By In Movies

Earth To Stomach

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.

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28 Responses to Earth To Stomach

  1. Mark Daniel says:

    Thanks for the warning! I’m a weak stomach guy myself.

  2. Shaky camera? Well, I’ll be missing this one too. You’d do me an even greater public service if you could recommend ANY current film for viewing. The current list of movies at the theaters is so grim, I can’t even get any excitement from my teenagers about a single movie. Not even movies that are sophomoric and based on fart jokes or some such nonsense. Are there any worthwhile movies out there right now? Even tougher, is there any movie out there that I can watch with my older teens? Note: at times I lower my standards, if required. I did actually go to Don’t Mess with the Zohan with them. Though dumb, and really pushing it for PG-13, I did laugh at some of the jokes. Suggestions?

    • Carl says:

      The Fault in Our Stars. Predictible, but teenage girls will love it.

    • The new Planet of the Apes movie is out this weekend. Of course I have not seen it yet, but I liked the first “new” Planet of the Apes movie, so I will give it a try. It also got pretty good reviews. I wouldn’t go in expecting “Lawrence of Arabia” or something, but it will probably be mildly entertaining.

    • Andrew W. says:

      I thought the Edge of Tomorrow was the best Tom Cruise movie I’d seen since Minority Report.

  3. Robert says:

    We have a wonderful old 3-screen drive-in near us. It is a total pleasure to go to. We haven’t been once this summer – there is just nothing being offered that we want to see. Who is making all these junk movies, anyhow?

  4. Tom says:

    I watched Hunger Games for 12 minutes on Netflix and had to stop. Same reason. And that wasn’t even a “found footage” movie.

  5. Andy says:

    By reading your review, I learned that Earth to Echo is the name of a movie.

  6. Faye Schlift says:

    I got sick just reading the blog.

  7. Marco says:


    Obviously it’s your system and you set the rules, but shouldn’t “no expectations” be set to some sort of replacement level like 1 or 2 stars? Zero stars is an AWFUL movie, and I think when most people say they have no expectations they’re not saying they expect it to be awful.

    • mark says:

      I had the exact same thought while I read that, and I’m glad you said it. No expectations for a movie should mean OK, Meh, Decent but not Recommended. 1-2 stars. Zero is objectively bad, and who has that as a default expectation?

  8. MCD says:

    I see a lot of movies, and for the past 10-15 years, I have been on a near daily rant against the shaky cam phenomenon. I can understand the rationale of using it if the action is supposed to represent found footage. I still don’t like it, but at least I understand it. But these days a majority of films have at least some of it. And isn’t just the scenes where there is inherent movement involved. It can be two people sitting at a table and having a conversation.

    Directors seem to have the mistaken notion that it adds some sort of realism, but I vehemently believe the opposite to be true. The annoyance serves as a reminder that some guy in “my reality” is sitting there holding a camera. My problem isn’t nausea, I actually get angry at the film-makers. As long as the shaky-cam effect is in play, I just sit there seething in my seat in the auditorium. It is not just the shaking, but the needless random zoom; the frequent cropping-out of half the main subject’s face. Please Hollywood, just STOP it!

    Oh, and Joe your plus/minus experience reminds me of one of my first dates with my wife before we were married. I took her to see the play “Cats” and was fully expecting it to be the most miserable experience of my life. It was so far worse than I could have possibly imagined. I asked her if she would be upset if I just waited for her in the lobby during the second act (she said she did mind)

    • NevadaMark says:

      So you had, say, a -2 expectation going in, and it turned out to be a -10? I had the exact same experience years ago when I took my date to Yentel.

    • Richard Aronson says:

      My family went to see Cats in London where, on the advice of the ticket seller at Leicester Square, I shelled out an extra ten pounds per seat to get aisle seats on the inner rotating section. Every actor played with our eight year old as they exited the stage. It was one of the best experiences I could ever hope to give her. Speaking as a fan of musicals in general, it had some perfectly fine tunes by Andrew Lloyd Weber, lyrics mostly by e. e. cummings from his classical poems; how could it be as bad as you describe? Have you no sense of whimsy at all?

      • MCD says:

        I am a actually a fan of stage musicals in general, but have positively loathed everything by Andrew Lloyd Weber (and I think by some cruel twist of self-inflicted punishment, I think I’ve actually seen them all). Knowing this prepared me for my negative expectations.

        I was, however, expecting some semblance of a plot. My recollection of Cats was merely a progression of cats taking turns singing (IMHO) awful Andrew Lloyd Webber songs about their personalities (and these songs were exceptionally bad, even be ALW standards). “I’m Rum Tum Tugger and I am cat who is also a rock star.” “We’re Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (sp?) and we like to knock over garbage cans.” There was a (what seemed like) 45 minute song that consisted solely of the lyrics “McCavity. McCavity. McCavity. McCavity. McCavity’s not there!” repeated over and over again. Was there some nonsense at the end about a flying saucer coming down to earth to take a couple of felines to cat heaven at the end? (I was a basket case by that point).

        People had also gushed to me about the “incredibly realistic, cat like movement” by the cast. I couldn’t even appreciate it on that level as it looked more like a bunch of people in leotards playing air piano.

        My apologizes for taking the conversation off on such a detour.

  9. MCD says:

    One more thing I found interesting. The following review not only blasted Earth to Echo for its motion sickness inducing camera work, but also specifically cited the Stand By Me pie eating scene.

  10. Andrew says:

    I saw it last weekend with my 8-year-old boy. It was okay — not the cartoon I expected, and that’s a good thing. A shaky camera is a fair trade for not being manipulated with Disney-style piffle about dreams and coming of age and licensed properties available at your local McDonald’s. Afterward I told my son it was kind of like a “Goosebumps” episode on TV. “Yeah, but not scary,” he said. A low-expectations kind of placeholder movie between blockbusters.

  11. Marco says:

    I’ve found that sitting farther back in the theater helps with the shaky cam nonsense.

  12. murr2825 says:

    Sort of (completely?) off the subject, I once drove seventy miles to see a Carole King concert with my date and some friends, one of whom was a rabid fan. I liked Carole King’s songs but had, really very low expectation for the show.

    Wrong. I expected a 2 and I got a 10! A dynamic performance by Carole with a tremendous band.

    My question then, is do you personally have a plus-minus scale for concerts, and what was your biggest surprise (and biggest disappointment)?

  13. I once went to an Emmy Lou Harris concert only because I was really bored & had nothing else to do… and a friend had an extra ticket. I don’t like country, and my expectations were that it would be possibly tolerable. It turned into a really good experience. She did a really nice job and had excellent rapport with the audience. I also went to see the Grateful Dead. My expectations were a bit higher, even though I wasn’t a fan. I enjoyed the whole experience (especially the crowd), and it was worth going, but the music wasn’t really that good. But, I suppose the experience is more the point of a Dead concert.

  14. Harvey Hecht says:

    Disappointed to see people who expected not to like Carole King and Emmy Lou Harris but gratified to see you were open minded enough to enjoy the experiences. Far too many people can’t break away from preconceived opinions or judgments.

  15. Herb Smith says:

    Joe, I really laughed out loud at this. I don’t even know if you were even intending for it it be a comedic piece, but perhaps I’m just simpatico with your plight; I have two similarly-aged daughters, and I detest jumpy camera-work. Loathe it, even more passionately than you or MCD possibly could.

    I think that your warning-system should become a legal thing, not unlike the movie-rating system became law in the late ’60’s. If I could only KNOW that a particular movie’s director has stooped to using the “found footage” crutch, then I could happily avoid the film.

  16. Richard Aronson says:

    E.T. remains one of my favorite pictures. I will not sully its memory by seeing “Earth to Echo” when I can rewatch E.T. instead.

  17. Brenda says:

    Saw it. Was nauseated by it. Did the same as you…. closed my eyes through most of it, but saw enough of it to to say it was very very very bland. The only thing I did like was the little alien who basically had a very small bit role and could have had much more opportunity to become a central and loveable character. Oh, and btw… my husband chose to nap through it to avoid further weakening his spinning head and stomach.

  18. MCD says:

    I took my son to see “Earth to Echo” this weekend and perhaps due to be given an appropriate heads-up by this blog entry, I did not think it was horrible. While no “E.T”, it was better than “Super 8”.

    And it was nowhere near the top of the worst offenders of shaky cam. I can think of at least a dozen movies off the top of my head that suffered more from the shaky cam presentation. The kid’s iPhone was a veritable steady-cam compared to whatever the schmuck that filmed the “Bourne” movies was dong.

  19. vignette17 says:

    I am prone to bad sea sickness, but (knock on wood) movies have not been bad for me. Here’s a website I occasionally check that you may want to check out if you get sick at movies:

    Earth to Echo ended up getting 4 stars (Aka very bad for motion sickness).

    Here are the top 10 worst movies for motion sickness all time:

    Hunger Games
    The Blair Witch Project
    Beasts of the Southern Wild
    District 9
    Captain Phillips
    The Bourne Ultimatum
    Hurt Locker
    Paranormal Activity

    Did you have any trouble with any of those?

  20. Gretchen says:

    My official review is quite similar:

    I was sick within the first 10 minutes.

    My husband left the theater about 30 minutes in and threw up in the parking lot.

    My 10 year old had to be carried out after an hour and just made it to the trash can in the hallway.

    My mother made it all the way through, but almost passed out in the process.

    My 6 year old thought he was fine, but got sick after we got home.

    My 14 year old is fine and doesn’t understand what the heck just happened to everyone.

    There is no reason whatsoever for this kind of film style… Especially without ample warning.

    There goes $50….

  21. Chris says:

    That’s a good comment on Husbands and Wives — an otherwise great movie. Manhattan Murder Mystery has the same DP and he toned it down a little there, thank goodness…

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