“Nobody doesn’t love Europa.” Neil DeGrasse Tyson said that and goes on to explain the likelihood of finding life on a planet that has liquid water which Europa apparently does. There’s also video of him saying how he’d like to drill through the ice, lower a submersible, and “see what swims up to the camera lens and licks it.” Welcome to the entire premise of Europa Report.
That camera quote even shows up in the movie around the 15-minute mark. That premise isn’t quite so simple though. There are in fact 3 separate but related ideas at work in this movie. First is the basic story. A company called Europa Ventures sends a manned space flight to Europa to look for life. Big fat alien spoiler, they find it. More to the point, it finds them. I mean, I love good ol’ Doc Tyson, but I suspect he hasn’t read enough Lovecraft.
On the space monster front, not a whole helluvalot new here. Think, I dunno, The Thing meets Alien meets This Island Earth, stuff like that. But the space trip itself is what links to the movie’s second big idea. There’s some kind of thinly veiled political allegory going on here. There’s a character named Blok, as in eastern, and one named Luxembourg. There’s a number of ethnicities and nationalities involved or implied, so I gotta wonder what point is being made.
Sadly, that question isn’t answered, at least not in a way I figured out. Still, it’s interesting that Blok becomes increasingly paranoid and is the second to die after actually setting foot on Europa. The first? Luxembourg. I’m sure that has something to do with something, but either it doesn’t come off successfully, or I shoulda paid more attention in high school Civics instead of staring all puppy-eyed at this girl I had a huge crush on who shall remain nameless.
Finally, there’s a good deal of homage being paid to science fiction horrors past. For one thing, it’s got that whole confined, claustrophobic Alien/The Thing atmosphere cookin’ in order to work up the old anxiety. Small spaces, narrow passages, that kinda stuff always makes me fidgety. The helpless isolation ramps that up a good couple notches as well.
Perhaps the biggest call back is The Silent Star (released in the US as First Spaceship On Venus). There are so, so many similarities it’s almost safe to call Europa Report a reworking or reimagining (if not straight up remake) of The Silent Star. Why? I’ll tell you why, but it involves some megaspoilers of both movies:
- The events may play out differently, but both movies share a startling number of overlap:
- International teams sent to Venus and Europa respectively.
- Some problem near the planet that causes the crew to lose communication with Earth.
- One crew member who becomes paranoid and cagey about some aspect of the mission.
- A landing craft is damaged which more or less strands someone on the planet.
- Someone’s spacesuit gets torn resulting in his eventual death.
- Evidence of life proves to be/to have been hostile.
It’s worth noting that The Silent Star also sets the stage for much later movies like Alien and the nearly unwatchable Life. The mission to Venus is undertaken because someone discovers an alien flight recorder in the Gobi Desert, much like the signal received by the Nostromo. There’s also an accident that sends a single occupant spacepod hurling irretrievably into space which happens right near the end of Life as well.
All in all Europa Report is a taut, kill-em-off-one-by-one space horror that makes up in tension what it lacks in gore. Not bad for PG-13.
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