Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Europa Report


I had never heard of this, and it fills me with fear that I might have somehow missed it. It basically never got a theatrical release, and is relying on home “On Demand” downloads to make back its small budget. IMDb doesn’t say just how small that budget was, but for whatever they spent they were able to obtain results in the space scenes that rival those in Gravity. Not nearly so many scenes, nor nearly so amazingly fluid, it’s true, but I was knocked out by what we did see. Here is that great, great rarity, an SF movie that actually pays strict attention to the “science” part of SF. How lucky we were to get two such movies in the same year!

As soon as I heard the title I knew it was something I had to see. Much of my 2008 novel, Rolling Thunder, took place on Europa, one of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter. I learned a lot about Europa while writing the book. Europa is the newest celestial poster body for the possibility of life in our solar system. If it’s there, it would probably be under the deep layer of water ice that covers it. (The layer is probably many miles thick, not just a thin crust as shown in this movie, but no one really knows until we get there.) So I had a great deal of interest in anything that dealt with Europa.

The story is that an expedition of six astronauts is on its way to Europa. Something bad happens, we know that, because the format is one I normally don’t much care for, that “found footage” stuff. The very format itself pretty much guarantees that bad shit happens at the end, because otherwise why wouldn’t these people be talking about it? I won’t say more about the plot. But I will say that found footage was the sensible and logical way to go with this story, which otherwise couldn’t have been told.

There are maybe half a dozen nits I could pick, but I’m not going to, because none of them is bad enough to affect my enjoyment of the movie. (The only really bad one is when someone says the temperature outside is absolute zero. Europa is friggin’ cold, but not that cold.) Taken as a whole the movie is a sheer delight to any hard SF fan. A great deal of thought went into the design of the ship, which doesn’t have any “artificial gravity” bullshit. There is a rotating arm, like a county fair ride, that provides spin gravity for the crew quarters. The rest of the ship is in weightlessness. The ship itself looks great, inside and out. It takes a believably long time for them to get to Jupiter. Jupiter and Europa are perfectly CGI-realized from NASA photographs. The writing and the acting are all first-rate, and the tension builds enormously toward the end. There is real tragedy along the way, and … well, I can’t talk about the end. But there are no clichéd characters, no crazy person, no coward, no idiot. All behave heroically, doing what they have to do. I like that.

This film has a truly international flavor, though it was American-made. The director is from Ecuador, not exactly a hotbed of cinema. The six actors playing the astronauts are a South African, a Romanian, a Swede (Michael Nyqvist, who was so great in the Dragon Tattoo trilogy), a Pole, and two Americans (one of them a Chinese-American, Daniel Wu). None of them speak with any noticeable accent, except maybe English. I like everything about this film. Download this film at once! And please pay for it. This director needs our support.