Aliens at the Movies: Earth to Echo

Given its metallic exterior, blue-lit interior, and magnetic powers, whether Echo is an alien or a robot is debatable.  For the purpose of this blog, I am going to treat it as an alien.

Visual ***

Since this is a children’s movie, it comes as no surprise that the alien is cute.  Echo looks like a tiny owl with big eyes.  It’s designed appeal to the human protective instinct, and I think the design is successful.  The characters want to protect and help it, and the audience wants them to succeed.

My only quibble is that I didn’t like Echo’s limp black legs; they didn’t seem to match the rest of it.

Features *

Like Iron Giant, Echo is able to use magnetism to collect its parts.

Motivation **

Echo wants to retrieve its spaceship and, like ET, go home.  Why its spaceship was here in the first place is a mystery.

Communication **

Echo takes over the local cell phones to generate a map that leads the characters first to itself and then to its scattered parts.

Echo can understand and respond to natural human speech.  However, its responses are limited to “yes” and “no”.

How Echo learned human language and how to hack the cell phones is not clear.  Since the challenge of learning to communication with an alien species is a theme that interests me, I would have liked to have seen more about how Echo learned to communicate, but I didn’t really expect to in a children’s film.

In the end, I found Echo’s communication unsatisfying.  If it can hear human speech, understand human speech, and control the sound output of a cell phone, why can’t it use the cell phone to speak?  Technically, it did not seem consistent.  And story-wise, I think “ET phone home” is much more emotionally powerful than “one beep for yes, two for no.”  So I think the writers missed an opportunity to have Echo communicate much more powerfully than it does.

Overall **

Echo is a children’s movie alien that seems to be a cross between ET and Iron Giant.  It’s cute and successful in making humans want to care for it, but not as successful as I think it could have been if its creators had let it speak.

Please share your thoughts about this movie alien in the comments below.

Aliens at the Movies: Edge of Tomorrow

As it says in my blog title, aliens are one of my favorite things. I love to invent them and explore how someone could be different from us and what it would be like to live with that difference.

I also like to see what other creators explore with their aliens.

So I’m starting three new occasional series of blog posts about Aliens at the Movies, Aliens on Television, and Aliens in Books, and I’m starting with the movie Edge of Tomorrow.

Edge of Tomorrow aliens:

Visual ****

I really liked the “look” of these aliens – very different from us. They seem to be made of twisted-together constantly moving ropes that form body and limbs, and they whip across (and through) the landscape with incredible speed. Because of the speed they were both challenging and fascinating to watch.

Features ****

The aliens seemed to come in three types: basic, alphas, and omega. The basics were the smallest and moved the fastest, the alphas were in the middle and had faces, and the omega was much larger than the others but seemed to settle in one place.

The aliens functioned as a single unit, but I got the sense that the aliens were not a distributed mind, but a hierarchical system. The basic aliens fought. The alpha aliens provided sensory input, and the death of an alpha triggered the time loop capability. The omega did all the thinking and planning. If the omega died, the others did, too.

Since the aliens move at such high speed, I wondered if they experienced time differently than we do. If they process information as much faster than us as they move, they would have the ability to react and plan much faster than us as well. But they had another, even more powerful, capability …

If one of the alphas is killed, the aliens can create a time loop and reset the day and start over, experiencing the day over and over again until they get it right. What is it like to live like that? We experience just that with Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), who hijacks the aliens’ “repeat until right” time loop life when the alien’s blood spills on him in battle. He experiences a day in war hell over and over again, trying each time to get a step further towards killing the omega alien and survive, but failing and dying each time. In a twist on Groundhog Day, he has to die in order to try again. In a way, it’s like living in a video game where you can reset to a saved point and try and try again. But fighting and dying day after day after day … is hard and exhausting for a human, who is, after all, a single organism. Especially when he has to kill himself to make sure the loop starts over. But for the omega, it’s only a small part of its extended self dying day after day as it struggles to find the best path forward. Perhaps it’s only like getting a daily paper cut, worth it for the chance to get infinite do-overs until it can beat the day.

Motivation *

We don’t learn much about what motivates the aliens and what they want, other than to wipe us out so they can live on our planet. In this regard, they are not much more than monsters.

Communication *

The aliens don’t seem interested in communicating with us (except, possibly, to lure us into traps). In this regard, they are not much more than monsters.

Overall ***

For motivation and communication, the Edge of Tomorrow aliens are not much more than monsters, but visually they are a treat. The ability to create their own time loops is fascinating, thought-provoking, and, of course, the key idea of the movie. What would it be worth to have the capability to redo a day until you got it right? A paper cut a day? Your death a day? The end of the world – every day? What do you think?

Please share your thoughts about these movie aliens in the comments below.