Putting the science back in science fiction movies. That’s Europa Report.
In the near future, water has been discovered on Europa, a moon of Jupiter. A privately-financed mission goes to investigate and hopefully find life. But before they even reach their goal, accidents happen, and communications are cut off. The result is “found footage” which people on the ground present to us with some explanation, but they mostly let the footage speak for itself.
Space is dangerous. As the footage plays out, it becomes obvious someone has died, and the rest puzzle about how to break the news. That sets us up for the spacewalk: This is no common walk on a shuttle mission. Simple repair work turns treacherous, and it’s like a blow to the gut to see how fragile human life is when trapped in spacesuits in the vacuum of space millions of miles from any help.
The team lands safely on the ice of Europa, barely. Having missed their landing spot with the most promising place to find liquid water beneath, Dr. Katya Petrovna (Karolina Wydra) is determined to walk across the ice and work her experiments. Out of direct line of sight from their craft, the radiation from Jupiter is growing. She is convinced if she goes a little farther, she may find what their mission is all about—evidence of life. Will she risk it?
Europa Report is a lean, spare movie about space exploration. This is no Star Trek or Star Wars, where people can lounge around inside their spaceships. And it is scientifically accurate, with the science an integral part of the plot, instead of being used as a form of magic when a crisis happens. To the contrary, the science causes the crises: Space is filled with radiation. Metal freezes to metal in space. Hydrazine is corrosive. You have to go back to 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Andromeda Strain for a similar movie, but this is done with modern filmmaking panache.
The entire cast is outstanding, especially Sharlto Copley as Corrigan, the man who constantly sends messages to his little boy about this great adventure. And we’re right with Wydra as Dr. Petrovna as she risks it all for scientific discovery. And Anamaria Marinca as Rosa Dasque shows great determination as the astronaut who explains the footage, giving us hope that some of them make it back. But the universe cares little about adventure, science, or determination. It can run these over without looking back. In the end, the movie poses the question, “Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known, what does your life actually matter?”
This is easily the best science fiction movie so far this year, especially when compared to overblown entries with gigantic budgets and forgettable characters and stories.