Europa Report is a sci-fi/thriller found footage film produced in 2013, directed by Sebastián Cordero, and written by Philip Gelatt. The film follows an international crew of astronauts on a privately funded mission to search for life on Europa, Jupiter’s fourth largest moon.
Europa Report opens with the onscreen message “The Europa One Mission was the first attempt to send men and women into deep space.” What follows is a montage of crew video recordings from numerous fixed surveillance cameras on-board the Europa One spacecraft which include routine reports, conversations, and video diaries transmitted to mission control.
Next, the film transitions to an interview of the Lead Mission Planner at mission control who says, “These were the last images we received from the Europa One craft, at the time it had gone further than any human being had ever traveled before. For 16 months I’ve been asked the simple but loaded question, ‘What happened?’” We are also told that thousands of hours of unseen mission footage was subsequently recovered and is now declassified. An edited version of this recovered mission footage is presented in what plays out as a narrative drama.
Plot & Acting
While the premise of Europa Report is that of an epic adventure, the plot is rather simple and straightforward, so much so that that the film is presented in a in non-linear fashion (with forward/backward time jumps) to add dramatic effect and perceived complexity where none truly exist. As intriguing as Europa Report is, the film lacks the layered complexity and subplots common to other epic space journey films such as 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Interstellar, Mission to Mars, and other like-minded films.
The lack of subplots and character arcs comes at the expense of character development, resulting in acting that presents as one dimensional. As such there’s no real connection or empathy made with the characters as they face the revelations and dangers of their mission.
To the film’s credit, the plot’s simplicity is effectively masked using a barrage of camera sources, split screens, CGI, and the added mystery of the fate of a missing crew member that unfolds using found footage flashbacks, enabling Europa Report to feel much bigger than it actually is – resulting in an entertaining journey.
The filming reason used in Europa Report goes without question, as every agency and privately sponsored space mission is filmed from every conceivable angle and location to gather as much data as possible for review back on Earth. Additional footage includes news coverage of the crew launch, and ground-based interviews of the Europa One crew and mission control personnel.
Found Footage Cinematography
Principle cinematography for Europa Report took place in Brooklyn, New York. The now defunct Brooklyn Naval Yard is home to a number of East coast movie studios that take advantage of the immense expanse of real estate. The found footage cinematography is good overall. Aside from the ground-based interviews and new footage, the mission cameras consist primarily of fixed cameras located on the spacecraft and at least two cameras located on each crew spacesuit. The pure wealth of camera sources provides an opportunity for multiple POVs and creative editing.
The Europa One Mission found footage is edited to have the look and feel of a narrative drama, with flashbacks (albeit found footage flashbacks) and dramatic incidental music. If we are to presume that this footage is assembled for the worldwide consideration following the tragedy that befalls the Europa One crew, perhaps a narrative presentation is better suited for the general populace, explaining this approach.
Although Europa Report relies heavily on CGI, the the special effects do not dominate the film. The CGI and practical weightlessness effects seamlessly integrate with the film and story and help make the film feel much larger in scope.