Europa Report review: quest for fire (of knowledge)

Europa Report green light Anamaria Marinca

I didn’t think we were making movies like this anymore. Very near future. Hard science. Nothing fantastical. Space geekery galore, gorgeous and authentic.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m a big ol’ space geek

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Holy shit. Holy holy holy shit.

I didn’t think we were making movies like this anymore. Very near future. Hard science. Nothing fantastical. Space geekery galore, gorgeous and authentic. We hardly ever made movies like this, except for a brief period in the 70s, when the moon landings were still fresh and how far away could a Mars mission be? (Damn.) We could be doing this today. Why did our taste for stories about space exploration we could actually be doing now die out when our impetus to get the fuck off this rock delta-v’d into staid safe groundhugging? Can we not even imagine it anymore?

Well, Europa Report can.

Oh my god I love this movie. It is all the science and all the adventure and all the quest for knowledge. It is so much all the awesome I can hardly stand it. It makes me want to go out there. I could go. They’d need, like, someone to chronicle the mission and make it poetic, no?

A private mission to Europa, moon of Jupiter. You know, because we’re pretty sure it’s covered in water ice and pretty sure there’s a liquid ocean under it, and where there’s water, there’s life, and how the hell amazing would it be to find life elsewhere in our solar system? Like Biggest Discovery in the History of Humanity amazing. Four men and two women, in a spaceship that looks exactly like something maybe Mercedes-Benz would build. There’s cameras all over the ship, sending footage back to Earth during the nearly two-year trip out to Jupiter environs. It’s never said in Europa Report, but we get the sense that maybe there’s a reality-show thing happening back on Earth as everyone follows the mission. Cuz maybe people care again about this kind of stuff? (I can dream…)

Except for a few “news clips” of the launch and a few talking-head segments with the Earthbound project leaders (Embeth Davidtz [The Amazing Spider-Man, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo] and Dan Fogler [Mars Needs Moms, Take Me Home Tonight]), it’s only that cam footage we see. Europa Report never breaks its faux documentary perspective — director Sebastián Cordero and screenwriter Philip Gelatt have given us what is, by far, the most sophisticated, most plausible, most you-will-believe found-footage film ever.

Ahem: “recently declassified” found footage. Because… something bad happens during the mission. We don’t know quite what or how for a while: the footage jumps around in time, and we learn later when a potentially similar situation crops up again. (There’s a lovely simple beauty to how the story is structured — this is a masterpiece of suspense, on top of all its other spectacular goodness.) It’s not a spoiler to say that the something bad happens long before the mission reaches Europa, so all question of the Something Bad that you knew was gonna happen (or there would be no story) being, like, scary flesh-eating alien bugs of Europa or other outlandish sci-fi-ness is dismissed.

Could the bad thing be connected to something mission engineer James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley: The A-Team, District 9) said to scientist Dr. Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, The Hurt Locker) after sending a video letter home to his young son, about how being away from home was so much harder than he thought it would be, and this only months into their four-year round-trip mission? Could it be connected to something pilot and archivist Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca: Doctor Who, Five Minutes of Heaven) notes, that the isolation from the rest of humanity starts to make you crazy? Cuz we do see that engineer Andrei Blok (Michael Nyqvist: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Abduction) isn’t coping so well. On the other hand, Commander William Xu (Daniel Wu: Around the World in 80 Days) and marine biologist Dr. Katya Petrovna (Karolina Wydra) seem to be dealing with the stress of the mission quite well…

It was at that glorious moment — when I realized that Europa Report would feature no anomalous space gases that drive a man insane, no secret Xenu base in the asteroid belt to divert the mission — that I knew this was gonna be something really special. And it turns out even better than that. This is about real people doing real science in the most dangerous place ever, with no margin for error. This is about the cold equations of space travel and the tough but necessary choices that must be made in such an environment… and, more importantly, about why taking such risks is absolutely vital for humanity.

This is only just barely science fiction. We could make it science fact. Maybe movies like this one can help us get back on that track. Because if Europa Report doesn’t make you want to get out there — or at least doesn’t make you want to see us as a species back out there — I don’t understand you at all. How can you not want to know what’s there?

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