“Europa Report” (2013), directed by Sebastián Cordero, is a space science-fiction that doesn’t seem quite so fictional, for it employs none of the familiar space-themed tropes: alien invasion, interstellar voyages or parallel universes.
Its draw is its stark realism. Somber and suspenseful, it tracks the journey of the first crewed mission to Jupiter’s ice-encrusted moon, Europa, picking up, of sorts, where Stanley Kubrick’s classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), left off.
Where Discovery One, the nuclear-powered, elongated dumbbell-shaped spaceship, in the earlier film, had ended its journey in the Jovian orbit, Europa One makes a landing on a new world: an off-white sphere, lacerated with brown cracks.
Made in the found-footage format—a grainy transmission from the spacecraft, broken now and then, by lag or solar flare-interference—it lays bare the perils of human spaceflight, the gaping isolation, and the unending tedium the crew will have to cope with in an interplanetary trip.
Its set, which is purely functional, lends it another layer of verisimilitude. Spaceships of the near-future, in reality, aren’t likely to be as comfy and roomy as often depicted in Hollywood, with nifty cabins, bathed in ambient luminescence, furnished with smooth-edged sofas and Bodum tumblers, all held in perfect balance by artificial gravity.
Neither will they travel at superluminal speeds. Europa One is propelled by conventional rocket engines, depicted by grafting a shot of the NASA probe, Juno, lifting off from Cape Canaveral, three years ago. (It’s expected to arrive around Jupiter, in July 2016.)
Yet, for all its accurate portrayal of future space missions, it stumbles in one area. Its concept of alien life-form falls prey to the pop culture version of the extraterrestrial: the many-legged, octopus-like monster. Alien life, if ever discovered, may not even be 3D, let alone look like that.