I recently wrote about how I’ve become obsessed with the idea of watching all the old movies I loved as a kid with my own child. There is something really wonderful about the sharing of films that meant a great deal to yourself as you grew up with your own offspring as they grow older. Along with this, I’ve began to wonder what new films my daughter will love. What films will she take with her to college and get all nostalgia-eyed with her suite mates and girlfriends? What will be her Karate Kid? Her Gremlins?
At three, she’s really too old for movies to have that sort of impact on her, but I can’t help but keep these ideas in mind whenever we sit down and watch one family adventure or another. I recently watched a couple of movies that would like to be contenders in that race, but both, I suspect will fall way short. Maleficent is Disney’s retelling of their own classic adventure told from the Evil Witch’s point of view, but the shadow of the original kept it from really becoming the film it was born to be.
Earth to Echo tries really hard to be exactly the sort of film I loved growing up almost to the point of parody. It rips them off so bad I expect they’ll have to send Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner royalty checks. It's as if they threw The Goonies and E.T. into a bowl, sprinkled it with some Flight of the Navigator and frosted whatever came out with J.J. Abrams' filmmaking sensibilities.
The story involves three pubescent boys who live in a suburb that very soon is going to have a highway run through it, causing all the families to move out. Something weird is messing with their phones, putting what looks like a map on them. For their last night together, the three sneak away, meet a nice girl, are chased by nameless government agents, and help a cute alien find its way home. There is a fine line between homage and blatant ripping off and this film smashes through it without ever looking back.
For some ungodly reason, director Dave Green decided to shoot the entire film with a series of handheld cameras that make it unbearably difficult to watch. There’s an underlying theme about our youth’s obsession with technology. The opening scenes show the trio constantly using their phones, video chatting, and tied up completely into the internet and social media. They take great pains to make one of them addicted to filming everything - he always carries a camcorder with him, he’s got a video tied to his bike, and he purchases a pair of spy glasses with micro camera embedded (we see the film through footage taken from these cameras).
The movie seems to be trying to say something meaningful with all of that but it instead rather ruins the story they are attempting to tell. It's otherwise enjoyably told and could have been something me and my family would have liked and added to our collection but the constant shaky-cam effects and the jittery editing just made me want to throw things at my television.
The video looks well enough, but as it's replicated a variety of home-video formats with varying degrees of fidelity and it never stops moving long enough to give it a good look, it's difficult to tell if there are any real problems with it. The audio is well balanced and there's enough action sequences to give your home theatre a mild work-out. The ambience is decent and the dialog was never difficult to understand.
Extras include the usual featurettes on making the film, including an interesting one on a particularly nice-looking bit of CG effect. Plus, there are a few deleted scenes.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with nostalgic cinema. In this brave new meta-world, it can be a lot of fun to make films that reference the movies we grew up with. Earth to Echo desperately tries to remind my generation of all the fun we had in the cinemas during the '80s while still entertaining the kids, but ultimately it just feels like a bad rip-off with little joy and terrible cinematography.