This is a movie that most people have never heard of, much less seen. I stumbled across it a few months ago on one of the science blogs I visit. It was described there as a movie to plan to see because it was a rare movie that “gets the science right.”

It’s fairly low-budget, and it shows. The premise of the movie is that the viewer is watching a documentary about a voyage to Europa, a moon of Jupiter that is thought to harbor a vast underground water ocean. Europa’s surface is thought to be nearly pure water-ice that is fractured into vast cliffs and canyons, which explains the movie poster art:

europa-report-poster

It is really not possible to review this movie without some spoilers unless the review sticks with something like “Thog like. Thog give this many fingers out of fistful.”

I’m not going to stick to that, so there will be spoilers.

The movie, as I noted above, is in the format of a documentary. The documentary is made up of a mix of interviews with people from mission control along with a series of received messages from the crew of “Europa One”. Soon though you begin to see scenes from within the spaceship that are not part of the mission logs sent to earth and you then spend most of the rest of the movie experiencing what the crew experiences, with short fragments of past logs for context or exposition, and occasional actual on-board flashbacks to previous events.

It’s sort of confusing, frankly. You have to listen close and watch for visual or verbal cues as scenes shift around to know if you are in the present or in the past. References to events that happened in the past sometimes are presented to the viewer before the flashback that explains them.

The result was that some of the folks watching with me were completely lost and could not tell when they were “in the moment” or when they were in a flashback. That really created narrative confusion and caused some of them to lose interest in the plot.

So the plot… The movie pays homage to several other movies from the past, particularly “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Some of this is done well, some is not. Some of it is downright silly.

I really, really wanted to like this movie. There is no doubt that there is a real effort to “get the science right”. And that works right up to the point that the science gets in the way of the plot, when science is no longer that important. Still I want to give them points for trying.

The main problem I have with the movie is that in spite of all the obvious effort to get things right, they get almost every really key thing wrong. The movie implies that the ship is launched from earth, blows past the moon and is soon on its way to truly uncharted areas. But the ship is HUGE! I mean as depicted, the “Europa One” would dwarf the International Space Station. It’s got huge revolving compartments for the crew to provide centripetal gravity. Each compartment alone would dwarf an entire Saturn V rocket. I don’t mean the crew capsule of a Saturn V, I mean the entire friggin’ Saturn V rocket. To get a ship the size of the Europa One into orbit would require HUNDREDS of launches of Saturn V size payloads. And THEN you’d have to launch THOUSANDS of times as much fuel into orbit just to get that monster enough delta-v to get to Jupiter the way it was depicted.

Then the crew… The main consideration for creating a crew appears to have been to meet some diversity quota. There is an asian, a russian, an American, a Briton…. I’m sure I’m missing a few key nationalities. And none of them seemed to have been picked for any psychological compatibility reason. Some of them are downright rude to the others.

There is, of course, a blowout of communications. This is described as having been the result of a massive coronal ejection from the sun, complete with a video of the sun launching the MCE at the ship. Of course such an event would have completely and utterly fried the crew. Instead all it did was fry a circuit board. Just one, actually, and the key one that provided ALL COMMUNICATIONS to earth. Apparently the private company who built Europa One never heard of the concept of redundancy. But, again, plot trumps engineering. It was critical for the ship to be out of touch with earth for months. Also, the engineers apparently didn’t know how to build a radio transmitter from all sorts of stuff on the ship. Really? You know how easy it is to build a radio transmitter? When I was a kid, I built one.

Finally they reach Europa. At least the writers here had more sense than “Prometheus” and they didn’t just land the whole friggin’ ship on the planet, but they did barely manage to land their investigative ship (Which was about the size of a three story house apparently) on the icy surface. But they weren’t able to land where they were supposed to, in spite of having the most brilliant hotshot pilot in the solar system, and apparently enough fuel to attempt to lift off TWICE.

In the end people die. Because, you see, Europa is populated with monsters under the ice. Ice that in reality is estimated to be tens or hundreds of miles thick, but which in the movie was about as thick as your local winter-frozen pond. If that much.

Anyway… I’d like to say go watch it. I just really can’t. I’ll give it two glowing exosquids out of five.