Europa Report (2013)

It’s pretty rare these days that you come across a found footage film that isn’t ostensibly like viewing a camera with a sprite bottle taped over it shoved up someone’s snotty nose whilst they choke and splutter and say things like, “oh my god oh my god oh my god” and “*gasp* what was that?” Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when Europa Report went some way to actually giving the idea of found footage a bit of credit.

Set almost entirely on a space shuttle, and shot through various on-board and on-suit cams, six of the best astronauts from around the globe are sent on an incredible privately-funded mission to Europa – the fourth biggest moon of Jupiter – to seek out potential new life amongst and under the ice in “The Chaos Zone” (which I can only assume was one of the lost areas in The Crystal Maze).

The beginning of their journey starts with a nice little nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey – with “Blue Danube” being piped into the cabin by Mission Control after take-off. I’m sure everyone back in the writer’s room had a proper little giggle about that, and then clapped themselves on the back for writing another film about bad things happening on/near Jupiter  - nevertheless, it was a sweet homage and I doff my cap appropriately.

The sojourn to Jupiter is (unsurprisingly) a long one , and when the crew’s communications systems are fried due to a solar flare it gets much. much longer. For the crew – and for the watcher. It is. So. Boring. We’re on a spaceship. We’re taking off! We’re in space. Let’s do space things. Spacey spacey space. WE GET IT. Whilst the sequence clearly aims to represent the passing of time,  director Sebastián Cordero seems to have missed the mark between an overly-jumpy episodic montage and the feeling that you are aware of your cells replicating and dying. Unfortunately, this means the point at which they actually arrive at their destination is 25 minutes in, and for an hour and a half long film, that’s a surprising amount of time before you come close to any action. Having said that, it’s an allowable flaw in what is arguably his first “popular” feature film).

There’s also the, slightly more personal, issue of the ridiculously jarring musical interlude where amongst the celestial, resolute soundtrack that Bear McCreary (known for penning incidentals for The Walking Dead, Battlestar Galactica, and hilariously Step Up : 3D) provides a scene which includes what I can only describe as a middle-class white woman to be “some type of gangster rap.” (I’d appreciate it if you could read that in the Queen’s english) I don’t need a detailed explanation as to why this felt wrong  - it was just bloody awful and totally unneccessary.

Despite the yawn-fest of a beginning, I actually really got into the film. The cast were a solid group – Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca) being a personal favourite – she provided an interesting stability and calm in a tumultuous setting, and whilst I found parts of the film tedious – it definitely wasn’t the fault of the actors. James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley) also deserves a mention – his part in the film is somewhat fleeting – but he managed to truly encapsulate being in lost in space (something I refer to as the Major Tom effect). Interestingly, Gravity hit screens about 5 months later – was 2013 the year of the spacewalk gone awry?

The inevitable space-age creepy crawly was.. a little disappointing in the end. The whole duration of the film we are promised the unknown; an unspecified entity whose only tell-tale is a mysterious blue light beneath the ice. It emits high levels of radiation, and electromagnetic pulses which disrupt the camera feeds (a nice touch to add visual interest, kudos). Yet at the end, we’re “treated” to one glimpse of this terrifying, hidden beast – and it’s a CGI black mecha-octopus with blue tipped tentacles. As far as I’m concerned this was a major downfall in the film; I’m a huge advocate of leaving things like that to the imagination, and for me it sliced straight through the atmosphere that had spent an hour building up.

Europa Report also caused me to ponder this; why is it an almost constant necessity to “wrap-up” films with a delicate disney-style “aren’t our men brave” re-account of what happened? So often in this 21st century hollywood era even if the story isn’t pushed down your throat during the film, it most definitely will be at the end, as if the writer is saying “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT THE WONDERFUL STORY I CREATED, DID YOU GET IT, I’LL EXPLAIN IT ONCE MORE. VALIDATE ME.” -and that makes me really sad.

Especially in a sci-fi genre – whilst not all other genres are deliberately dumbed down (although arguably some are) – as a general rule of thumb even the casual watcher of sci-fi horror *tends* to understand the concept of the new and abnormal. I felt it a bit of an unnecessary addendum to what could have been a pretty solid ending in its own right.

In conclusion – this film has a lot not to like, and yet somehow through all of the niggles, I found it a genuinely enjoyable watch.  It won’t be a cult-classic, and I doubt it’ll be winning any Oscars – but you could do a lot worse than to cosy up with this rough diamond and a beer or two.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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