Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 29 min.
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 1; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (0-5): 3
The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Of course, the aliens that the Torah is referencing were not as far from home as the little alien in Dave Green’s film, one that pays homage in so many ways to Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. In both films it is children who befriend a stranded little extraterrestrial, and it is a group of men who want to capture it so they can study it, even if this means killing it.
The story of the three boys and one girl trying to outwit the adults and help the little metallic Echo return home is told by means of footage taken by their video cameras. (If you are like me and do not especially appreciate all of the shakiness, distorted focus, and cockeyed angles as the camera is dropped or laid on its side, you can blame The Blair Witch Project, a film I have never been able to like—or understand why so many people find it so scary.) Within a span of about 24 hours this group of kids have the time of their lives—and also acquire memories of great friendships, this being the night before some of them are scheduled to move away. It seems that their Nevada neighborhood is slated to be plowed under to make way for an expressway. Or is this a cover-up for a sinister plot?
The film has most of the features of what might be called the smart kids/dumb adults genre. The parents offer pretty lax supervision—none of our kids could have pulled the wool over my wife’s eyes the way these kids do, allowing them to be gone from their homes all through the night. (One good-hearted mother, believing that her son is staying at another’s house, calls to announce that she is bringing them pizza, and the panicked son has to come up with a series of lame excuses as to why this is a bad idea.) This, of course, is why adolescents usually love these films. Where else can 12 or 13 year-old save the world, or at least a stranded alien in need of help? These kids are also really into their cell phones, their first clue that something is wrong in the neighborhood being when it appears that their phones have barfed all over their screens. This leads to a series of events culminating in their finding a strange, pod-like device containing owl-like Echo.
Echo possesses an amazing ability to attract from scrap heaps parts that he needs for repairing the damage pod the children find him in. Later, when a huge tractor-trailer is about to hit head on the truck one of the boys is driving, Echo instantly disassembles the parts of the rig so that they pass harmlessly over, under, and around them. When they have passed safely, the parts reassemble, the incredulous truck driver continuing on his journey. Great special effects here, and equally awesome ones when, at the climax, parts that make up a giant mother space ship rise out of the ground of the kids’ neighborhood and reassemble themselves prior to take off.
The theme of helping the stranger, so prevalent in the Mosaic Law code is well illustrated in this enjoyable film. In addition there is the theme of adolescent friendship and loyalty, and even a touch of first love, making this a good family film. I guess this is worth putting up with the annoying found-film technique adopted by Dave Green and screenwriter Henry Gayden, but I hope few others will turn to this. For me it lessens the impact of the story when I have to deal with feelings of annoyance aroused by the filming method.