By Bill Arceneaux
I don’t think I can safely call myself an Amblin kid. By Amblin, I mean Amblin Entertainment, the company that produced E.T.: The Extraterrestrial and Back to the Future. These are movies that I like and even love, don’t get me wrong, but they were just slightly before my generation. Movies like UHF and The Sandlot hit me in the right place at the right time, while Harry and the Hendersons just missed the ferry (though I did enjoy it).
It seems as though, at least since these Amblin movies started coming out, that various age groups have been trying to claim certain flicks as their own, best representing how they felt and saw the world. In turn, studios have tried to capitalize on this nostalgic attitude by attempting to replicate that Amblin feel. It’s possible to do so without being cynical and redundant, but that would almost be a miracle to accomplish. J.J. Abrams tried it, with Amblin helping out, in the form of Super 8, a film that, while fun, I consider to be “Spielberg-sploitation” – being in the business of exploiting the motifs and style of Steven Spielberg. I doubt anything nefarious was going on during that production, but the irony is not (and should not be) ignored.
Now that I’m a grown up, unmarried and with no kids, it’s harder to market to me a wide-eyed adventure story. Harder, not impossible. My heart can still beat, I think.
Earth to Echo is not quite something I would label as trying to play to that Amblin crowd, but it does, indeed, have all the right elements for that. It’s a story of three friends who, on their last night together before they all move from their neighborhood, go on a silly adventure that becomes something grander. They bicycle to and from just about every location, spout out cutesy quips, and get into some dangerous scrapes. The script itself starts from a simple place, and slowly grows the more the kids discover.
Alarms in my head were going off, alerting me to possible Spielberg-sploitation, but all calmed down, and I’m now of the belief that this is more inspiration than duplication. The main difference here is in the format, which is not so much found footage, but mockumentary. One of the kids is a natural filmmaker, and documents/edits just about everything he captures. Throughout the film, he narrates, adds titles and even a few special effects from his computer. It’s not clear if the world has found out about the events, or if this is just a movie he made for his friends, but whatever the case, it’s incredibly clever. Of course, Super 8 was also about a group of kids involved with filmmaking, so…
It’s not nearly as epic or even as precious, but Earth to Echo is certainly more quaint and intimate than Super 8, and if I had to pick one reason to go buy a ticket to it, it’d be that. From a technical standpoint, it’s surprisingly smart. From an emotional standpoint, it’s fairly effective. And from a grown up standpoint, it made me remember some good times as a kid – though I don’t remember being as gullible.
Children in my audience were making beeping noises as we all exited the theater. Maybe Earth to Echo hit a generation too young for the material? Hook ‘em when they’re young, I say.
Best Moment: When the friends go to rescue Munch.
Worst Moment: The inconsistent finale.
Advice: I don’t know if your kids or young relatives will like this, but don’t be surprised if you end up enjoying it.