Friday, July 11, 2014

Earth to Echo

Directed by Dave Green.
2014. Rated PG, 89 minutes.
Brian "Astro" Bradley
Teo Halm
Reese C. Hartwig
Ella Wahlestedt
Jason Gray-Stanford
Alga Smith
Cassius Willis

In Mulberry, NV, the government has been buying up houses to build a new freeway. A trio of tweenage boys who are bestest buds and about to separated by their families' moving become suspicious when all of the cell phones in or near Alex's (Halm) house go haywire. At the urging of Tuck (Bradley), their de facto leader and camera holder, they do some investigating without their parents' knowledge or consent. By the way, the third member of this band of adventurers is Munch (Hartwig), their tech expert, of sorts. Together, they find out that something more sinister is going on and it all has to do with their even more amazing discovery. They find a tiny, wounded extra terrestrial who they believe is trying to rebuild his spaceship so he can phone fly home. Eventually, they decide to call him Echo. As you might suspect, the boys try to help him out which leads them all over the deserts of Nevada. Along the way, they inadvertently pick up Emma (Wahlestedt), their school's "it" girl before continuing their quest.

If you noticed, I mentioned that Tuck is always holding a camera. More accurately, he sometimes wears one. That basically renders this to be a found footage flick, except for kids. His is not the only camera through which we see things, either. We switch back and forth between whatever Tuck is using, what Echo sees, and a more traditional camera. It probably deserves to be noted that even with the traditional camera we're usually given a first person viewpoint. This lends the movie a sense of urgency that carries it as far as it can go. Most often, shots are pretty tight, adding to that "you are there" feel. When we're seeing things from Echo's vantage point, the picture often freezes, jumps, and distorts. It's a very cool feature that also works in the movie's favor. In fact, all three distinct shooting styles combine to aid the story telling and propels the movie forward at a brisk pace.

Also helping things is the suspense of the early scenes when Echo is leading our heroes all over creation and into some tough situations to gather needed things. Most memorably, they wind up in one of those bars where you have to be at least fifty and have a felony on your record to get in. All of these scenes get fairly tense and build nicely atop one another. It helps foster the same sense of wonder as such 80s kiddie classics as E.T., and Goonies. Up to this point, we might find ourselves being hooked at the mere possibility of having a truly magical experience. Unfortunately, the movie never gets anywhere near reaching this potential. At every turn, it apes the style of Steven Spielberg. However, that's precisely the issue. Earth to Echo has all of Spielberg's style, but none of his substance. It walks and talks like a Spielberg flick, but doesn't really have a heart of its own. More importantly, it fails to get at ours.

The kids we're hanging with are problematic. None of them have enough personality for us to care about. To be fair, none of them are allowed the breathing room needed to carve out their own niche. Tuck just incessantly narrates with no real insight into the situation at hand while the rest just jump in with their two cents. An even bigger problem is that the same fate befalls Echo. He's clearly meant to be a modern incarnation of E.T., but is a far less interesting character. It doesn't help that he's a metallic, robotic thing. This automatically makes it more difficult to convey feeling. As primitive as E.T. was, he was clearly an entity of flesh and bone with a full range of emotions. Echo is a miniature, less charming R2-D2. It all adds up to us never really being invested in the quest of the people we're watching.

Once you get beyond the blandness of everyone on screen, what worked wonders early on begins to grate on us. All of those tight shots and the constantly switching viewpoints become a big problem. Because of sticking to this technique, we hardly ever see anything besides the face of whoever is speaking. It's meant to preserve the mystery, not reveal too much. However, it comes across as a bunch of people invading each other's personal space, and ours. Honestly, the film takes more of its visual cues from The Blair Witch Project than Spielberg, right up to and including one of our heroes giving a teary, snotty good-bye directly into the camera when he thinks he is about to die. The one real treat for our eyes, the one truly great shot, is part of an anti-climactic ending. It's rather literally "Wow, look at that!" The End. What a waste.

Earth to Echo checks off all the boxes in its attempts to become a new kiddie classic. The problem is that these are all superficial accomplishments. There is no depth, no soul behind  the slickness of all we're seeing (or not seeing). It just takes what it thinks worked in other, better films and tries to apply them here. Predictably, lots is lost in translation. It fails to make the same connection with us as the movie's it's copying. That said, it's still something kids likely enjoy. I watched this with a theater full of them on an excursion with the summer camp I'm working for. They all seemed to be having a grand time. Maybe I'm just getting old. Anyhoo, if you want to see a better Spielberg knock-off, watch Super 8.

No comments:

Post a Comment