Review: Europa Report

An attempt to capture the realities of space travel falls flat in this anti-film.

Europa Report first came to my attention for two reasons: it stars Sharlto Copley and in direct contrast to typical Hollywood movies, is meant to be a realistic take on a space mission. Unfortunately it forgot to be a film along the way, lacking competent storytelling. It’s so focused on aping a documentary format, it ultimately ended up as a fake boring imitation.

So it’s a fake documentary trying to be a film, but failing. The director and writer show only rudimentary knowledge of the basic elements of storytelling. The story jumps back and forth in time for no discernible reason other than the fact that it’s what films tend to do. There’s no thought put into the structure of the script, no natural transitions that are there to convey a theme or provide momentum, we just shuffle around at random.

The viewer has to suffer 30 minutes of nothing. No interesting characters, no interesting plots or sub-plots, visually barren, a dearth of turning points. We have to wait 48 minutes before anything remotely interesting happens, but even that is telegraphed with lazy characterisation, anybody who mentions a kid is obviously going to have bad things happen to them, right? I thought this was meant to be the antithesis of Hollywood cliches? There is also deep irony in the dispatching of another character, as they act like an idiotic horror film victim, which surely this story was meant to be a response to. This space craft is meant to be populated by realistic professionals, yet it has time to follow a horror film trope by having one of them walk directly into danger despite repeated warnings.

For a science fiction tale it’s visually boring, populated by static cameras, the realism it’s so intent on following absolutely kills it. Its only value is of a thought experiment, to explore the question of what a voyage to Europa might entail. But considering we’ll learn things in the future that may cause some elements of this ‘documentary’ irrelevant, inaccurate and out of date, the adherence to realism is even more of a mistake.

Where’s the awe, where’s the grandeur? A character looks out of a window and says, “it takes your breath away” but it doesn’t. The CGI is understandably not amazing considering the relatively low budget, but storytelling will always trump fancy effects, and this mockumentary lacks interesting characters, plot, themes, etc. It has an interesting premise, but doesn’t live up to it. We’ve seen this kind of premise played out in literature thousands of times, but when working in the cinematic medium you really need to make use of every filmmaking tool at your disposal. The found footage genre is totally the wrong genre for this kind of story.

The actors try their best, but they don’t have much to work with, inhabiting boring sets and giving jargon-filled dialogue. Europa Report has a fitting title that tells you what to expect. This is not a spiritual successor of any sorts to the likes of 2001, Apollo 13, etc. It’s a fictional report, and not a captivating film that deals with humans stretching to the stars no matter what the odds.

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