Movie Review: Europa Report

Dear Readers:

Today I review a science-fiction movie called Europa Report.  The movie came out in 2013, but I only saw it a couple of days ago, that’s why this review is so tardy.  I like space movies, but I don’t like to watch movies where the Russians are always the bad guys.  That makes me mad.  But “Europa” has an ensemble cast including Russian characters who are NOT the bad guys – gasp!  This is almost unheard of in American movies, where it is de rigueur that Russian characters be one of the set of {mafia psycho killers, sociopathic international spies; or, in the case of cosmonauts, lovable drunkards, as in the Bruce Willis space movie, Armageddon — or incompetent subhuman apes}.

Russian incompetence almost ruined Sandra’s life.

Allude to Hollywood blockbuster Gravity where the drunken incompetent apishness of Russian engineers is what led to the Perils-of-Pauline situation of our intrepid American sweetheart, Sandra Bullock.  And where the Russophobic Hollywood writers could not even bring themselves to admit that the Russians were the first in space, and had built the world’s only functioning space station; hence, in a case of “Stolen Valor”, the writers decided arbitrarily that it was the Chinese who built the space station.  Because Hollywood writers hate the Chinese somewhat less than they hate Russians.

Is Europa American?

I have to admit that I almost bailed on “Europa” less than halfway through.  The film follows the genre of “found footage”, and you don’t really know what’s going on initially.  See, from the point of view of Earth Control, the space mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa was lost, but in the end the crew managed to send back all the video logs.  Which are not necessarily in chronological order… So there is this ambiguous scene where the Russian cosmonaut Andrei Blok (portrayed by famous Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist from the “Girl With Dragon Tattoo” series) appears to be drunk, depressed, and dysfunctional.  His moody behavior is in stark contrast to the non-Russian astronauts, who are all chipper and well-nigh perfect people:  brave, rational, business-like.  The straight-arrow Captain, a Chinese dude named William Xu, asks him:  “Have you recovered yet?”

I was thinking, “Oh god, the Russian somehow sneaked vodka aboard the spaceship, now he’s drunk like a skunk” and, like I said, I almost switched off the movie in a fit of pique.  But I’m glad I didn’t, ’cause it turned out later that Andrei was not drunk.  He had just been injured in a serious accident (an attempt at a two-man spacewalk to repair a circuit board) which had resulted in the first death among the crew, that of Astronaut Corrigan.  Since the “found footage” is shown out of order, we don’t know until later just how this accident happened; and that it wasn’t the Russian’s fault; on the contrary, each of the two astronauts heroically tried to save the other; but it just didn’t work out for them.  Corrigan died a hero’s death, and Andrei was physically injured, not to mention psychologically depressed at the loss of his comrade.  Which is a completely normal reaction.

Director Sebastián Cordero

When it turned out that Andrei is not just a drunken Russian bear, then I thought this movie is probably not American, despite the fact that all the characters speak in English.  And sure enough, the movie’s director, Sebastián Cordero, is from Ecuador!

According to Cordero’s wiki page, “Europa” was Cordero’s first English-language film.  Amazingly, this independent film was shot in only 18 days in Brooklyn!  I say “amazingly” because the production values are actually really good.  Everything is quite well done:  the cramped set of the spacecraft, astronauts floating in zero-gravity (I don’t know how they did that special effect in Brooklyn!) and the computer-generated images of Europa.

Chronology

The action of the film takes place at some unspecified date in the not-too-distant future.  Actually it could be tomorrow, because the world depicted is exactly like our own (where the venture is funded by private capital), and the technology is not all that futuristic.  There is no Star Trek warp drive:  It will take the astronauts almost 2 years to reach Jupiter and its moon.  The private company funding the mission has set a goal to determine whether or not there is life on Europa.

Jupiter and His Gallilean moons.

Recall that the planet Jupiter, named after the Greco-Roman Chief Sky God, has 67 known moons.  Of which, most are just chunks of rock.  It is highly dubious that any life (as we know it) could be lurking on these rocks, unless Saint-Exupéry’s  Petit Prince is camping out there.   But four of Jupiter’s larger moons are more promising.  They were discovered back in the day, by Galileo, who named them after characters in Greek mythology (Europa, Ganymede, Io and Callisto) who were said to be paramours of the God Jupiter.   Europa is particularly promising to Earthlings, because scans have already shown (and this part is reality, not science fiction) that there is a huge body of possibly warm water with massive heat plumes surging beneath the surface ice.  In other words, this large moon is basically a giant ice pond possibly teeming with marine life such as algae and plankton, and that sort of thing.  Yay!

Dr. Unger was upset when she lost contact with her crew.

Now, again, if this were a Hollywood movie, the private company funding this mission would have sinister motives.  Like, they know there is some monster lurking on the planet, and they want to bring it back to Earth and weaponize it.  Therefore, they have inserted a spy or android among the crew, whose job is to kill the rest of the crew and capture the monster and ….

No, nothing of the sort.  The CEO of the private company, Dr. Unger, is not a villain, nor is she trying to capture a monster.  She is genuinely cut up about it, when her assistant informs her, six months into the mission, that they lost communication with the craft.  She probably even interrupted her golf game to rush back to her office in Geneva, Switzerland.

Remember that accident I mentioned, which sent the Russian astronaut into a tailspin of depression?  That was the incident which knocked out communications between the ship and Earth.  They were barely into the mission, when a solar storm blew out the video circuit board.  This required an EVA (extravehicular activity) to fix.  Seasoned Russian cosmonaut Andrei and his crew-mate Corrigan attempted to repair the board but were not successful.  Andrei’s spacesuit was punctured by debris, he was injured, Corrigan gave his life to save Andrei and ended up floating off into space, while recording his final last words about the importance of the mission.

Captain Wu and Pilot Rosa

A key metric of the trip is the requirement that the astronauts videotape everything they see and do.  The transmissions are continuously beamed back to Earth.  Hence, the loss of video communication is is a catastrophic event for the mission.

Despite this, not to mention the death of a crew member, the rest of the crew decides to continue on their voyage and do what they are being paid to do:  Determine if there is life on Europa.  They would settle for anything:  even just a tiny uni-cellular organism.  As Captain Xu explains, if they find that there is NO life on Europa, then that is a finding too.  Although they are all secretly hoping to find something, because that would be way more cool.  In fact Marine Biologist Katya Petrovna, the other positive Russian character in the story, finds an almost religious hope in the notion that “we” (Earthlings) are not the only form of life in this galaxy.

Lack Of Drama

Some reviewers have complained that “Europa” is boring, because it has no internal drama.  There is no evil corporation seeking to weaponize monsters.  There is no spy or corporate agent (or android) among the crew.  There is no romance or sex between crew members.  There are no bad guys.  There is no basic conflict among the crew:  They are all decent hard-working, brave and even heroic people.  This is a realistic scenario, when you think about it:  It was established that the company which hired these astronauts, hired “only the best” available people for this mission.  These are literally the best human beings on the entire planet.  A well-run corporation like this is not going to hire some muppet who runs around screaming “We’re all gonna die!” at the first sign of trouble.

Europa: What lurks under the ice?

In any case, Cordero’s goal obviously was not to write an Oscar Wilde play with flirting, conflict and quips, his goal was to write a realistic space drama with a big twist at the end.

So, what is the twist?  I’ll get to that.  Remember that the crew continued on their mission to Europa despite loss of communications with Earth.  They still plan to fix the video circuit board, but they’ll have to wait until they land on Jupiter’s moon.

And so they land on Europa.  A crash landing.  Which kills Captain Xu.  Again, realistic.  Think of every possible thing that can go wrong in a mission of this complexity, and it does.  Not because of any incompetence on the part of the crew.  It’s just Murphy’s Law.

So, now their craft is basically perched on an unstable ice floe and they are all doomed.  Nonetheless, they get to work looking for signs of life.  Of which there are many.  For example, Andrei thinks he sees something or someone just trundling past their spaceship bearing its own personal light source.  With the quick instincts of a youtube poster, he tries to capture this thing on his video camera, but he doesn’t succeed.  It’s just too damned fast.  The other astronauts don’t quite believe his tall tale — it’s impossible, and well, maybe they do think he is just a drunken Russian!  But then it turns out that Bioluminescence is everywhere around them, just pulsing beneath the ice.  And Bioluminescence, as the name indicates, is a sign of life.  Living organisms have figured out how to create their own personal light sources, using chemicals within their own bodies.  This is particularly important for marine organisms which spend their lives in the dark depths of the oceans or (in the case of Europa) dwelling underneath the ice.

The Twist

SPOILER ALERT!  If you don’t want to know about the Giant Octopus creature, then please do not read any further!

So, Katya confirms the presence of life on Europa when she wanders around in her spacesuit, and is stoked to discover actual living algae in the ice cores.  At this point it becomes even more imperative that the crew fix the video circuit board, so that they can beam this exciting news back to their corporate sponsors.

Giant Octopus uses bio-luminescence to lure its prey.

But then Murphy’s Law strikes again.  Or perhaps malicious alien interference.  Either way, as Russian literary hero Ostap Bender used to say:  “Лёд тронулся, господа присяжные заседатели!”  “The ice is cracking, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury!”

Sure enough, the spaceshp is sinking into the ice and doesn’t have enough thrust to free itself.  And the crew is being killed off one by one:  Katya takes a tumble through the ice and finds herself surrounded by creepy bio-luminescent beings.   These will be her last living companions until her tank runs out of oxygen and she suffocates.   And they don’t look too friendly either.  Perhaps she is regretting now her idealistic wish to find life on another planet.

At this point Andrei reveals his true heroism.  With only himself and Rosa left alive, and knowing that they are doomed, he only has just enough time to repair that video circuit board so that they can finally beam back their finding to Earth control.  And what a finding it is!

Brave Rosa, the very last crew member alive, in a final act of desperate heroism, opens the air lock underwater, thus drowning herself and the remains of the ship, but also managing to capture on tape and beam back to Earth a final image of the colossal Octopus who rules this planet.

Malicious AND Delicious!

And what an Octopus he is!  Crowned with a halo of bio-luminesce, and we already learned, from Andrei’s previous sighting, that he can trundle around on land as well as swim in the ocean.

The only remaining question for inquiring viewers is:  Will there be a sequel?  I heard a rumor that there will be a sequel, and that it will be a big-budget Hollywood project.   A new crew will be put together.  Of trash-talking under-paid misfits, headed by Bruce Willis.  “We’re gonna need a bigger spaceship!” he will drawl.  There will be a second Russian cosmonaut, but he’ll be the villain.  Sent by Putin to capture the monster and bring him back to Earth.  Alive!  Even if the Russian, or the monster, or both end up killing all the crew in the process.  But why bring the monster back to Earth?  Putin wants to weaponize him.  But Dr. Unger, who is in a femme fatale mutually-backstabbing relationship with Putin, has a different motive.  To publicly punish this malicious mollusk for what he did to her original crew.  And also for another reason:  See, she needs to raise billions of dollars to mount all these new missions, after the loss of her initial investment.  With the help of her evil Japanese chef, she will stage a fund-raising banquet  for billionaire investors featuring “Cruel Cuisine”.  The bio-luminous octopus will be served alive at a million dollars a plate, as a dish of the world’s most expensive calamari ever!  At least that’s her plan, until things start to go terribly wrong all over again….

THE END (of all life on Earth as we know it?)

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This entry was posted in Friendship of Peoples, Human Dignity, Popular Culture, Space, Science and Technology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Movie Review: Europa Report

  1. Jen says:

    The movie sounds like two of its inspirations might have been “The Blair Witch Project” and the infamously gory 1970s Italian exploitation flick “Cannibal Holocaust”. Both these films rely on the same plot device of the “found film footage”: a crew of film-makers goes out in search of ghosts or a lost tribe of Amazon natives with a reputation for savagery and is lost. Only the film-makers’ camera is found by search teams who then play the film inside for clues as to where and how the film-makers lost their lives. “Europa Report” side-steps the search-team part by having the images of the crew’s activities beamed back to Earth with real-time video technology.

    The, er, monster mollusc didn’t have a name like Cthulhu, did it?

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    • yalensis says:

      No, as far as I know the mollusk was not given a name. He only showed up in the last few seconds of the movie, and there was no time for introductions.
      Actually “he” could have been a “she”, since IT was wearing a glorious tiara of bio-luminscent jewelry on it’s head.
      But if it turned out (in the sequel) that it was really just a benign pussycat, then they could name him or her Octopussy!

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    • Lyttenburgh says:

      “The, er, monster mollusc didn’t have a name like Cthulhu, did it?”

      Uooooh! Uooooooh! I have an idea for a film!

      Make it Cthulhu – and then send comrade baron Munchhausen to fight it!

      Did I say “comrade Baron”? Sure I did!

      Quick, call Terry Guilliam!

      Like

      • yalensis says:

        You don’t like my idea to eat him alive in big sashimi platter?

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        • Lyttenburgh says:

          But-but-but… that would be cruel!

          Besides, not sure if her personal Iron Chef or even this Ramsey fellow everyone is making jokes about nowadays are up to the task to prepare poor, innocent homicidal critter.

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          • yalensis says:

            Well, my big plot idea (and please note that hidden inside me there is a Hollywood screenwriter just busting to get out!) is that these corporate bigwigs are SO callous and so hubristic that they think they can eat the monster alive at $1,000,000 per plate with no consequences.
            This conceit is based on something I actually read somewhere, namely that these Japanese businessmen would throw “cruel cuisine” buffets, featuring live sushi. People are supposed to just cut pieces off the thing while it squirms. It could be an eel or an octopus, whatever.
            But in MY version of the movie, the creature breaks loose (naturally) and wreaks havoc, first on the diners, and then on the world as a whole. Sort of like in “Aliens”, when they think they can actually capture one of those things and bring it back to Earth!

            Or… here is another idea: Predator vs. Octopus. The Predators decide to set up a hunting/fishing type preserve on Europa. For those Predators who prefer a more bucolic vacation experience. But the Octopus wreaks havoc, steals their spaceship, and heads straight for Earth…

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            • Jen says:

              Ridley Scott already working on that script, I think. Working title being “The Girl with the Promethean Octopoid Tattoo”.

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            • yalensis says:

              Well, that’s just perfect then!
              Michael Nyqvist (who played the Russian “Andrei” in “Europa”) can reprise his role as Mikael Blomkvist and solve the murder of the mollusk.
              Maybe Ridley Scott can hire me as assistant screenwriter and go-fer. I’m not proud

              Like

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