SDCC | Found-Footage 'Europa Report' Takes Scientific Approach to Alien Life

Several films, comic books and television series promoted at Comic-Con International deal with the prospect of alien life on other planets. But in truth, we’re now closer than ever to answering the question posed for centuries by mankind: Are we alone in the universe?

The new film Europa Report delves into that question using “found footage” and current science to tell the story of a near-future manned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, where scientists have theorized single-celled life could exist.

Present at Comic-Con to discuss this film were director Sebastian Cordero, composer Bear McCreary, producer Ben Browning and actress Karolina Wydra, alongside scientists Steve Vance and Kevin Hand from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The Hall H presentation was moderated by astronomer Dr. Phil Plait.

The plot centers on a group of six astronauts sent to Europa by a privately funded space-exploration company to confirm that a hidden ocean beneath the moon’s icy surface could contain single-celled life. The trip takes nearly two years, and during that time, a near-catastrophic technical failure leads to the loss of communication with Earth. The story is later pieced together using video footage recovered from the ship.

Plait remarked to the panelists how impressed he was with the film’s science, beginning with the central premise.

Cordero and Browning explained that they insisted on making the science real, which is why they brought on JPL to consult. They then shared a short video from JPL about Europa, which the cast and crew were required to watch. It contained several interesting facts, including the point that Europa contains two to three times the amount of water that Earth does. The water goes 100 kilometers deep, and lies under a thin ice shell, which causes trouble for the characters in the movie.

Wydra said all the actors conducted extensive research for their roles and read Packing for Mars to help prepare themselves. She felt it was important for the film to feel authentic, which is why she wore a 50-pound spacesuit for her scenes on Europa’s surface – even though you never fully see her in those sequences.

Cordero added that because the suits were designed for space, they were extremely warm and had built-in fans that had to be turned off to record dialogue. Needless to say, it wasn’t a comfortable experience.

As the movie is supposed to be created from found footage, the director wanted it to have a true documentary feel and turned to For All Mankind for inspiration. While the film was mainly shot in a soundstage in Brooklyn, many stationary cameras were used and lots of footage was shot – so much that it took four editors to put it all together. That sense of being a documentary applied to the music, too, and McCreary did his best to oblige.

McCreary said he tried hard not to have the score pull audiences out of the feeling that they’re watching a documentary. That proved to be a challenge, and McCreary explained he scored the film three times before finding the sound he was searching for. As the movie is supposed to be footage presented by the company who funded the Europa mission, the composer said he pretended to be an employee of that company as he wrote the music. That helped him mentally justify music inside a documentary-type film.

Because the JPL employees were brought in to consult during the film’s early stages, they were able to help steer the story in scientifically accurate ways. When asked if there were any major script changes needed due to JPL’s observations, Cordero talked about a third-act discovery that was supposed to take place on Europa’s surface. The consultants pointed out that it would only occur under the ice shell of Europa, which led to a much stronger cinematic moment.

Before the panel concluded, Plait said the scientist in him really wanted to know if we would ever make it to Europa. Vance and Hand then talked about the Europa Clipper, which they’re working on at JPL. Much like the ship in the film, this craft would be able to reach Europa. Hand told the audience that he feels we will have the answer to the question about life in our universe within our lifetimes.

Now in theaters, Europa Report is also available on Video on Demand, iTunes and Google Play Movies.

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