Thursday, June 11, 2015

Earth to Echo: We don't need more jerks, the problem of tokenism, and how to make a decent film a lot less fun.

Earth to Echo is, at heart, a nice film.  It has plot holes like whoa, it's done in character recorded format, and it's very generic, but it's still, at heart, a fun film.

It's not as fun as it could be though.  In fact part way through I considered giving up and stopping watching because oh my fucking god what is wrong with you?  why would you have a protagonist like that?  What's he going to do next, fucking dropkick babies and cause kind-heated, terminal cancer patients to fall into utter despair... HE IS SUCH A FUCKING SADIST!!!!!


The film begins with tagonist of pro explaining that he films stuff a lot and this will show his last week with his friends.  It sounds like he actually likes his friends although his descriptions of them are mostly of the form, "They're weird as all fuck but once you get to know them you can tolerate the weird."

We can sort of forgive this because he's trying to convince people who might meet said friends to accept them so, "Even if they initially turn you off, you should give them a chance," is a valid strategy.

This is the most affection the protagonist will ever show for his friends.

Throughout the movie protagonist likes his friends the way Edward Cullen loves Bella Swan.  That is to say, the attribute is entirely informed, most of their interaction is abuse, and when he does actually do something good it seems to be more out of a grudging sense of obligation rather than because he wants to help them since they are, you know, his nominal friends.

We quickly learn why it's their last week together: someone is trying to put a bypass through their neighborhood.

The entire neighborhood is being destroyed to make way for a road (spoiler alert: not a road) and the reason it's the last week is that one friend is moving to his new home on Friday. [Edit] Sorry, Saturday.  Friday is the last night, during which most of the movie takes place [/edit]

The plot starts when their phones go wonky.  Lots of people's phones.

So, time to meet characters:

Protagonist: He videotapes everything.  His family doesn't notice him.  That's bad, and it gave me sympathy for him.  He killed that sympathy, ripped the corpse to shreds, and stomped on the resulting pieces.

Munch: he doesn't appear to be neurotypical.  He has particular problems with loud noises, being touched, and being surprised.  He's smart, he's prepared, he's cautious.  He really, really, really sucks at lying.  He also has the only family that seems to take an interest in him.

Remember what I just said about how he has trouble with loud noise, being touched, and being surprised?  Every single time Protagonist greets him it's by sneaking up behind him, grabbing onto him, and shouting.

Yeah, Protagonist says Munch is his friend but goes out of his way to trigger him at every opportunity.

Alex: He's a foster kid.  You know the horror stories you've heard about foster care gone wrong?  He's lived them.  He keeps his essentials light and portable, he doesn't decorate his room because he knows he could be shipped out at any moment, he has real problems with abandonment, self worth, and the belief that other people don't really care about him.

Protagonist will never hesitate to abandon him, denigrate his self worth, call attention to the fact that he's always afraid of being forced to move, belittle him, and pretend he cares about Alex (to manipulate him) when he doesn't.

Lonespark thinks I brought up how Protagonist went to town on destroying Alex by hitting every single one of his triggers related to being a foster kid early in the movie.  She's right, You only need to say the same thing to the same person if they forget, and she didn't.  It just left such a strong impression on me.  I don't think I've ever seen someone be so horrible to another person in my life and I come from an abusive family, was bullied from elementary school through the start of high school, and have seen more horrible people being horrible than I do, or want to, remember.

It was fucking painful to watch.

Some highlights include making fun of him for not decorating his room (because he's never in one place long enough for it to be worth of it) making fun of him for keeping his stuff portable (because he's abandoned so often it needs to be easy to move) making fun of him for his lack of apparent wealth (because poverty is funny) directly making fun of him for a being a foster child, and saying that his foster parents shouldn't want him because they have a real child.

Remember, those are highlights.  There's more.  Unfortunately.  And that's all from just one of the encounters where Protagonist goes after his supposed friend by ruthlessly targeting his insecurities.

Emma: She's a high status girl at their school who is constantly, abusively, pushed around by her parents who see her as a possession they want to get maximum use out of and therefore must control and make into a perfect daughter in appearance even if it makes her miserable and ignores everything she wants.  They control her appearance, her friends, her everything.  She is, notably, trying to assert her humanity in the face of this barrage.

We first meet her when Protagonist starts hitting on her in an attempt to prove that camera glasses are cool.  He proceeds to tell lies about her of a pseudo-sexual nature to increase his status.  She's initially not part of things, but we'll meet her again in time.  She's the token girl, after all.


The phones go wonky and Protagonist thinks that it's strange and worth looking into, even more so when the "highway" men show up to confiscate the phones.

In spite of his interest, it is instead Munch who realizes that wonkiness is in fact a map being overlayed onto the phones and locates exactly where the map points to.

Protagonist gets dreams of finding out that the highway men are up to no good, recording the whole thing, and exposing them to save the neighborhood.

Yeah, that doesn't ... blah.

Ok, yes, he is right that there is clearly something strange going on and the highway people are acting in suspicious ways when they try to take not just people's homes but also their cell phones.

But, the neighborhood is dying.  Alex is moving away on Friday Saturday, that can't be saved.  Munch is moving away.  Everyone is moving away.  The few people who haven't gotten new places to live yet can stay if he shuts down the demolition but this is not about helping the people.  This is not about helping his friends.

This is about becoming famous.

Alex realizes this, Munch is too trusting.

Neither one wants to spend their last time at home lying to their parents and riding their bikes (not motorized ones, they're kids) out to the middle of nowhere.

Protagonist knows what to do.  He says it'll be a way to spend their last night together doing something special, different, something they'll remember forever.  It's not about fame, it's about them as friends.  Alex has a deep seated need to be actually liked by someone.  Protagonist is fully willing to callously use that for his own whims.

Yes, this will blow up in his face.

For Munch he just puts on the pressure with respect to calling him a coward, making him out to be a bad friend, and so fucking forth.

So they go.


When they arrive shit gets ... fucked up.

They find a piece of something that's been shot down.  They don't realize what it is.  Protagonist calls the whole night off thus proving that the "Spend tonight with friends" thing was complete bullshit.  Alex is understandably pissed.  Munch is the one to bring the piece with him.

People (the highway men, but you can't tell yet) show up with flashlights and the three run.

Then the thing moves.

They get a new map.  They follow it.

Another piece of the the thing shows up.  It violently moves around before reattaching.

This is going to go on for the night.

They learn that the thing contains an alien, they think it's the alien's ship and they're not precisely wrong.  They're not right either.  A ship, the ship the alien needs, has been buried on earth for a long time.  The alien came to earth to get to that ship.

So what it came in is presumably a ship or an entry craft that came from a space ship it came to earth in.  It is also, we will later learn, the key to the space ship.

Anyway, they have a way of communicating that gets them yes or no answers.  They learn that it's hurt, they decide to try to help it.

Oh, also, Protagonist thinks it's the most obvious thing in the world that Munch is a woman.  (Munch is not, which is why someone else needs to be the token girl.)

They name the alien Echo.  Echo, for what it's worth, is a small robot whose design was inspired by Bubo (the mechanical owl) from the original Clash of the Titans.  Much sleeker, smooth panels and blue glow instead of clockwork, but you can see that it's homage to Bubo.

This eventually leads them to Emma's house.

They break into her room, destroy it when the piece that ended up there is retrieved (when they're activated, but before they're reconnected they violently move around.  After that they can be smoothly taken apart and put back together by Echo), lie their asses off to her (except for Munch who is totally honest), and finally run away in spite of her wanting to come with them

Alex gets a chance to be a complete asshole.  It's not forgivable, but it's understandable.  She has roots, she has a family, she has friends, she has popularity, she has everything he doesn't and represents everything that's been denied to him.  He goes off, and it is bad.

Their next stop is a bar, they don't know how to get in (they're underage) and then they're spotted by highway man.  They're in deep shit until Emma comes to the rescue with great acting skills.

She gets them into the bar, afterward she talks to Echo.

The first thing she does is actually try to find out about Echo.  They learn the highway men are the ones to shoot down Echo.  This leads to a panic where some of them want to abandon Echo because they finally realize they're in danger.

Alex flat out refuses.  He knows what it's like to be abandoned, after all.  It's been his entire life.  He's not abandoning Echo.

That decided, Emma interacts with Echo more.

We don't know what happens.  Protagonist deletes all of the video because she's clearly useless and unimportant.  This is the nail in the coffin of the hopes that the asshole protagonist will become a good person.  The version of him that's doing the voice over and cutting together the video is him after all of this has happened.  Any lessons have already been learned.  Any friendships forged.

And he still deleted everything about her getting to know Echo.  He kept useless shots of riding bikes down roads.  He excerpted them getting to know Echo.  But Emma, he deletes.  He also calls her a creepy stalker (for the same sin as him: trying to find out what is going on) and throws in other insults in the voice over.

So any hope he learned better: dead.  When all is said and done he's still an asshole.

Back to the movie-present.

The next piece is in an arcade.  Trouble is that the arcade has a guard.

They split, but once outside realize that Alex was caught.  Protagonist tries to convince everyone to abandon Alex.  Alex, who has severe abandonment related trauma.  He just wants to cut Alex loose.

Munch argues with Protagonist; he's not sold on abandoning a friend.

Emma takes matters into her own hands and heads back with Echo.  With Echo's help she saves Alex.

Unlike Protagonist she doesn't claim to be Alex's friend.  They never got to know each other in school, when they met tonight he was a complete asshole to her, he wasn't an asshole to her after that, but he never said sorry.  She's already gone above and beyond what's owed to strangers by apparently forgiving him without an apology from him.

Now she goes back and saves him at risk to herself.

As a stranger.

Alleged friend the Protagonist not only abandoned Alex, he tried to get the others to abandon Alex too.


Alex has been traumatized by being abandoned so much.  Abandonment is a trigger for him.  Protagonist abandoning him and trying to make Munch and Emma abandon him has somewhat soured his relationship with Protagonist.

Hell, he's been in this primarily for Echo anyway.  When they found Echo, before they knew the apparent junk housed a living alien, he was ready to part ways with Protagonist because of how Protagonist had manipulated him and inadvertently revealed that his claim to want to be together that night because they were friends was a lie.

They're in a diner.  Protagonist is pulling bullshit on multiple levels.  First he's saying that waiting around outside and doing nothing to help is the same as helping.  Second, he didn't even want to do THAT: it was Munch arguing with him that kept him from running further away as part of operation "Abandon Alex when he needs me most."

Third he's saying that Alex doesn't have a right to his feelings.  Alex is not allowed to feel what he feels.  Alex, having been traumatized, needs to get over it this very instant and admit that he's merely feeling mopey (great minimization there), and that he has no reason to feel the way he does.

More bullshit.

Then he brings up Alex being beat up in the past.  When Protagonist had a growth spurt and could defend Alex he ... told the one beating Alex up that Alex had polio.

Munch, who was being beat up by the same person, was never offered protection (not even the bullshit Alex got) and thus continued to be beat up.

Then we get a couple lies: "I never let you down" "I always get your back." And one maybe truth qualification, "Most of the time."

Alex forgives him and it's Alex's right to do so.  Unlike the Protagonist I'm not going to tell Alex that he's not allowed to feel what he feels.  But the Protagonist didn't deserve to be forgiven.

The Protagonist wasn't sorry, wasn't even admitting fault, and was still being a complete and utter asshole to Alex.  Alex forgave him anyway.

It can be incredibly hard to forgive truly penitent people who are being nice, doing whatever they can to make up for what they did wrong, and offer actual well made apologies.

Alex is able to forgive someone who is constantly mistreating him, is doing it still, and hasn't even said sorry.

I don't really know what point I want to make about that, which is why I haven't made a point, but I think it is worthy of note.  Alex forgives someone who really, really, really doesn't deserve it.  It's charitable and nice.

This forgiveness happened at a diner.

In walks highway man.

He sees the four, and he's got something for detecting alien shit.  He thinks they're suspicious (last time he saw them they were a ways away, and neither of these places is near where they live.)  That brings him over.

Echo has disassembled everything they put together so far (they're only one piece short) which is dangerous for it because, in its damaged state, it's all of that stuff (in working order) that's keeping Echo alive.

Even taking it apart and turning it off isn't enough to avoid the up close check that highway man gives as a result of recognizing the four.

He takes Echo, and the parts, and has the cops called on the kids.

Munch runs after them and hides in the back of a pickup.


Protagonist's older brother, who is usually a jerk to him (maybe it's where Protagonist gets it from?) had offered, in a moment of niceness, to take him to a party at his girlfriend's house (which is in the area.)  Meaning the brother's car is there.

They need it to be able to get back to the construction site with any kind of speed.

So they go there.

The car is a Porsche.  If we think about that and all of the camera equipment Protagonist has and so forth I think we can gather that Protagonist is a lot better off than, say, Alex.  Which makes his initial put downs of Alex's lack of material goods even worse in context.  He wasn't just, "I laugh at you because you're so poor," but he had the added fun of doing it from a position of, "And I'm not remotely."  Punching down.  Punching hard.

Anyway, they get the car, get to the construction site, get captured, and finally get the truth.

The ship is buried under the neighborhood.  It is assumed that if it takes off it will kill everyone above it.  Thus clearing the neighborhood.

The "highway worker" coercively recruits the kids because, let's face it, they've been doing a good job of assembling the artifact.  The difference is that he wants to use it to make sure the ship can never, ever, take off.

Presumably also to study the ship.  The experiments they were doing on Echo aren't shown in depth but they looked nasty.

When they get to the location of the last piece Echo is almost dead.  It's not entirely clear to me whether Echo faked dying to get the highway men to back off, or Echo actually lost consciousness for a bit.  Emotions were high either way.

Anyway, the chaos of the last piece coming provides a distraction with which to start getting away, but with the complete thingy Echo's powers are made more impressive.  It delays the highway men by making a wall of junk (literal junk, the last piece was in a junkyard) and then further hinders the chase by driving through an 18-wheeler in most impressive fashion.

Echo took it apart to give space for the vehicle they stole to get through, and then put it back together (befuddled but unharmed driver included) parked in such a way as to block the road.


They get back to their neighborhood and realize that the ship is huge.  Now they think that it taking off would kill everyone (everyone is asleep, except for Munch's mom, because in this neighborhood no one gets up early.)

A hole that leads down to the ship is produced.

Alex makes a long cable from swing-set chains and climbs down.  He delivers Echo to where Echo needs to go.

Eventually the others follow.  Protagonist delivering a line that he wasn't going to abandon Alex again.  Which is nice, but last time Alex was in trouble, this time Alex is with a friend who has extraordinary powers and owes everything to Alex and co, not the least of which is his life.

They all run away as the ship prepares to take off.

I thought that it was going to disassemble the neighborhood, float up, and then put the neighborhood back.  It didn't.

The ship took itself apart, burst from the ground piece by piece (hurting no one but damaging the landscape) and assembled itself in the sky.

Other than the kids, the only one who noticed was Munch's mom.

Of note is that Munch has been pretending to by his mom on the phone to cover for the fact that they've run away and he's been doing a shitty job of it.

When other people come out because the space ship leaving the ground felt like a minor earthquake no one believes Munch's mom about the space ship, and that combined with the weird phone calls makes people think she's had a psychotic break.

So add completely unnecessary gas-lighting of a character to the mix.  If we can believe that in this neighborhood, in broad daylight (no, random-town-America for this movie is not in Alaska) is entirely asleep in their beds (otherwise they would have, at least, seen parts floating up into the sky through their windows) except for one person, then we can believe it for all people including the one person.

Doing this to her was completely unnecessary.


Kids get in trouble for not being where they said they were.

Alex moves away.

Munch moves away.

Emma lived far enough away that her home was never slated for demolition.

The highway men completely disappear before the climax, and no explanation of their exit or cover story is given.  Since there is no longer a space ship under the neighborhood, the plan to destroy it is abandoned and new people can move in after most of the old ones move out because they'd already made their arrangements.

Protagonist stays because his family hadn't gotten a new place yet.

The movie ends with us seeing the four kids, now older, meeting at the place where Echo fell to earth in the first piece they found.

The Protagonist says that they were able to stay friends because having a friend light years away taught them distance is just a state of mind.

Echo wasn't light years away when they were being friends with it.  Sure, they didn't dump it as a friend when it left, but there's no evidence they kept in contact with Echo.

Moreover, I just got home last night.  Why?  Because Lonespark and I live a hundred miles (almost exactly, apparently) away from each other so when I'm with her I'm not home.

Now that I am home we are at a distance.

It is not a state of mind.  When we're together we can help each other, even something like the dishes makes a massive difference.  We can touch.  The power of hugs must not be underestimated.  We can do things together.  We saw Mad Max: Fury Road.

We can talk to each other and see one another's face.  See smiles.  Look each other in the eyes.

We can simply be, and do it in proximity.

Distance is not a state of mind, it's a property of the universe that hinders relationships when it exists in quantity.


I said the problem of tokenism.  Asshole Protagonist from above?  Only black major character.

Who the fuck thinks, "We're making a movie with a fucking asshole in it?  Who should the fucking asshole be?  The only black guy!  It's perfect"?

For that matter, why was there a fucking asshole in the movie?  It would have worked fine if they'd made him not-a-jerk.  Been a hell of a lot more enjoyable too.

Only one female who rises to the level of character instead of set-piece or punch-line.


Have to go now.


  1. You brought it up like five times. I think this was also a problem re: Legend of Korra.

    I think part of Protagonist being horrible is ridiculously bad exposition and maybe a little bit is him trying to be cool for the camera?

  2. Random town is in Nevada. People probably wouldn't go outside unless they have to during the day, just hide inside with air conditioning. Not that it's believable anyway...

    1. Yeah but... if they were awake wouldn't they look out the windows if strange sounds and vibrations were coming from outside their homes for an extended period of time?

      It's not like the space ship emerging and forming was "blink and you'll miss it" yet it took more time for the people to get into a position to see things than it took me to respond to an earthquake, confer with neighbors, and fill out the survey on the government site that tracks earthquakes.

      Admittedly the (tiny) one I experienced was probably larger than what they felt and thus presumably more likely to spur immediate action, but even so I can't think of a justification for everyone missing it that makes more sense than "They heard and felt it, they got out of bed, got dressed, and only then looked and/or went outside," which, admittedly, doesn't make sense.

  3. I have many feels about this post. The class issues, and the way people can be complete assholes all the time because that's normalized in their lives... Also the neighborhood was like a lot of developments I visited in AZ. Full of rich people living right near desperately poor people, and/or completely undeveloped land.