Friday, 25 July 2014

Review: Earth To Echo

World of Blackout Film Review

Earth To Echo Poster

Earth To Echo
Cert: PG / 91 mins / Dir. Dave Green
WoB Rating: 5/7

Dave Green's family Summer movie is being lauded (by the proprietor's of my local, at least) as "ET meets The Goonies". Much like the film itself, this enticement has its heart in the right place, but it's a safer bet to say that Earth To Echo plays out more like a family-friendly version of Super 8 vs Chronicle*1. The in-movie device of the protagonists filming every move they make with an array of cameras is set up early in the proceedings, and if you don't look too closely works very well*2 (even if the use of YouTube-eque captions and progress-bars is horribly jarring to the middle-aged audience in the first act, before thankfully being dialled back as the film progresses).

So, the film follows the three young best friends Tuck, Alex and Munch who decide to document their final night in the neighbourhood as their Nevada housing estate is due to be bulldozed for the construction of a freeway (think Desperate Housewives meets Hitchhikers Guide…), overseen by a construction company who are taking an inordinate interest in the personal telecoms devices of the residents. The strange behaviour of the gang's mobile phones leads them on a 20-mile cycle trek into the desert where they discover a visitor who desperately needs their friendship and help, and in the group's bid to assist their smallest companion they join forces with the feisty yet warm-heartedEmma, upon whom they each have a crush to some degree.

And if it all sounds a bit Spielbergian so far, that's because it pretty much is. The story is told with a lot of compassion, but is ultimately more about the group's friendship with each other than with the extraterrestrial being they help (although the scenes between the young actors and the CGI-space-owl are absolutely amazing - full credit to Bradley, Halm and Hartwig, there). The pacing's a little uneven in the middle of the film, and there's also the feeling that Ella Wahlestedt's Emma is more than a tad underwritten, not arriving until the second act and having almost no backstory, comparatively speaking. The film is told strictly from the kids' point of view, which is immersive when it's just the gang poking about deserted barns and amusement arcades, but this also results in any characters older than they are being drawn sketchily, at best. Anyone who is 'an adult' either doesn't understand or is a larger part of the problem itself. The end result feels more like an earnest movie made by a kid, rather than an adult who remembers what it feels like to be one. And the knock-on effect of that is that the younger audience members will get way more from this than their older counterparts, I think. Not necessarily a bad thing, but worth bearing in mind all the same.

But despite my grumbling, Earth To Echo is still an outstanding achievement. The visual effects are absolutely flawless (and helped enormously by the 'handheld footage' technique whereby you don't have to go for lingering shots for people to over-analyse), and the acting of everyone who's younger than 20 is amazing given that many of their older contemporaries can't seem pull it off that convincingly. The screenplay runs perilously close to using its 'visitor' as a mcguffin, metaphor and general prop rather than a character, but the scenes featuring Echo interacting with the young cast are the film's best, almost as if JJ Abrams had rebooted the Children's Film Foundation.

If your padawans are a little young for Guardians of the Galaxy, this will make a great Summer stand-in…

Is the trailer representative of the film?
It's not an inaccurate teaser, no.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
For the most part, yes.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
For me, not quite; for your younglings, most likely.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
The effects look great on a big screen, but the 'assembled footage' format lends itself more to home-viewing.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Will I watch it again?
I don't imagine I'll seek it out, but I'll probably leave it on if I stumble across it.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
Not that I heard, no.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

And my question for YOU is…
If Echo can understand human speech and project maps into their mobile phones, why doesn't he just text them his messages instead of letting them arse around with '20 questions' for two hours?

Because it's an adventure movie for the younger audience?
Oh. Okay, then.

*1 By which I mean that no-one gets killed out of sheer spite and/or indifference in this movie.
*2 By which I mean that I only counted two occasions where I was watching the film play out and thinking 'well which one of them's filming that bit, then?'. I shouldn't even mention it but I'm an absolute pedant, so I have. Me mordere.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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