I don’t often write here about my World Famous Movie Plus-Minus System because I’m no movie critic, and because the system is personal, and because my first inclination always tends to involve writing something obscure about baseball, say, something about Wade Davis’ current streak of holding batters without an extra base hit (41-plus innings and counting — the 11th longest streak of the last 100 years).
However, as a public service, I feel it necessary to write about the movie “Earth to Echo.”
As you know, if you clicked the link above, my Movie Plus-Minus works like so: Everybody goes into a movie with some expectation level. This expectation level can come from many different places. Maybe you were waiting for this movie to come out. Maybe you saw a preview. Maybe you read a review or a bunch of them. Maybe someone you know mentioned the movie. Maybe you’re only going because your date wants to see it or because you have a couple of hours to kill.
Whatever the reason, whatever the impetus, you will have some expectation. Even when people say, “I had no expectation,” THAT is an expectation. It’s an expectation of “0 stars.” If the movie then turns out to be pretty good — say a two-star movie — that’s a great movie experience. We had that happen recently with the movie About Time; have you seen that? Perfectly pleasant two-to-three star movie, depending on your tolerance for lovable British characters and your awesomeness rating for Rachel McAdams. I went in an agnostic on both things, expecting a half-star experience, and came out pleased — it was a plus-two star experience for me. If I had gone in with huge expectations, the fact that the time travel bits made almost no sense at all would have bothered me a lot more.
In any case: I went into Earth to Echo with a zero-star expectation. And it was the first movie I have ever seen that not only disappointed on a zero-star expectation, it actually made me violently ill. LIke I say: This is a public service.
My youngest daughter, Katie, was the one who suddenly and unexpectedly became fascinated by Earth to Echo. When we go to movies as a family, we have this thing we do: After every preview, we look at each other and give a thumbs up or a thumbs down based entirely on the preview. For instance, before Earth to Echo, Katie and I saw the preview for a movie called “Big Hero 6” that I guess is coming out later this year. That was a BIG thumbs up for us. We also saw a preview for the Michael Bay “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie. That was a BIG thumbs down for us. Really? A movie?
I should add: These pre-ratings are not binding; I remember the girls gave a thumbs down to the “MegaMind” trailer but loved the movie. The pre-ratings do give us a general starting point.
And Katie had, on several occasions, given Earth to Echo a pre-rating thumbs down. We all did. The preview just didn’t look all that interesting — it looked like E.T. without E.T. — and so that seemed a good movie to miss. That was definitely the plan. But at some point in the last week — probably because a friend mentioned it — Katie expressed serious interest in seeing the movie. Our older daughter Elizabeth and my wife did not change their thumbs-down point of view so they stayed home and watched “Les Miserables.” Dad and Katie had a little night out together.
Now, I should say: I have an uncommonly weak stomach. Uncommonly weak. I take Dramamine before every flight because of potential turbulence. During the 2010 World Cup, I got seasick on the 30-minute ferry ride to Robben Island when going to see Nelson Mandela’s cell and seasick again on the way back. At the 2000 Olympics, I got horribly seasick on the boat ride out to the Great Barrier Reef, was then pumped with all sorts of anti-seasickness medicine and still got horribly sick on the way back. Funny, I mark some of the most amazing experiences of my life by how seasick I became.
So when I realized about three minutes into Earth to Echo that this was one of those “found footage” movies with the conceit being that the kid filmed the whole thing using his shakily held home cameras, I thought: “Oh no.” This effect had already sickened me in a dozen movies — from “Husbands and Wives” to “Blair Witch” to various documentaries. I thought, “Well, maybe the shaky camera thing will kind of stop at some point in the movie.”
The answer, again, is: No. It does not stop. The camera shakes. And shakes. And drops. And shakes. And spins. And shakes. There are cameras on bumpy bicycles. There are cameras filming telephone wires going by. There are cameras pointed at the ground while people are walking. There are cameras spinning around like little kids trying to get dizzy in their front yards. It was like the movie’s entire purpose was to make me throw up, like that pie-eating scene in “Stand By Me.” I’m proud to say, it didn’t get me. Not quite.
By some miracle, Katie did not inherit a weak stomach. These cameras had no impact whatsoever on her constitution. Ten minutes in, I realized I wasn’t going to make it. I started to sweat, the first sign. I closed my eyes for a couple of minutes and opened them. The nausea came back quick. The regular sweat began turning into Albert Brooks flop sweat. I did what I never do … I left in the middle of a movie. Well I had to go. I went to wash my face (at that particular moment, that was not all I intended to do). And after I had calmed my stomach, I stood outside the theater for a moment and thought a terrible thought:
Just how much do I love my daughter?
It turns out I love her a lot because I went back into the theater, and I held her hand, and I stayed for the rest of the 38-and-a-half-hour movie, almost entirely with my eyes closed. Every now and again, I would open my eyes to see some sort of vertigo-inducing camera stunt and I would quickly close my eyes again. Why, Earth to Echo? Why?
How was Earth to Echo? Funny you should ask that: I just got an email from my Fandango account asking the same question. It really doesn’t fit on the Plus-Minus scale. I have no idea HOW it was considering I SAW only about 10 minutes of it. But it did not sound too bad for people who have no problem with shaky cameras. Katie liked it well enough — liked it, didn’t love it. I mean it really is an E.T. ripoff and it doesn’t have the charm or magic. But the kids in the movie seemed likable enough and the alien, from what I could see, was cute enough, and it probably would have qualified as a bland and inoffensive one- or one-and-a-half star family movie if it did not so relentlessly make me want to throw up.