MOVIE OF THE MONTH – AUGUST 2013
Out of Jupiter’s 67 moons, four of them are much larger than the others, and the smallest of those four is Europa, named after a lover of Zeus—the Greek version of Jupiter. Europa has long been on the radar as one of the most likely places for extraterrestrial life, for it is believed that the moon hosts a vast ocean of liquid water. In fact, it has more water than the entire earth, about 24% more. The catch, though, apart from being hundreds of millions of kilometers away from Earth, is that the surface of the moon is covered in ice, hard as granite. We will have to drill through solid ice crust, 10-30 km deep, before we get a taste of that salty liquid water ocean.
Privately funded space exploration company Europa Ventures sends six astronauts on a voyage to Europa, where their spaceship will descend and a drill will probe through the ice, looking for potential signs of life. For six months the communication between the spacecraft and the Earth runs smoothly, until it is suddenly interrupted and we find out that the team has lost one member of the crew. What happened?
In a nonlinear narrative, the film takes us back and forth between scenes of a press conference before the launch of the spaceship, interviews with the people involved in the project before and after the launch, TV news reports, the actual happenings inside the spaceship throughout the journey, and of the pilot, Rosa, talking to the camera by herself. We come to understand that after the feed to Earth was cut off, the crew still continues their journey. The lost of communication, though, is only the beginning of an incredibly trying odyssey for them.
Considering that this is a sci-fi film dealing with alien life, we feel that the gradual loss of the crew, one by one, is bound to have something to do with unidentified extraterrestrial creatures. But although it first allures us with that potential, Europa Report doesn’t play out like we expect. Rather than putting predatory aliens in the spotlight, the film is more about our thirst for discovery and knowledge, and the sacrifices we make for that. Being confined in a closed spacecraft floating amid the deep space for months sure takes its toll on the crew, but what makes the film so refreshing is that we don’t spend two hours seeing these people go deranged with psychological battles. On the contrary, these six astronauts are level-headed, rational, and the tragedy that befalls each of them happens not because they go crazy or because they are attacked by aliens, but more because they care about each other and try to save each other, and also because they care for humanity. They make sacrifices for us.
For over a year during pre-production, the filmmakers consulted with NASA, SpaceX and other science figures in the community about ship design and the mission to Europa itself. Moreover, they also consulted with astrobiologists about what life on Europa might look like. Backed with extensive research, Production Designer Eugenio Caballero (Pan’s Labyrinth) spent over five months to create the spaceship, which could rotate, shake and accommodate zero gravity wirework. With its found-footage approach, eight cameras were placed inside the spaceship, shooting simultaneously from various angles while Director Sebastián Cordero watched from outside through monitors. Microphones were positioned in numerous parts of the ship and also on the actors. For 19 days, principal photography is done on that set in Brooklyn, sort of like a play.
I’m always skeptic about films that use the found-footage gimmick, I often find it more distracting than helping. But if there’s a suitable condition to use this method, I guess this is it. The cameras placed all over the spaceship and on the astronauts’ spacesuits feel natural, probable. The footages of interviews and TV clips add even more verisimilitude, blurring lines between fact and fiction, and one of my favorites is that brief footage of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson from 2007, saying how he wanted to go to Europa and go ice fishing. “Cut through the ice, lower a submersible, look around, see what’s there. See what swims up to the camera lens and licks it. That’d be kinda cool,” he said.
Exciting discoveries and advances regarding Europa keep being made, and in 2022 the European Space Agency will launch a rocket to study three of Jupiter’s moons, including Europa. Aside from that, the increase of privately funded space travels makes Europa Report all the more fascinating in its proximity to realism. The fact that the crew members come from different countries seems to foretell how space exploration is going to be. The film celebrates what it means to be human, to push the boundaries and to ask, to be curious. To be selfless not only for the sake of our fellow men but also, more importantly, for humanity.