(Caution: may contain spoilers)
I was looking forward to “Europa Report.” It had the makings of a good science-fiction movie, devoid of the usual “let’s throw in some spaceships and call it science fiction” ideas that we usually get. Consultants from NASA and the private space industry promised to keep the movie grounded in reality and avoid the more typical mistakes seen in other movies.
The plot is straightforward enough: A group of astronauts have been selected to travel to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, in order to search for evidence of life in the “ocean” under the Europa frozen surface. So far, so good. All well inside the realms of possibility. Naturally there are problems along the way – otherwise that long trip would be too boring – but everything is reasonably realistic.
The mid-journey “disaster” seemed a little contrived and nothing much really happens until the ship lands on Europa. For me they could have cut out the whole journey section and focused more on the mission after they’d landed.
Unfortunately, here is where the plot started to unravel a bit. Once on the surface, the team sets up a drill to bore down to the water below. There’s no discussion of the validity of this operation. No one asks the obvious – “If we do that, won’t we contaminate what’s below?”. It’s just accepted by everyone that once they reach the planet they’re going to drill a hole through the ice.
That raises another problem – drilling through the ice. According to current knowledge the ice cover on Europa is several kilometers thick. Drilling through that here on Earth with a fully supplied and supported mission would prove challenging. So how do these astronauts achieve this using only what they can carry on a lander that’s perhaps the size of a couple of rooms? This isn’t explained; none of the characters mention it. They just set up a little drilling rig as if they’re going ice-fishing and set to.
Of course the expedition finds life. There’d not be much of a plot if they didn’t. The movie cleverly doesn’t spend much time trying to define the life forms and also keeps everything dark during those scenes, leaving it to your imagination to fill in the blanks. You get an idea of something with tentacles and that’s about it.
There’s some good tension built up as the crew try to figure out if there is life “out there”. Unfortunately the end of the movie lets this down as it turns into a not-very-well-done “alien hunting down humans” action romp. The final action of the sole surviving crew-member is extremely mystifying as she “blows the hatches,” sinking the ship and herself in a gesture that has no explanation and makes no sense. What could have been a great moment of personal sacrifice with the right foreshadowing and/or explanation instead leaves you feeling “wow – that was dumb!”
This could have been a good movie. The ideas were interesting and the implementation was good despite obviously a relatively low budget. But the way it’s narrated, through a series of “flashbacks” (the “reports” in the title), leave you unconnected with any of the main characters and, like so many recent movies, means you really don’t care about any of them. NASA consultants are great, but you also need a writer who understands how to create good characters and a strong plot.