Recent years have provided some great sci-fi releases like Moon, but have also seen far too many found footage movies in a baffling ongoing life span for a genre in need of retirement. Does it really need to continue outside of ultra low cost horror? Well the answer is no of course. But with Europa Report I was interested to see what seemed to be a relatively grounded approach to telling a story about astronauts. The idea seems simple enough with a plot about finding life on Europa, the ice covered moon of Jupiter which may hold a potential for water based organisms. But the story telling devices and overall feel of that fly on the wall approach are always a threat to effective drama and well shot sequences, and unfortunately this is a film that is in real need of an alternative narrative style.
Early on things are promising. The outside shots of the space vehicle look good and there is a great scene when the landing craft is dropped down to the surface which gives a sense of scale and is visually impressive. But elsewhere things are less inspiring, particularly the living area of the ship, which in spite of their attempts to create similar conditions to the real life International Space Station, looks far too large and too much like a set - particularly when zero gravity effects are low to keep costs down. Elsewhere there are far too many computer display shots showing time stamps and camera location details on the edges of the screen, it's a mixed bag of tricks. The cast are passable but don't have much to do even when inevitable problems come along. But this is quite low key and forgettable for a film which includes Sharlto Copley. It would have also helped to give more information about the methods of travel involved to keep the quieter scenes interesting, since everyone is waiting for them to have an accident in space or find something scary under the ice. But they never show this or even give information on how the crew gets to the destination so quickly without the type of suspended animation used in other films.
Even character drama is quite minimal, and the stresses of traveling into space are briefly touched on but never seriously explored, as are the moments when things go wrong and they carry on in the name of science. It doesn't help that things are revealed so early either, with the footage being discussed by project managers on Earth giving way later plot elements, or flash forwards in the first act draining the surprise of things to come. At times it becomes unclear when things are actually taking place, especially in one major scene which comes into play after the ship has landed but shows something which has happened before during the journey itself. A different approach could have solved a lot of this. Without the close circuit camera points of view they could have added a lot more claustrophobia to the story with better angles and lighting for the mood. If they really had to include the time scale for the journey itself lasting a quite unfeasible 20 months it might have been less distracting with stronger elements elsewhere. A new direction and a better structure could have worked far more effectively.