When Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968, some critics said it was a landmark film that would change the science fiction genre. It was certainly heavy on dazzling visuals and special effects, but instead of being filled with monsters or radiation poisoning, or featuring old-fashioned space opera battles, it was a slow, thoughtful mediation on space, religion, and human nature. The look and effects did go on to influence later sci-fi movies (not least of all, Star Wars), but most of the films that followed went in the opposite direction in terms of tone: cartoonish action rather than a thoughtful, enigmatic naturalism.
We are presented with "found footage" of a doomed spaceflight to Europa, a moon of Jupiter where there is a tantalizing promise of life under the ice. Unlike Blair Witch, in this film we have a strong sense of the outcome at the beginning, and the footage has been pieced together from a variety of sources--mostly ship cameras--by other hands, representatives of the private company that sponsored the flight. Along the way, the crew interacts in the usual fashion, sometimes friendly and jovial, sometimes bristly and tense, until they land on Europa and discover a strange light in the ice. Is it real or is it just the overactive imaginations of the crew?
One thing the movie has in its favor is its look: it is crisp, bright and colorful--I can't tell you how tired I am of movies in which the color is drained or artificially flattened. The actors are all fine, including Michael Nyvquist (the reporter in the original Swedish 'Dragon Tattoo' films) and District 9's Sharlto Copely (pictured). I have a problem with the construction of the narrative. A major character dies on the way to Europa, and we know he does, but the chronology of events is messed with so that his death isn't seen until later in the movie, for no apparent reason. It also doesn't feel like a found-footage movie--it's way too put together. Ultimately I liked the movie, though the climax is not as well handled as it should have been, leading to some lessening of tension right at the end. It doesn't head off into space warfare action, but it doesn't make it to 2001 awe either.