Do you love science? I mean really love it? Because you most definitely need to love science if you are going to love this movie. Looking for monsters and thrills? Look elsewhere please. Craving instead a movie that discusses gravitational tidal effects on the surface of one of Jupiter's icy moons? You have found your flick!
Space is big. Things we'd like to get to are almost unimaginably distant. It takes six months for our probes to get to Mars, the nearest of the planets, and even those launch opportunities come only once every two years when our respective orbits line up properly. It took years for the NASA Galileo Jupiter probe to reach the gas giant because it had to whip around Earth, then Venus, then Earth again, just to pick up speed. The Cassini probe to Saturn took seven long years to reach the ringed planet. The Europa mission in this tale takes 22 months to reach its target and much of the story will take place on that journey.
Presented in the trendy 'found footage' style, much of film is intended to appear as if it were gathered from mission video cameras positioned both inside and outside the spacecraft. Frequently, the screen goes small as an inset and, just as frequently, as a split-screen displaying various simultaneous images. I mention this in part because the film is available on Blu-Ray. Given that many of the images are intentionally hashed with static to lend that found-footage feel, I am not at all sure that your viewing would benefit from the extra pixels. Further, you should remember that, given the sometimes awkward positioning of the faux mission cams, you will be seeing quite a few adam's apples, armpits and bushy eyebrows and kinda up close. If you really want that in HD, go for it.
Six astronauts, four men and two women, are tapped for the mission to Europa, one of Jupiter's more interesting moons. Why Europa? Because beneath its icy crust lies a moon-spanning liquid water ocean of unknown depth. As the Mission directors tell us from their pre-mission press conference, where there's water there may be life. (I was moved to re-screen this film because NASA announced this week that Hubbell had imaged geysers erupting from Europa's surface ejecting thousands of gallons of water per second into space. Cool!)
Now since the footage we are permitted to see - it's just been declassified okay? - has been recovered somehow without the crew, that should be pretty good clue that something bad, something real bad, happened to our intrepid and freshly scrubbed explorers. The tale proceeds with the frequent use of flashback, and so we learn very quickly that mission engineer James Corrigan (Copley) was lost just six months into the mission. We do not learn the manner of his death until later in the film, but the loss of contact with Earth by means of a solar storm frying the communications electronics coupled with the tragic death of their colleague casts a pall on crew morale to say the least.
Viewers will find intentional congruities with "2001: A Space Odyssey". Shortly after launch, the crew is treated to a snippet of Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz, and they smile knowingly at the reference. Corrigan's death en route to Jupiter is so close to the manner of Frank Poole's demise in "2001" that some might cry foul. Derivative or homage? Gabe and Tyco of Penny Arcade describe the distinction: it really only matters whether you like it or not. Corrigan's death is an homage.
Some sources describe this film as a "sci-fi/thriller". Hmmm. Well, terrible things happen to our astronauts, particularly after they land on Europa's surface. They are there to find life. Instead, life finds them. Attrition by accident and encounters with that life whittle our crew down. But this isn't a monster movie in any sense you will find familiar.
You will recognize some of the actors. Michael Nyqvist appeared as the lead male character in the Swedish "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" films. Sharlto Copley you may recognize from his lead role in "District 9". For this reason, I was dismayed to learn that this limited release film grossed under $150,000. That's not a typo. Someone lost big money on this project which will, I am saddened to say, deter others who might venture to make such a film.
Though there is death, there is little to no blood. There are no distracting romantic entanglements amongst the crew. When Corrigan sacrifices himself in space because his suit has become contaminated with hydrazine while on an EVA, my reaction was, "Hey, that rocket fuel is crazy toxic!" Then I congratulated myself as the crew explains to the viewer that hydrazine is, in fact, super toxic. I explain this because you may find my rating of this movie a just a tad idiosyncratic. Parts of this movie are enchantingly beautiful - if you find the very realistic portrayal of a doomed deep space mission to be beautiful. I did.