Sorry, Europa Report, but you were trying so hard to make the science believable (and a geek friend of mine insists it still isn’t, though it should be sufficient for most audience members), that you forgot to make the fiction any good. The ambitions behind this movie – to make a realistic sci-fi film – are noble, but the execution is terrible from a story perspective.
When we first saw the trailer, I suspected another Apollo 18, a fake found-footage horror movie about monsters in space. In a way, I was right – but for Europa Report to be even as good as Apollo 18 it would have to be in less denial about what it is. People mocked that movie’s rock-spider monsters, but even if they were silly, they were a tangible threat and you knew even before their full nature was revealed just how they were dangerous and what the jeopardy was. In Europa Report there are flares of radiation, that have arbitrary effects and come at random. You can be scared about that, but there’s pretty much nothing you can actually do about it, so what’s the dramatic tension?
That’s the primary problem, but it’s not the only one. Let’s back up.
We are initially told that for over 6 months, the whole world watched this space mission to Jupiter’s moon like a reality show (plausible). Then communication was lost, and only now is all the footage being declassified.
We then go to scenes of the crew talking about how it has been a year since they lost one of their own. Doing the math on the cast and who’s not in the scene, it’s obvious they’re talking about Sharlto Copley’s character, James Corrigan. It’s also obvious that they’re more sad than alarmed, so whatever killed him doesn’t feel like an imminent, recurrent threat.
Now, this may be a matter of taste, but if you’re going to kill the biggest star in your movie halfway through, I would suggest playing it as a huge shocker rather than doing a self-spoiler; when it does happen now, the tension is almost nonexistent. Maybe you don’t want tension, director Sebasti?n Cordero. But you used to be good at it – your 2004 movie Cr?nicas even had me liking John Leguizamo, which is an impossible feat.
After that, we go back in time, because obviously Sharlto needs to be in at least some of the movie. But when time is measured in a giant meter that has years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds and whatever else…IT DOES NOT FUCKING REGISTER IF THIS SCENES IS BEFORE OR AFTER, OR WHEN. I don’t have time to count all those numbers and see if they’re lower than or greater than the last string you showed be. I didn’t come here to do math. Just give me a goddamn earth date, and we’ll be good.
So anyway, there’s some stuff about how this mission is privately funded based on having picked up heat signals on Europa, and there’s a Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo, and just so you know they’re aware of Arthur C. Clarke, a little Blue Danube Waltz joke. Then they’re off.
Now, I don’t want to pick on the director for this, but one pitfall of having a non-native speaker direct in another language (Cordero is from Ecuador) is that they don’t have an ear for local accents. Sharlto – I love the guy in most things, but his generic “American” accent makes Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin sound like Ronald Reagan by comparison. And here’s the kicker – it ADDS NOTHING to make his character American. He could be South African and it would not affect the plot one iota.
Moving on – Michael Nyqvist’s character Andrei Blok (thank you, picture above, for that info) is seen getting a talking-to about having some kind of breakdown. “Great,” thinks I, “This can lead to some interesting ‘Is it the crazy guy or is it aliens?’ moments.” Wrong. They bring up this potential and do nothing with it.
After a certain point, it becomes apparent that this is one of those movies building to a big reveal, and that everything else is killing time till we get to it. It’s dispiriting once this becomes apparent, and honestly, the big reveal is nothing special. It’s followed by bullshit narration that tries to make everything sound profound.
There’s a lot to be said for hiding your threat in the shadows; the mind can make monsters scarier than any makeup. But if we have to feel that there’s actually a monster there in the first place. Which would require this movie to ‘fess up to being that kind of movie. Like Sharlto’s character in deep space – don’t hold your breath.