Friday, March 14, 2014

Movies of 2013, Science Fiction, pt3, Europa Report

Logically I should have paired this movie with "Gravity" but I only just watched it and decided to add it to the now nearly complete list of movies I have gone over.  So I am going back to Science Fiction with a very small movie that made very little money.

Europa Report, or "The space movie from 2013 that really does not measure up to Gravity"
Overall: 6/10 (kind of ruined by its fake-documentary style)

Surprisingly hard science.
            "Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known... what does your life actually matter?"  Which is kind of bleak when you think about it.
            I don't really like the framing device of the movie.  It is a documentary made from the footage of a lost mission to Europa, a moon of Jupiter (one of the four important ones, there are dozens of moons around Jupiter the short bus cousin to Sol).  It justifies the found footage nature of the story by having cameras everywhere on the space vessel.  Inside the ship, outside the ship, and the totally unnecessary inside the helmet (I guess they wanted to show the actors acting at the things they are seeing, but they can do that with their voices just fine without the excessive close up).  It is the quick breakdown of literally months (22 and some change) of this voyage which captures all the classic problems of the found footage style and the science fiction genre.
            You start with the initial 20 minutes with the characters, though I will freely admit they are better characters than most of these types of movies give you, "Sunshine" for instance focused on mental nut-bars and assholes for the most part, and "Gravity" only had smarmy George and whimpering Sandra as the key characters, with Ed Harris' voice giving us authoritarian if you are generous.  Europa One's crew members have roles on the mission, but nobody is transparently the daredevil or the coward (even though that is suggested with interviews at the start of the movie), they act like actual people.
            The middle section is the mini-boss, the issue that shows the dangers of the environment cropping up before you even get to the actual mission.  In this case a routine maintenance procedure that goes bad.  You can see prior examples of this with "Mission to Mars" (which this movie with very few tweaks might as well be a sequel to), in which micro meteors result in their ship getting banged up and nearly rendering the ship destroyed.  The mini-boss in "2001: A Space Odyssey" was HAL or the concept of the audience being really bored.  The mini-boss underlines a major problem with the movie though: things told and shown out of order.

I consider this to be a rather underrated movie, and while similar in plot to Europa, this one has a much lighter tone.
            The crew land the ship on Europa, then they cut back to before they landed.  This cut is to show what happened to one of the crew members, the mini-boss incident that upped the stakes for the crew.  Why did they cut backwards in time?  That is just confusing.  I thought that I had accidently clicked on the player's progress bar.  If this was a real documentary that wouldn't happen, so why is it in a fictitious documentary?  That sort of thing doesn't happen in most movies unless strange editing in the gimmick ("Pulp Fiction" or "Memento").
            The third part of the story is the mystery of Europa.  Exploring the surface, feeling the immensity of what happened (landing on a moon of Jupiter, biggest event in history up till then), and the tension and creepy nature of an alien world.  It is pretty cool, and I would have liked it a lot if not for the documentary style breaking in to ruin the flow and practically telling the audience outright how to feel.
            Ultimately there is a disaster, that is pretty clear from the nature of the movie, and the final part of the tale is the cool and scary discovery.  Then the documentary keeps talking.  Once you have the money shot of the crew's suicidal last grasp at knowledge, talking doesn't help the audience.

Said every viewer of this movie walking into the theater.  HA!  Walking into the theater!
Nobody saw this in the theater.  They watched it on Netflix months later.
            You want to know what would have fixed this movie?  Issues 1 to 100, the found footage is not necessary, and stupid documentary style takes out all of the mystery.  You know that nobody makes it out.  How about instead you just make the same story with the same cliché beats and just make it play out like a real movie?  And have some ambiguity as to whether the discovery makes it back to Earth.  Thru most of the movie the communications are not working, but we are watching a documentary, so we know that the chronicling of their mission makes it back, but if you had the last act of the crew be the daring attempt to send the message back to Earth (which is part of the climax) but leave it open ended as to whether the message made it off Europa, so that the characters and the audience don't know if the world will ever learn of what happened, that type of ending forces people to think a little.  Maybe even worry.  Really, this is the same flaw as "Gravity" which has no ambiguity to its final scene, it is excessively tied up in a neat little package.
            Problem 101, the editing of this movie is awful.  As previously mentioned cutting back and forth between months of time (even with the hard to read time codes) does nothing to help the story.
            But, whatever, instead we can just tell the audience what happened and explicitly end the movie with the words, "We now know that our universe is stranger, far more alive, than we had ever imagined. The crew of Europa One changed the fundamental context in which all of humanity understands itself. I don't know what greater measure of success they could have achieved."  As if you the watcher could not have put that together by yourself.  It is like a really good movie spliced together with a current generation History channel "documentary" (those quotes are to indicate sarcastic condescension).  It is worth watching.

I actually dislike the idea of aliens having come to Earth in ancient times to teach humans things.  It is a very colonial mindset in the realm of science fiction, the idea of the civilized people teaching the primitives the glory of technology.  Also the idea robs humans of a lot of their agency.  Humans are intelligent and should be accomplishing things rather than being spoon fed.

No comments:

Post a Comment