Let me say that I'm a BIG fan of both real-life space exploration and sci-fi films (including sci-fi horror). SO, I really REALLY wanted to like this film.
Sadly though, I cannot recommend it.
The problems come not so much from the idea, which is good (a manned mission to a moon of Jupiter to search for signs of extraterrestrial life). It's the execution that causes the film to come apart at the seams.
First off, the 'found footage/documentary' angle is getting pretty old and tired. It adds little to the film beyond a bunch of annoying 'camera flickers' and bobbles, and a lot of hyperactive and unnecessary jumping around from camera to camera inside the ship. As (over)used, it's a distracting and annoying gimmick.
Secondly, it doesn't help that we care about basically NONE of these characters. Not even Sharlito Copley (of 'District 9' fame), who just isn't given enough time or space to develop before... well, let's just say it's not good. In fact, each and EVERY one of these characters is here simply as a version of 'Ten Little Indians', to be killed off one by one, in order to present some sort of 'dramatic tension' that the (rather basic) script is lacking.
Unfortunately, you don't gain any dramatic tension from killing off characters that no one cares about in the first place.
Then there's the matter of how oddly dumb all of these allegedly 'best of the best' astronauts are. They routinely (and unrealistically) break protocol, and get killed every time for it. Nor do the survivors ever learn from this. Honestly, you could've sent the cast of Two and a Half Men, and they'd probably have a better survival rate.
So, we get a crew of astronauts who are both strangely incompetent *and* whom we're uninvolved with as characters. The most common excuse given for this is that, as scientists and engineers, they would be unemotional professionals and thus hard to get to know. But contrast this with something like Apollo 13 (the Tom Hanks film)... the astronauts there were both believably competent/professional (in other words, believably astronauts) AND fully realized three-dimensional characters whom we did care about. Without that, that film would've lost a lot of its impact.
Europa Report, while a different film and its own experience, definitely could've used some of that same touch... relatable 'human' characters who involve we, the audience. Nothing is really added by keeping the crew at arm's length, it's more an excuse for ham-fisted and unimaginative writing.
Moving from the scientists to the science, the film does try to be hard science, but this winds up being a very secondary consideration, as the latter half of the film devolves into a very standard "Ooh, there's something scary out there" horror movie.
Why the big shift? Probably out of an (unfounded?) fear that the audience will be bored to tears otherwise. Fans of this film will probably dislike comparisons to the (pretty awful) Apollo 18 sci-fi horror film, but yes, there are a number of similarities, and sadly, Apollo 18 probably comes out ahead in terms of entertainment value.
Btw, and *SPOILER* (skip this paragraph if there's any chance you'll see it): The 'this is hard science!' angle goes right out the window in reference to the monster. It makes ZERO sense that a naturally-occurring underwater creature would be adapted to breaking through many meters of ice and attacking (non-existent, until the astronauts show up) surface prey in conditions of incredible extreme cold and almost total vacuum, which is what Europa's surface is. Also, ice is literally as hard as stone at such temperatures.
But the sad thing is, chucking realism out the airlock halfway through doesn't buy the film anything, because it probably wasn't a good choice in the first place to try to be a monster movie when your budget's so tight you can't even show the actual monster attacks (CGI's expensive, yo).
Nor do the science and realism funnies stop there, which is sort of odd for a film that claims scientific realism. Some examples:
- Europa's gravity is even less than Earth's moon... yet once the crew gets there, no one in the film even remotely moves or 'bounces around' like they would under low-grav conditions, it's just 'business as usual'.
- Europa orbits within Jupiter's extremely powerful (and deadly) radiation belts, so even 2-3 hours unshielded on its surface will cause a human being serious radiation sickness (and no, spacesuits will not effectively shield you). Yet, a crew member on the surface asks to extend her already-too-long-and-dangerous EVA by an hour... and the mission commander *okays* it??
Or, put another way:
Crewmember radioing in: "Hey Commander, I'm not quite radiation-poisoned enough out here yet. I really do want the whole nausea and vomiting thing, plus I think being bald is a cool look on a woman. Can I hang out here on the radiation-blasted surface for another hour, until I get well and truly sick? Whaddya think? Over."
Mission Commander: "LOL, you so crazy. Well okay, but just this one time. You go girl. Over and out." (Would never happen).
- The main ship has huge solar panel arrays on it. Why? Out at the orbit of Jupiter, where Europa lies, you only get 4 percent as much sunlight (and thus, 4 percent as much solar power) as you would at Earth's orbit. Solar panels would essentially be dead weight for most of the mission, and such a mission would not allow for any dead weight. Like it or not, a small nuclear reactor would be the logical/likely power source for such a mission (and yes, you can build 'em that small, look at nuclear-powered submarines... and you can go smaller than that).
- Why would the crew 'vote' on an EVA? Such a mission would have a firm chain of command that would decide... it's not a democracy. And why would the EVA "have alway been a maybe", to quote the commander? Such things would've been decided and planned/choreographed well in advance. Ditto the whole mission being thrown into turmoil just because they landed a small amount further away from their landing site than originally projected. They would've had better mission-planning than that.
- Oh, and let's not talk about how unrealistic it is for astronauts to do spacewalks without either tethers or thruster packs. Just don't slip, right guys? Right guys? Oops, too late. But man, floating away into forever is just so sad and DRAMATIC, even if it was so very easily preventable. Also ignores the fact that the ship could've fired thrusters laterally and done some sort of sideways 'low speed chase' at least TRYING to save said floater. Oh well, we didn't care about that guy anyway.
Now in most sci-fi films, you could see obviously blown details of this type, roll your eyes briefly, and move on. After all, who CARES if Star Wars is scientifically accurate? But Europa Report is a different kind of sci-fi film, one that relies heavily on the feeling that this is a story that *could've* happened (the only real point to the 'found footage' schtick and camera gimmickry/goofiness).
Thus, the film (and its fans) have been hyping its 'realism' to no end... but really, it shouldn't, considering that it only goes halfway there at best. Nor does claiming Europa Report is more realistic than your average sci-fi movie carry much weight. More realistic than what? Star Wars? Event Horizon? Armageddon? What isn't?
Really, the problem with Europa Report and its big 'monster movie' tonal shift halfway through (among other things), is that the film ends up not being hard science *enough* or serious/exploratory enough to satisfy the space geeks (of which I am one), nor is it nearly scary or spooky enough to satisfy the horror fans (of which I'm also one).
Thus, Europa Report commits to being a 'tweener' film that seems to desperately want to be all things to all people, but winds up doing nothing very well (which is usually what happens when you try to be all things to all people). Not even its somber "the sacrifices we make for the greater knowledge of all Mankind" angle at the end can save it... it feels like a last-ditch attempt to give all the silly, mostly-improbable deaths - of again, characters we don't care about - some meaning.
Yes, space IS dangerous, and yes, the first crews to venture out that far will be brave souls, capable of sacrificing themselves for a higher good... but if a few of them do perish, you can bet it probably won't be in the hokey, B-movie ways depicted here, and they'll definitely be much more interesting and compelling individuals than the unlucky and dull lot of Europa Report.
The good stuff? Well, there is some. The general *idea* of exploring the outer solar system has big-time appeal to a true space-buff such as myself. Many of the smaller scientific details are handled well and realistically. The guy who plays the Russian engineer (Michael Nyqvist) tries and almost succeeds in being an interesting character, even with the script fighting against it. And there is one (and only one) strong scene, a real 'money shot' of the icy, brilliant-white surface of Europa during an EVA, with Jupiter hanging large and shadowed in the black sky. It's the one and only time you feel anything approaching the awe and wonder you're SUPPOSED to feel in a film about this sort of subject matter.
It's a compelling moment, and the only memorable one of the entire movie. If only the film had embraced more of THAT and its implications instead of trying to be some third-rate Alien knockoff, we might've had something truly special here. But that one scene by itself isn't worth the $7 and 90 minutes I put into this film.
Pass. There isn't much to see here. Because in the end, Europa Report doesn't trust its audience, nor does it entertain them. You have to do one or the other, and preferably both.