by Jaime Grijalba.
Europa Report (2013, Sebastián Cordero)
There’s confusion and at the same time a sense of wonder in the first minutes of this new science fiction film. First, because the film starts in a strange position, it starts with the moment in which the footage that is being fed by the spaceship to Earth (with an 18 hour delay) is cut-off, when they’re going to make an important decission regarding the final destination of the crew and the mission itself… then the narrative makes this obvious jump to the start of the mission, showing us how it came together that this manned mission to Europa, one of the biggest moons of Jupiter, came to be and what is the purpose of it: finding life, or at least traces of it, as they did in Mars recently with the discovery of water under the ice caps. It’s strange how the cut is made there, it tries to be a film that starts In Media Res but then suddenly goes back to the beginning, trying to explain how they finally got the unseen footage that was lost after the cut-off in Earth… but then we see that the cut was because there was a solar flare that made communications impossible in space, blacking out any possibility of direct contact between the elements of the mission… and not because something extremely important was about to happen (in fact, it’s after this moment that the crew members start dying, but what the hell, it’s not extremely connected to why there was no more footage feed from spaceship to Earth). Besides that confusion at the start, there’s a sense of wonder, as I said at the beginning of this review, there’s a piece of narration that tell us a truth that seems impossible to us living in 2013: no human has travelled past the Earth’s orbit since 1972… it’s been more than 40 years since a human being has been away from Earth’s gravity! How crazy is that! Is this the future we’ve expected? I hadn’t been concious of that, and this movie has come and slapped me in the face and told me that I don’t live in the future, I live in this semi-present with a lot of fake technology that isn’t doing the important stuff: putting people out there (I’m exaggerating but, really, what the crap). And when you thought you had enough shocks, they tell you that if anyone goes beyond a few centimeters besides the moon, he or she has become the person who has travelled farthest into the universe in the history of the world. What are we doing with our future?
The movie is edited and presented as a fake documentary, using the found footage approach of something in the lines of ‘Noroi’ (2005), where a documentary is made about a documentary based on found footage and tv shows, crazy stuff. Here the film mixes up interviews to experts with the feed of the cameras inside the spaceship that goes to Europa (the moon), all that with an interview with one of the crew members as well makes up for most of the material that the movie uses to thrill us and try to provoque a reaction out of us. Now, the success of the movie at the end of the day depends on your personal likings and taste: how do you prefer your film, in a way. Personally, I think that in modern cinema (take that as you will) the fake documentary approach is among the most interesting and serviceable plot devices as well as visual styles that have come out in a long time, there’s even a couple of masterpieces out there like the before mentioned horror japanese film ‘Noroi’ (2005) or the comedy ‘Borat’ (2006), but then there are others that are just awful and incompetent in every way, like some of the horror schtick that comes now and then and tries to use the same style to shameful results. This particular film doesn’t approach the greatness of some, but isn’t as awful as the other films in the other side of the spectrum, and mainly it’s because it doesn’t try to be a horror film, it isn’t a film to startle you constantly with jump scares and other kind of elements that have become common in the genre, like the sudden reveal, the change of camera to make the scare build up slower, and I’m thankful because of that. It’s much more of an analytical piece with a great cast of interesting characters that are well acted but not distinguishable enough for them to become their own and memorable to the viewer in any way at the end of the film. And that, to some extent, seems to be the main problem with the film, it’s just way too forgettable in terms of what actually makes a film memorable: the structure and the characters, the story that it tries to tell, all seems to be a bit in the air, while some other elements are stronger and make the film watchable.
For example, the concept of the film as a found footage of a space mission, or in other words, a sci-fi fake documentary, is fascinating, something similar to what was done (aesthetically) in certain parts of ‘District 9’ (2009) (it’s funny that we talk about that movie, since they share an actor, the now famous Sharlto Copley that played the infamous Wikus van de Merwe, here plays an engineer on the spaceship) who, at least, shares a genre with. The cinematography and the special effects are just fascinating, the way in which the space and the planets, as well as the surface of Europa is presented is highly impressive even from a scientific standpoint, as well as all the precautions and calibrations that the spaceship must go through for it to travel in space and then land safely, it all makes sense in most of the physical and biological ways, this is not a dumb movie is what I’m trying to say here. The cameras are placed in a logical and at the same time an understandable manner, and the art direction/design of the ship on the inside and outside is just gorgeous, an attention to detail that can be seen to the most minimal point, it actually seems as if we’re watching selected bits of hours and hours of footage of all the months travelling in space, and that, in the end is the best thing that one can say about the movie, about any other fake documentary: it feels real… too bad that sometimes it’s as uninteresting as life itself, and the whole film seems to be edited in a weird way, in a way is worth watching for those who are looking for the next big talent, a director from Ecuador made this, imagine what a guy from Chile could do *wink,wink*. (***1/2)