Editor’s Notes: Europa Report is currently available on VOD and opens in limited theatrical release on Friday, August 2nd.
Europa Report is another in a long line of sci-fi films that have graced the movie scene in what may as well be called a massive sci-fi revival in the past couple of years. Directed by Sebastián Cordero, an Ecuadorian man making his US debut with this indie film, Europa Report concerns the first manned mission in space beyond the moon; more specifically in the search for life beyond that on earth. A group of six individuals, ranging from engineers to marine biologists, are sent to Jupiter’s moon Europa to take samples. The film is told by way of flashback via two of the directors of the mission and one of the astronauts’ recorded narration.
The manner in which this film is portrayed could be said to be as important as the overall narrative itself. I’ve written of the use of surveillance as a means of subjective storytelling, but this must be seen as an extension and expansion of that model. There are what I would call 5 “modes” in which Europa Report plays out. There is the non-diegetic filmmaker construction. There is the diegetic reconstruction by the project engineers. There is the objective surveillance. There is the subjective personal videocamera, and the news/pre-existing footage. The vacillation between these “modes” creates a circuitous narrative that is effectively a huge experiment in hybridization of viewpoints be they objective, subjective or somewhere in between. It jumps back and forth between past timelines and essentially diary interviews with two of the project directors. It’s only revealed near the end that the diary of who we assumed was quite possibly the only surviving member of the mission is also, in fact, another past thread by itself. Before this, she is another talking head speaking of the mission in the past tense. The recording of her diary is no different than those of the two directors. When it is revealed that she’s not back to earth, we jump straight into the past as if we’re just catching up mid-mission.
Europa Report is a restrained piece of sci-fi with a unique formal approach and succeeds in breathing some life into a very well-worn premise.
The different objective viewpoints (most often those of the various onboard surveillance cameras) are subject to externally imposed failure and human bias, and when they’re damaged or moved, our visual field is permanently altered. There’s no manner of seeing the crew and their activities without the surveillance equipment, and thus the formation of this footage by the two directors into what we see as the real “story” is imbued with a certain meta-textual subjective characterization that can be read as analogous to the process of a film director, as these two have essentially pieced together the “film” we see. All footage in the overall film is diegetic; nothing is seen or shown via the director’s, Sebastián Cordero’s, perspective on it. In removing himself and his own visual and narrative biases, the film is granted a strange authorial imprint. It could be said to be another found footage film, and the premise is very well-worn territory, but what’s more important here is the clever hybridization. There’s an immediacy and grounded element in Cordero’s approach that lacks the rough and tired found footage aesthetic, but keeps the conceit and buries it in a pseudo-documentary circle. When life is found on Europa in the form of unicellular organisms, it’s not quite the revelation you might wish it were given the film’s adherence to this surveillance-style realism, but it nonetheless resonates. For me, Prometheus was going to herald a true return to great sci-fi, and when that film failed to live up to expectations, the sci-fi parade was rained on a bit. The discovery of life in that film was much grander and ostentatious, but it wasn’t the better for it. This is a very similar film, but its restraint makes it superior. When the alien creature is finally revealed, it’s right as the film comes to a close and we know the last crew member doesn’t survive. In her quest to relay this information to earth for the purpose of scientific progress and the shattering knowledge of real, complex life forms away from earth, she opens the vessel up and allows a flood of water to enter the ship. As she’s swallowed up by water and the footage begins to distort, the alien life form appears as a bioluminescent octopus-like creature not terribly dissimilar to those we know on earth. There’s a profundity here that is lacking in most sci-fi films of this premise. There’s a real feeling that lives were sacrificed for something truly important, and that not a single member of the crew would have regretted their decisions along the way. Europa Report is ultimately a restrained piece of sci-fi with a unique formal approach and succeeds in breathing some life into a very well-worn premise. Though it’s not 2001, it’s well worth your time.
[notification type=”star”]72/100 ~ GOOD. Europa Report could be said to be another found footage film, but what’s more important here is the clever hybridization.[/notification]