This year has been a good year for sci-fi films. There’s been a plethora of big sci-fi releases, with Gravity being the latest- currently seeing success in theaters. And while Gravity’s success is largely due to it’s innovative use of complex CGI and 3D, it’s story is more simple- one of survival in space. Another film, released earlier this year, explored the same premise of a crew on a deep space mission trying to survive after things begin to go awry. Unlike Gravity, however, this film- Europa Report- was made on a considerably smaller budget and utilized the ‘found footage’ technique to tell it’s story.
The film follows the first manned mission into deep space. Their destination is Europa, one of the many moons of Jupiter. Because of Europa’s abundance of ice on it’s surface, and the theory of liquid water residing underneath, the mission hopes that life may too exist on the moon. But space travel soon proves to be dangerous, as the crew encounters one problem after another. As the body count rises, it soon becomes evident that the life they hoped to discover may indeed exist, but at the expense of the survival of the crew.
Typically the found footage technique can be uninspiring, especially with so many copycats wanting to take advantage of the craze. However, every so often, a film will find a way to cleverly implement the technique as seen in Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, and Trollhunter. Europa Report also implements this style as a clever way to hide the faults of it’s smaller budget, as well as presenting the story in a more believable way. The film, after all, is presented as a video report of the events that transpired on the Europa mission, having been culled from the last remaining footage transmitted back to Earth. This isn’t to say that this fixes all of the film’s problems. Many times the film feels small in scale, with the events witnessed from the limited camera angles placed around the ship. This becomes more frustrating once the space module actually lands on Europa. We never get to see much of the moon’s surrounding landscape. Instead we have fuzzy exterior shots and plenty of closeups of the faces of explorers who dare to step outside. It makes sense within the world the director is trying to create, but unfortunately leaves a longing to see whats just beyond the edge of the cameras.
The film is able to use these limitations, however, to build suspense. And while the danger never feels as palatable as what viewers may experience when watching Gravity, the tension is enough to keep one interested. Much of this is due to the acting which serves as the strongest aspect of the film. Filled with a “hey I recognize that person” cast, including Sharlto Copley, Christian Carmago, and Embeth Davidtz, the acting is fresh and convincing (something that always seems to plague other found footage films) as the film could easily have fallen into the melodramatic realm. The creators obviously took their time to create a convincing and believable portrayal of space travel. Writer Philip Gelatt stirred the film away from Sunshine territory, instead focusing on the scientists and explorers, not what may be lurking underneath the surface. Their decisions, therefore, seem rational; their actions believable.
Europa Report is largely successful, especially considering the small scale of the film. The suspense slowly builds, the action is delivered convincingly, the story takes science fiction seriously. And while the end of the film feels rushed after having the tension slowly build, the end result is still pleasing. It just goes to show that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to make a successful sci-fi film.