2013 was a pretty good year for proper, grown-up sci-fi. In amongst the blockbusters and true stories, we were treated to the astonishing “Gravity” and the faithfully-made but underperforming “Ender’s Game”. Overlooked in all the folly and grandeur of a great cinematic year was a little gem of a movie called “Europa Report”. A smart, suspenseful slow-burning film, it also succeeds in achieving the near-impossible: breathing new life into the found footage genre.
Ostensibly the visual logs of a privately funded manned space mission to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa, the film is presented to us in a series of ship’s logs, occasionally interrupted and narrated by the CEO of Europa Ventures, Dr Ungar (Embeth Davidtz). We learn that as far as the public knew, six months into the mission a solar flare knocked out communications and contact with the mission was lost. Dr Unger, however, reveals that the mission did continue and presents the rest of the mission logs, recently received after transmission by the spaceship Europa One.
“Europa Report” is not a cheap, tawdry scare-fest like “Apollo 18”; it’s a tense and atmospheric film, firmly putting the science into science fiction with a realistic near-possible approach to the ship, mission and technology. The necessary contrivances to make a found footage film visually interesting are incorporated in an unobtrusive way and remarkably the conceit gives the whole film a powerful sense of authenticity.
The tension and drama are allowed to build organically, with very little artificial and arbitrary peril thrown in to spice things up but there’s a very effective creeping sense of dread which seeps into the crew and the story itself as they pursue their mission.
The largely unknown cast are convincing in their roles and even the known names produce low-key performances, carefully judged to allow the story to take the lead. Sharlto Copley makes a welcome appearance, playing against type as a low key member of the engineering crew aboard the vessel. The special effects are limited due to the found footage framing device however when they are used, they are impressive and convincing. If you prefer your science fiction to be capital ‘S’, small ‘f’ then it’s well worth seeking out this movie that honours the legacy of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and its sequel “2010”.