Beyond the Infinite
Although a vocal portion of movie fans are eager to see the final nail plunged into found footage's coffin, I'm unable to share their sentiments. I'm a sucker for that gimmick, and though these flicks have grown awfully derivative in the short time they've been around, I can't help seeing the potential that lies ahead. Besides, there's too much inferior product that's synonymous with their adoptive genres, which is where Europa Report comes in. The last time this format took to outer space, we got the miserable Apollo 18 out of it, so to see a more ambitious and creative successor step up is welcome indeed. But it still has a hard time putting on a convincing act, which unfortunately outweighs the otherwise terrific world-building it accomplishes through miniscule financial means.
Ever since man first glanced upon the stars, the search for possible life in the universe has been one of our greatest goals. But after millennia of wondering, the hunt may have come to a close. The discovery of potential water on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, has rocked the scientific community, with one privately-funded venture itching to see what else is out there. Thus, a team of enterprising astronauts, including Captain Xu (Daniel Wu) and chief engineer Andrei (Michael Nyqvist), is assembled and embarks on a daring mission to check out if any complex lifeforms indeed thrive out there. But six months into the journey, all communication is mysteriously cut off, with Earth unaware of the harrowing perils the crew encounters before they even reach their destination.
Right away, Europa Report addresses a nagging nitpick that tends to pop up in found-footage movies. Rather than said recordings comprising the entire running time, this film is presented as a mockumentary, a chronicle of a mission that, judging from the solemn mugs of the interviewees, didn't go very well. So instead of having us wonder how the footage made it back here, Europa Report is able to establish its intended mystery; we know things are going to go south for the astronauts, but exactly what happens is another story. I daren't spoil those events that come to pass, though I will say the challenges the crew faces are more plausible than not. It's a relief to see something like this that doesn't have an outright villain running around making contrived shenanigans, as the ensuing dangers are of the variety that a bunch of people truly going where no man has gone before might realistically come across.
That Europa Report pulls all this off with a minimum of visual influence is another feather in its cap. This isn't a flick that needs to cost a lot, so with simple interior sets and the occasional shot of space's infinite darkness, you can buy that these guys are hurtling through the cosmos. What's not as easy to accept, though, are the characters themselves. Not that the acting is especially bad at all, but you're always aware it's acting. While no one is a walking cliché, there are slivers of melodrama that creep into the performances and crack the illusion of reality fairly wide open. It also doesn't help that Europa Report likes to forget its faux documentary format, so for long stretches, it's as if we're watching a traditional sci-fi movie, only some gofer superglued all the cameras to the walls. Plus, though I knew in the back of my mind that it couldn't abide by its "less is more" philosophy forever, it was disappointing to see the film's finale go out in such a cheesy display, when holding out for ambiguity would've been light years more effective.
Europa Report ends up as a textbook example of a nice try. It features fine effects work and moments of truly startling suspense, but there are enough inconsistencies to keep it from clicking together and being the original gem it could've been. Still, while it didn't do much for me, Europa Report is the kind of movie I can easily imagine catching on with other viewers weary of the found-footage grind.
(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated "PG-13" by MPAA.)