Skip to main content

Having a friend light-years away taught us that distance is just a state of mind.

Earth to Echo
(2014)

Explorers meets E.T. meets Chronicle meets the mechanical owl from the Ray Harryhausen Clash of the Titans. Earth to Echo is nothing if not derivative, but Dave Green’s feature debut is nevertheless reasonably engaging in spite of itself. The only one of the above influences that really works against it (complaining that a movie is like E.T. is complaining that archetypal stories get told) is the found footage conceit. It’s wholly a gimmick, and one the kids appear to have augmented with Pro Tools, adding a cloyingly instructive voiceover (in case the youngsters are unable to get the message) and an unnecessary score that attempts to evoke wide-eyed wonderment.


The voiceover suggests another ‘80s influence, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me, playing into the nostalgic hue of a last momentous summer spent together before childhood friends go their separate ways. Unfortunately, the gravitas of Richard Dreyfus (as the grown-up Wil Wheaton) is absent here, even by equivalence, replaced by Tuck’s video narrative. Astro (how long before he goes back to plain old Brian Bradley?) played Liam Neeson’s impossibly smart street kid sidekick in A Walk Among the Tombstones, and his character is similarly cocksure here. His commentary is replete with unearned wisdom. It’s as problematic as the found footage (complete with far too many “authentic” recording freezes and recording cuts), such that it’s really down to screenwriter Henry Gayden borrowing liberally from strong sources that renders the picture passable.


The young leads offer variable performances, required to be naturalistic but lacking the range to pull this off. None of the young actors are actually bad, but only Ella Wahlestedt as Emma, the honorary girl and latecomer to the group, has the air of a confident performer. Reese Hartwig is Munch, nominally the oddball science geek (the River Phoenix character from Explorers rather than the pugilist of Stand By Me) but is really just a touch quirky. He’s also abandoned the plot in favour of Alex (Teo Halm). Halm is the least impressive, the foster kid given hang-ups about being left alone in the least subtle of ways.


The boys’ neighbourhood, Mulberry Woods, is due to be demolished to service the construction of a highway. It’s the final week before their enforced move and electronic signals playing havoc with residents. Munch tracks the signal (much as Phoenix led the way with deductions in Explorers) to a spot in the desert where they discover a cute little robot that just wants to get home (so, E.T.). To facilitate this they must evade government agents who want to get their hands on Echo (as they christen him). So, E.T. again. Also E.T. again, the not-quite The Creation of Adam-inspired poster.


The borrowing from Chronicle is most obvious in the video footage (although that film did it so well one forgot about it for the most part), but also surfaces in the underground spaceship of the third act. It’s curious that so many filmmakers choose found footage as a stylistic and narrative form, since it so rarely inspired or appropriate. One can only guess it’s partly down to insecurity on their part. If a film is “supposed” to look scrappy and amateurish at least the director can’t be accused of making a hash of things. Dave Green has secured the gig on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, so something must have impressed someone (either that or, equally likely, it is some form of punishment on those who liked the first instalment). There’s no good reason for its presence in Earth to Echo, and it would be a better movie without it.


Echo is expectedly adorable, with an effectively chirrupy sound design that elicits oohs and aahs. He’s overtly owl-like, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Archimedes in the 1981 Clash of the Titans (who was that film’s nod to R2D2), but curiously he isn’t an especially prominent character. Following the initial discovery, there is much chasing about and pursuing of goals (the picture clocks in at a crisp 80 minutes, shorn of credits) but not so much in the way of lovable hijinks. The effects are reasonable for the limited budget, which may explain the robot’s limited screen time (Echo’s dismantling and reconstruction of an oncoming truck is more effective for the idea than the realisation).


There are a few amusing moments that suggest this could have been quicker and wittier with a bit more care. Munch’s offers a disarming compliment to the mystified proprietor of a pawn shop (“Excuse me, sir, you have a very very lovely shop”) and his response on being asked “What was that?” as musical instruments on display start sounding off is the literal “F sharp?” There’s also a scene in a bar that begins well but can’t sustain itself.


One’s enjoyment of this picture will chiefly largely depend on tolerance levels for copious handheld camera and also kids being let loose to act like kids. Fortunately the latter never devolves into a Goonies-esque display of incessant shouting and screaming  – although it gets close on occasion – but you’d be forgiven for giving up during the first 10 minutes as the cumulative factors quickly prove wearing. Perhaps the makers realised that, without the gimmick, the movie would look like even more of an ‘80s homage than Super 8 (which is saying something), but that isn’t an especially good reason for it. Earth to Echo is well meaning and inoffensive, but it suffers by comparison with its influences. It lacks either the arch-manipulation of Spielberg’s E.T. (being told that best friends will always be together no matter where they are in the universe is trite rather than sincere, or even ‘berg-ishly treacly) or the out-of-leftfield anarchy that explodes from Dante’s Explorers.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.