Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Europa Report

This review is Spoiler-free.

As they pass our moon, six brave, adventurous souls become the history-making humans who have traveled further away from their home than anyone ever before. And every second after that moment only adds to their success... until things start to go wrong.

They start out their 4 year space voyage excited and hopeful. Their mission is to land on one of Jupiter's moons, Europa, to take samples for studying. The moon is frozen, but studying from afar had found evidence of the possibility of water under the frozen surface, and with that, some even hope to discover some form of life. But six months in, the first thing goes wrong that starts a slow downward spiral -- their communication with Earth and mission control is cut off, and they are left all alone, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

More like to tensely where no one has gone before.

The team of six is made of two pilots, Rosa (Anamaria Marinca) and William (Daniel Wu), two engineers, James (Sharlto Copley) and Andrei (Michael Nyqvist), and two scientists, Katya (Karolina Wydra) and Daniel (Christian Camargo). By the end of the movie all of them had distinctive characters, but some more than others and some sooner than others. Rosa comes across early as a leader, (though technically William is the captain) and qualifies as the lead protagonist. James, besides being very cool simply because he's Sharlto Copley, is the fun one, and the most sympathetic one being the only one we know has a family back on Earth. Katya is the overly-emotional one; Andrei is mentally unsteady; and William and Daniel were the least defined.

But this movie isn't a character piece. All of them were mostly only developed as far as they needed to help the story along, and anything extra was just a nice treat. I was glad James got a little extra, because the reason I actually got around to seeing this was because of my new favorite Sharlto Copley. However, once his presence got me in the door, the movie itself is what I enjoyed most.

The crew of Europa One. Left to right: Daniel, Andrei, William, Katya, James, and Rosa.

The film was done in a Mockumentary/found-footage style, and very strictly. Cameras were mounted around the spaceship and elsewhere, like on the shoulders of spacesuits for a POV look, and one inside the helmet for a shot of the face -- all done for documentation purposes. So often the shot wasn't the "best" angle, with people's faces being half cut out, or having their backs to the camera. This style created a really great effect of wanting to see more, like I was craning my neck the whole time, but not so much to be annoying, only add to the suspense.

And suspense was the order of the day. Though, very interestingly, nothing was a surprise. Somehow or another I always knew what was going to happen before it happened, and it was done on purpose. It was interesting, because I still felt the tension of the moment every time. It wasn't all in chronological order, the time-jumping first of all making you have to pay attention, and also allowing for the perfect slow burn of the suspense. That suspense and the plot started out promisingly ominous, and building to a dizzying pitch before coming to an abrupt and shocking halt that left me still not totally surprised, but with eyes wide and jaw dropped.

Even with the restricting filming style, I was still wowed by Europa's landscapes.

Understated sci-fi is a genre that has never failed to impress and entertain me, and Europa Report was no exception, but a fine and realistic addition. Because I enjoy the genre, I enjoyed the film, and chances are, if you do too, you will too, but if you don't, you won't. In the light of day and reality it was perhaps a little silly for being so serious and trying too hard to be profound, but that to me is just another sign of its success at being as convincing and involving as it was in the moment. This film was masterful with that dangerous but useful tool called "suspense," and crafted a simple, but slick, sharp and very memorable journey into the far and foreboding reaches of space.

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