- Europa Report by Sebastián Cordero
‘All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there’. These two lines, famously broadcast to Earth’s warring superpowers at the end of 2010 (Hyams US 1984), the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s epic 2001: A Space Odyssey (US/UK 1968), have featured front and centre in discussions of Sebastián Cordero’s Europa Report since its theatrical release in August 2013. And rightly so: in eleven words, they encapsulate the essence of the movie: part gentle Kubrickian homage, part painstakingly science-based fiction – and part warning against the dangers of exploring Jupiter’s mysterious ice moon.
Europa Report is a film that wears its influences like a badge of honour, bearing a number of visual, thematic and stylistic similarities to both 2001 and 2010, its most obvious cinematic predecessors: the ship breaks orbit to the strains of The Blue Danube (‘Some light travelling music’, says Mission Control, and the crew’s knowing smiles inflect the offscreen voice with the same kind of playful referential awareness that the movie expects of its audience), and later shots of the elegant, balletic motion of the Europa 1 (themselves set to dialogue-free music) recall Kubrick’s waltzing satellites. Yet, while it would be impossible to discuss Europa Report without reference to Kubrick, Hyams and Arthur C. Clarke, to overstate the analogy would be to do the movie a disservice. Although the nods to 2001 and 2010 are many – and perhaps inevitable, given the subject matter – the film carries echoes of a wide range of movies, from Alien (Scott US/UK 1979) to Moon (Jones UK 2009) to the plethora of ‘found footage’ faux-documentaries that have invaded the box office in recent years, and, perhaps most interestingly of all, to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (US/UK 2013), released in the US three months after Europa Report. [End Page 437]
The plot itself is straightforward: in the near future, and hoping to capitalise on the real-life 2011 discovery that Europa’s thick ice sheets almost certainly cover lakes of liquid water, a six-man team is sent to the distant moon to search for signs of life. Six months into the mission, a solar storm knocks out all communications between the ship and Mission Control and, forced to decide between returning empty-handed and continuing the twenty-two month trip incommunicado, the crew choose to press on. But outer space is a dangerous place and, half a billion miles from home, on the frozen surface of a moon still largely unknown to modern science, if disaster strikes, there is no way to get help.
Shot in only 19 days and for under $10 million, much of Europa Report’s stylish aesthetics – tight, monochromatic interiors, static cameras, claustrophobic framing that often offers only the basic visual information – can be attributed to the exigencies of low-budget sf filmmaking, though it would be impossible to argue that they detract from the experience. On the contrary, Europa Report makes a virtue of necessity and structures its narrative around its economic limitations. Faced with significant restrictions on effects spending, the film adopts the conceit of many a low-budget genre piece in recent years and orders its narrative as an ersatz documentary, complete with framing interviews with Dr. Samantha Unger (Embeth Davidtz), CEO of the private company responsible for launching the mission, and her colleague Dr. Nikita Solokov (Dan Fogler), which provide contextual information and advance the story as necessary. The found-footage device, arguably over-used to the point of audience fatigue (and deployed to widespread critical disparagement in the similarly themed Apollo 18 (López-Gallego US 2011)), is recuperated here by dramatic necessity; it makes sense, in context, that Europa Report be presented in this way – from the outset, we are aware that the Europa mission has gone wrong (though details are revealed only gradually), and the narrative justification for the ubiquitous presence of the recording cameras is strong. The decision, therefore, appears less an artefact of budgetary restraint and...