Thursday, July 03, 2014

"Earth to Echo" follows up on the "found footage" genre, with precocious high-tech middle school kids as stars

Earth to Echo” (directed by Dave Green) puts together the elements of a lot of predecessors: the old 50s series “Movies for Kids”, then Spielberg’s “The E.T.”, but then “Cloverfield”,  “Blair Witch Project”,  “Transformers”, and even recently “The Signal”.  It’s the best of the sci-fi movies this year so far, although that’s not just because it’s a kids’ movie, too.  The narrative style is from a middle school viewpoint (well, high tech, pre-Mark-Zuckerberg kids) and much of the narrative is told in choppy video taken by the kids themselves (the grownups did that in “Cloverfield”).
Indeed, “the kids are all right”.  They are all around 12 years old, not quite to the point that their voices have fully changed.  Had these been high school AP kids, then it would be a different movie (more of “Smallville”).   The ring leader is Alex (Teo Halm) along with Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley).  Another kid has a complete server farm in his bedroom.  These are the sort of middle school kids a substitute teacher would never have any problems with.  They’re bemused by the fact that they all have to move soon.  The government wants to tear down all the houses in the neighborhood (near Reno, NV), for a road project that doesn’t sound like a likely story.
Suddenly, cell phones start going crazy, and the kids follow the signal (and “found footage”) into the desert (and the similarity to another recent sci-fi film seems coincidental).  They find an alien robot in the junk.  The robot seems to have a holographic copy of a being’s consciousness inside – an idea that may have come from the “Guild” in Frank Herbert’s “Dune” (a 1984 film from David Lynch).  The kids are protective of the “ET”, especially from the police and the government (probably the CIA and NSA, who have been spying on them).  No wonder the NSA is building a new facility in the desert.
It gets wild.  In one scene, the robot destroys all the stringed instruments in a guitar shop (“You broke it, you bought it” – that’s actually a musical work by Timo Andres, reviewed on the drama blog, Jan. 26, 2012).  The robots are quite capable of defending themselves once the kids stall the NSA;  the answer is self-assimilation, big time.  There really were secrets underneath theses houses.
I thought this was a Disney film.  It’s from Rogue-Relativity, and was filmed in the Mojave Desert with  and Canadian production sources and indeed Walt Disney Studios.  (Disney didn’t want to release a “small” film under its own studio brand, so it turned to the arthouse market, a first.)  It’s kept to the “1.85.1” aspect ratio because of the dogme technique of using kids’ videos, as well as the world as the aliens see it at the very end.

The official site is here (Relativity).  The soundtrack is sensational, with many songs that will become hits. I saw this before a small gathering at Regal Ballston in Arlington.  It’s better to see this in a theater pre-formatted to regular aspect ratio, with extended digital.  I don’t know if its offered on Imax or RPX screens but it could be a good candidate. 

Pictures are mine;  second picture is Wheeler Peak, Nevada (2012).  ("Cloverfield" is reviewed on my "cf" blog, Nov. 14. 2010).  


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