortunately spells doom for a couple members of the crew.

But the real point of the movie is sacrifice: what the crew is willing to sacrifice for each other, and for the mission. The first crewmember who dies is lost while they’re still in space and traveling to Jupiter. A technical malfunction requires the two engineers to go out into space to fix it, and the younger of the engineers ends up with his suit contaminated by a toxic substance. He sacrifices himself for the good of the crew, and it’s pretty heartbreaking. And then later, the last two crewmembers on the doomed lander on Europa’s surface decide to use the power for the life support systems so that they can send the data they’ve gathered back to Earth. They give up all hope of escape so they can make certain that the answer to their question makes it back to mission control.

Really, the scene that hit me the hardest was the very end, when the lander is sinking into Europa’s ocean. The last surviving crewmember basically hastens her own death by opening the airlock and letting the water in–and letting in the lifeform that perhaps inadvertently killed them, so that the cameras can get a look at it before the power dies.

I don’t know how I feel about the alien glow squid in general, but as the answer to are we alone? it’s satisfying and makes good all the sacrifices of the crew.

2 thoughts on “Europa Report

  1. Reply Gregory Benford Jan 31,2014 02:05

    Agreed; ranks with HER for best sf of the year.

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