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If you haven’t seen Prometheus—or Sunshine, or Pandorum, or even Alien—you can get their combined sci-fi gist in Sebastian Cordero’s Europa Report. The films deal with space and its explorers’ sense of wonderment and danger; inaugural and often cryptic missions; and the death of often bickering crewmates, knocked off one by one. The tone usually skews creepy.
The homage-payer here is Philip Gelatt, penning his second screenplay. Six astronauts are sent on a privately funded enterprise to travel to the Jupiter moon of Europa, seeking life. The filmmakers go the found-footage route, but keep post-mission commentary to a minimum, allowing the gimmick to seem not so tired as the action essentially plays out as if a regular narrative.
The crew members are played by District 9’s Sharlto Copley, effectively shedding his South African accent, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s Michael Nyqvist, Christian Camargo, Anamaria Marinca, Karolina Wydra, and Daniel Wu. But the roles could have been handed to anybody; there’s zero character development among the interchangeable parts. They all aim to collect samples from beneath Europa’s icy surface to try to glimpse even rudimentary forms of life.
The viewer’s goal, meanwhile, is to discern what the hell’s going on, with the film’s developments obscured by super-staticky audio and sometimes equally incoherent visuals. The beginning, of course, is all giddy goofing around and excitement, which soon gives way to awe at the never-before-witnessed sights when the ship reaches its destination, and then troubles of various sorts, with discussions along the lines of “We must do it!” countered by “It’s too dangerous!” You’ve heard it before.
More disappointing than the film’s familiarity is its source of menace, which seems to be…an evil light? It’s not very clear. On the positive side, for a low-budget production, Europa Report looks impressive (when the camera stays still), with the ship’s modern, computer-draped interior shades of white, blue, and silver and exterior shots of the spacecraft, the moon, and inky space itself as realistic and occasionally awe-inspiring as any big-money project. There is potential here, but perhaps the cash ran out before it could be met.