In 1989, NASA launched the Galileo space probe which entered the orbit of Jupiter in 1995. Over the next 8 years, the probe completed 34 orbits, providing pretty much all the data we have on the gas giant and its surrounding moons.
The novel, 2010: Odyssey Two, the sort-of sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, was written in 1982 and focused on a second manned mission to Jupiter. In the finale to that film, Jupiter becomes a star and Europa, the sixth moon of Jupiter, an Earth-like planet capable of supporting life.
What is interesting is that the data Galileo would send back to Earth nearly 20 years later would lead scientists to theorise that Europa could actually sustain life. A fascinating coincidence that ultimately led to someone writing the script to Europa Report…
Europa Report is about a privately funded manned mission to Europa to search for life. Rather cleverly, the conceit is that the film is a documentary about the mission using footage transmitted back from the cameras aboard the ship mixed with talking head interviews with the staff who were back at mission control at the time.
The found footage style of film making has been around since the 1970s (Cannibal Holocaust) but it was really The Blair Witch Project and, later, Paranormal Activity, which would popularise it. Because of the very nature of the conceit, it allows film makers to work with a low budget and still look pretty decent.
Europa Report employs this technique with wild abandon, using the low quality video footage to cleverly hide low budget space walks and equally low budget SFX. Consequently, it actually holds up against big budget movies like Interstellar (and by ‘holds up’ I of course mean, ‘doesn’t look terrible by comparison’). That, unfortunately, is the best thing I have to say about the movie…
There is nothing of interest here… the story is exactly as you might imagine, the acting, being a cast of d string actors, is uninspiring (still, a damn sight better than anything Asylum or Full Moon have produced), even the score by sci-fi veteran Bear McCreary is uninspired, but it’s the script which really lets the film down.
The problem with ‘realistic space voyage’ films is that they all pretty much have the same plot points. For example, Sunshine, 2010, Interstellar, Gravity, etc are all about some people who go into space for a really compelling reason, x space disaster occurs at some point and y person(s) will have to do a space walk to fix one or more problems.
Europa Report is no different and everything that happens here has been done better and more interestingly elsewhere.
You might forgive this film its limitations because of its budget (and questionable camera angles notwithstanding) but there is no excuse for lazy writing and certainly no film should ever be boring.
You see, these films are ostensibly are man versus the elements and there’s not much you can really do with space, unless you are a good writer. 2001 avoided this problem by having an antagonist and Moon had a mystery to be solved. So it is possible to write around these issues, if you are clever enough.
Unfortunately, Philip Gelatt (who has written two other movies, both non-science fiction) either didn’t want to write something clever or wasn’t asked to, so there appears to be a lot of people talking about stuff and not a lot of anyone actually doing stuff.
Ultimately, as you’d expect with this kind of film, there are a lot of noble sacrifices ‘for the good of the mission’ but because the actors don’t have anything good to work with (given the number of credits the cast have, I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt), no one actually cares when astronaut x dies because of y incident.
ISCFC writer, @marklongden has posited that some films get made simply to fill air time (and thereby sell TV advertising time). Films like Europa Report really do support this theory because I genuinely cannot see any other reason for it to exist: it isn’t original, it isn’t clever, it isn’t well acted nor does it bring anything new to the table at all.
TL:DR; “Someone made a low budget science fiction film which would have made a decent episode of The Outer Limits. It does not make a good 1 hour and 30 minutes.”