Earth to Echo’s Castrated Youth

The Goonies -- One-Eyed Willy

The Real Face of Children’s Adventure Films

Grimm’s fairytales, those children’s stories that have stood the test of time, have done so not in spite of the danger in which they throw their young protagonists, but because of it. Hansel and Gretel get devastatingly close to being devoured by the witch, Little Red Riding Hood is eaten by the wolf, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty both essentially die when they are put into a never-ending sleep. And yet, we read these stories to our children from a very young age. Stories are where our children first encounter danger, difference, and fear, ultimately overcoming those obstacles while nestled safely in our arms. Movies have stepped in to share the mantle of acquainting our children with experiences that we hope they never have to confront in their own lives. At their best, movies help them vicariously experience and overcome these trials in the safest possible space.

This summer’s children’s adventure film Earth to Echo pulls certain plot points from the genre’s most successful outings (The Goonies and E.T.) and attempts to update the stories for the current generation. If you missed the film’s quick stint in theaters don’t be too dismayed; my reasons for discussing it now speak more to a wider cultural shift in the access children have to risk than just the sins of this particular movie. Unfortunately, when updating this modern story (read: adding the stock references to smart-phones, YouTube, Go-Pros, and Googling) the film ultimately suffers from the current epidemic of helicopter parenting — meaning constantly hovering over children to prevent them from experiencing any and all danger — and essentially sterilizes itself of any merit.

The film’s ultimate message? Confronting danger and difference in fiction is almost as undesirable as confronting it in life.

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The Emotional Mastery of Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata (1978)

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I’ve found watching Ingmar Bergman films to be a uniquely masochistic experience. They’re not punishing in a conventional sense, never relying on any sort of realistic, special-effects bloodshed, but rather in the emotional carnage that provides the spine and nervous system of his films. This creates an entirely different form of realism, one where emotion is laid bare, interrogated by his claustrophobic settings and intimate, almost uncomfortable close-ups. Characters kick and scream and question their world and we, the audience, are placed in perilous proximity by Bergman and his frequent cinematographer Sven Nykvist. In the end, Roger Ebert was exactly right when referred to Bergman’s dramas as “brooding, lonely, and violent excursions into the human soul.”

It takes a remarkable sort of alchemy to make films that are so emotionally pointed while never sinking into pure exploitation. You quickly get the sense that each is a deep psychological exercise for Bergman. He once said “the people in my films are exactly like myself — creatures of instinct, of rather poor intellectual capacity, who at best only think while talking. Mostly they’re body, with a little hollow for the soul.” It’s all the more impressive that these characters, often deep in their own spiritual crisis, manage to be so universal.

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