ALL THESE WORLDS
ARE YOURS EXCEPT
-2061: Odyssey Three-
I was eleven, and very lonely, when I discovered the work of Arthur C. Clarke. His science-fiction was a welcome environment for someone like me. He delighted in telling stories with character thrilled to discover new things. No matter the environment, someone would always be willing to step up and take that first, dark, step into the unknown.
It's the second half that people forget sometimes. Who knows how many deaths we have endured as a race because of our desire to touch the unknown. Every great discovery is built on the words, and blood, of those who came before them. People forgot that when it came to Prometheus because it was partly cloaked in the style of fanciful science-fiction serials from the early days of Hollywood. Others may forget that about Europa Report because it's clad in the style of a found-footage thriller, when really it's all about the discovery.
All the praise I'm set to give Europa Report is tempered by one thing going in. This is a lumbering monster of a movie. The attempts at turning it into a survival thriller a little over halfway in stymie the legitimate awe of discovery that is the film's primary strength - and even though I was not a fan of the shift in tone, the direction by Sebastián Cordero keeps the transition solid. The fanciful zone of zero-gravity and prepackaged garlic meals replaced by stifling close-ups and shots of the endless expanse of space, all coupled with an undeniable chill that creeps into the frame in the form of frost and the deathly still environment of Europa.
Before things go wrong, we've settled into the daily rhythm of the crew of Europa One. None of the personalities are distinct, even with the presence of that now omnipresent science-fiction figure Sharlto Copley, but they all share in the same professionalism and joy of discovery. They form a mass of personality, but that personality is so pleasing that I can't complain too much. Their shared awe when landing on Europa is a quietly beautiful moment, and there is delight in the matter-of-fact way they treat their gizmos that provide gravity on some ledges but not others.
We get to know the crew of Europa One through a pseudo-documentary lens. Europa Report is not a found-footage film, but a true fictional documentary. A great point of emphasis made throughout the film is in highlighting the sacrifice that each of them are making by going on this trip, and of the new things they uncover. However, in a sly touch, the film rarely ever forgets to remind us that the Europa Ventures CEO, Dr. Unger (Embeth Davidtz), is behind the scenes making sure that we see exactly what she wants to see. Even in the midst of one of the greatest scientific expeditions of all recorded history we get that nice corporate reminder at the bottom of the screen just who made it all possible.
It's not a cynical touch, but a stylish one that suits the images Dr. Unger chooses to reveal to the population of Earth. The footage becomes choppy and deliberate as the crew members begin to lose contact and have to plan their moves carefully. It's hinted that this is another manipulation from Dr. Unger as there are several beautiful, full-motion shots of the moon and its surface. One amazing sequence shows the beaming eyes of the crew as they watch a probe film the icy, crystalline depths of the moon's ocean.
Another touch that I liked was in the way Sebastián Cordero manipulate the sound. There is a fair share of bangs and crashes, yes, but also careful silence as the ship slowly descends to the surface of the moon. When there is a soundtrack present, its music that reminded me greatly of the work Zbigniew Preisner did for the films of Krzystof Kieslowski. A haunting flute gently comes over the images of people who are thrilled to grasp the next step of the unknown, and how small that makes them feel.
Europa Report is a film that does not entirely succeed, but one that I wish would be attempted more often. Even when it descends into a feat of survival, it's still one with the goal of expanding knowledge at whatever personal cost that might be. The unknown is terrifying, but for those who get some answers, it is the most wonderful culmination of a life spent questioning.
Directed by Sebastián Cordero.
Screenplay written by Philip Gelatt.
Starring Embeth Davidtz, Sharlto Copley, and Michael Nyqvist.