The search for extraterrestrial life (as reference in this Huffington Post article) is heavily weighted, nowadays, toward the search for a “habitable zone” around other suns. But there are arguments for the possibility that life could develop in environments well outside that.
If we were to discover life, even microbes, in the seas of Europa or within Jupiter’s atmosphere, it would really expand the search for life. My understanding is that everyone looking for habitable planets is now looking only in the “sweet spot” (sort of Venus-to-Mars-ish orbit, depending a lot on star type).
One of the big unanswered questions as I see it is how common magnetic fields are. Without one around Earth, life might have arisen but probably wouldn’t have survived…or might have taken even stranger forms than it did.
SPOILER ALERT: STUFF MENTIONED BELOW WILL SPOIL THE FILM EUROPA REPORT FOR YOU (ALTHOUGH IF YOU ASK ME YOU SHOULDN’T GIVE A DAMN). IT MAY ALSO SPOIL 2010: ODYSSEY TWO.
Carl Sagan collaborated on an awesome extrapolation of what kind of life might exist in a Jovian atmosphere (as “speculative nonfiction”) in his PBS TV series and its accompanying book, Cosmos. You can see what he proposed in this clip:
Arthur C. Clarke also included a pretty cool large-and-complex Europa-dwelling tentacle organism in 2010: Odyssey Two, which Europa Report basically lifted.
The Clarke version is the culmination to an amazingly tense sequence involving a Chinese spaceship whose crew might be doomed…or might not. The story element turns quickly and horrifically to violence. It’s one of my favorite sequences in all of Clarke’s work.
On the other hand, I thought Europa Report was bollocks. I felt like the film went wrong from teh first few frames, and it never recovered my confidence. The entire film felt confused, and yet it never turned the “found footage” format into an asset the way it could have with, I believe, far less effort than was expended. I never felt like I was REALLY watching found footage, and I certainly never felt like I was watching the “report” the film tries to frame itself as.
Such a report, prepared by the company that launched the expedition, would not have pursued the goal of “creating tension.” Let’s face it, it woulda started with the most important information, which I think in any century and on any planet would be “HOLY FUCKIN’ SHIT!!!! THERE ARE MOTHERFUCKIN’ TENTACLE FUCKIN’ MONSTERS ON MOTHERFUCKIN’ EUROPA!!!!”
If I was, you know, a stockholder in that damned company, I’d be all, “Why the hell did you make me wait ninety minutes before you told me my company just discovered alien life? Go get the buggywhip!!”
Which could have worked, just fine, but it would have required the screenplay not to be a slow-build to an agonizingly predictable Blair Witch “reveal” lifted from one chapter of a 1980s science fiction novel that most Clarke fans don’t even consider one of his major works.
In Clarke’s novel, the FACT of life on Europa becomes extremely important, as the reason for the “space babymakers” to convert Jupiter into a second sun. But the form of it is kind of a horror-show throwaway, while being supported by real (and convincing) science. With Europa Report, the weight of the story rested on the “Surprise!” moment in which we discover there are tentacle monsters in the seas of Europa. Sadly, that’s something exobiology nerds have been speculating on for twenty or thirty years. It’s gotten to be an exobiology cliche. I find it hard to believe that anyone who watched the Discovery Channel for any significant amount of time in the last 20 years would be surprised to discover there are tentacle monsters in the seas of Europa. (In a film, that is. If it happened in reality I would crap my pants, same as everybody.)
I would forgive Europa Report all of that, if the film had succeeded in building tension for me. I’ve never been so bored, or so tormented by awkward and forced dialogue that is actually never quite dialogue, just incoherent pieces of monologue that never met an exploration of “tell don’t show” they don’t like. I can only hope the team’s next film is Screenwriting Class Report, while the crew escapes Europa’s monsters and is sent back to Earth to make its own sequel, Acting Class Report.
These films can air in a drive-in triple-feature with the more-accurate follow-up to Gravity: Orbital Mechanics.