Sunday, December 15, 2013

Europa Report (2013)

It's quite a good thing to see the POV style slowly spreading out from Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity style horror movies into not just other types of horror but into different genres as well, places where the techniques these horror films more or less pioneered might be put to good - or even new and interesting - use.

Case in point is Sebastián Cordero's Europa Report, a film that documents a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa in search of hints for life outside our ecosphere via the internal and external cameras of the vessel manned by a group of astronauts (Anamaria Marinca, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist, Christian Camargo and Sharlto Copley). This being a movie, things go neither all that easily nor too well for the crew. Their mission is a bit of a different case, and they might in fact find more than they ever could have expected.

POV style techniques work wonders for doing this sort of tale on a budget, with the need to show space in form of vast, spectacular vistas mostly negated by the reality of what cameras in such a situation would be able to capture. On the other hand, Cordero does not use the film's style to avoid showing things to his audience - it's always at least as clear to the audience what's going on as it is to the characters, and the supposed multitude of cameras on board never so much constricts the information we are getting as it focuses it. To me, this seems to be an approach highly appropriate to the kind of SF Europa Report is, as close to hard SF as you'll come and still be able to tell an actual story, but not so close as to mirror the experience of reading a bad science book instead of a novel that is so typical of too much hard SF.

I'm less impressed by the fact that the film seems to get some of its science rather wrong, even though the production design as well as the special effects look perfectly believable and authentic. However, what the film gets right is rather more important to me here, for Europa Report is finally a SF film again that buys into the idea that the endeavour of science, the attempt to widen human knowledge of the universe, particularly through manned space flight, is a heroic thing, something worthy to risk one's life over, and even possibly to die for if one has so chosen. It's one of the rare movie that understand that a space flight going terribly, tragically wrong does not mean space flight or science are bad or a sign of human hubris, but rather that things in a random universe sometimes just go wrong for no reason at all.

This doesn't mean the film is blithe about human pain and suffering. In fact, Europa Report gains some of its strength by acknowledging it absolutely, by showing its characters often shaken by a mixture of awe and fear and trauma, never pretending even a heroic death to be anything but a catastrophe. It's just also arguing that if you die, you might as well die doing something good.

Cordero makes this case with the help of an excellent ensemble cast (uncommon for POV films, all actors you might have seen before in other movies, which isn't really a problem for me but might be for other viewers with a higher need to be convinced of a film's fictional reality), an ability to become emotional without becoming melodramatic - something particularly seldom found in films concerning the idea of personal sacrifice as Europa Report does -, and an equally strong ability to create a sense of wonder out of a handful of ideas, effects, and sets. It's what Science Fiction on a budget should more often be doing, if you ask me.


Anarchivist said...

We just watched this the other night! Glad to see we're still on a wavelength. :)

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Must be our good taste. :)