Ambitious. That’s the one word that flashes through one’s head the most upon viewing “Ekho: Fall of an Empire”. The film centers upon Blake, a human rights activist who has had months of his memory erased, falling in love with Avery, a soldier in the army of the Nalon republic, as the threat of intergalactic war grows ever closer. Juggling this love story with the tragic pasts of our heroes, a series of terrorist attacks and robotic assassins named Peacekeepers for a budget that doesn’t even break $1,000, stars Jim McCullough and Amanda Morton (who together wrote, directed and produced) certainly prove ambitious filmmakers. Is this gamble a success? Not exactly.
Independent films have often thrived in the face of budget constraints. Exiled from mainstream Hollywood, Edgar G. Ulmer made “Detour” for next to nothing and created a work that is cited by many critics as one of the best film noirs ever made. Having a set left over and some money remaining from his previous feature Roger Corman along with screenwriter Charles B. Griffith hammered out cult film “Little Shop of Horrors” in two days. More recently Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi” which was shot on a shoestring budget helped to garner him a strong following and propel his career. These three films all have very different subject matters (drifter in waaaaay over his head, man eating plant, mathematician’s theological freak out) but share one very important trait: The stories draw power from the lack of budget.
For “Detour” the lack of funds made the film look more desperate and frantic, which is exactly the plight of the doomed Al Roberts (Tom Neal). “Little Shop of Horrors” has a skewered sense of humor propelling the story since attempting to make a legitimate horror film from the materials available would have been next to impossible. “Pi” uses black and white film stock and jerky cinematography but the story being told is so offbeat that the primitive techniques used to tell it make it all the more surreal. “Ekho: Fall of an Empire” plays against itself in that the film’s lack of budget is forced upon to the viewer in close to every shot, repeatedly taking the viewer out of the action.
For every clever and imaginative scene, such as Avery relaxing in a hotel room and partaking in a neurotransmitter show which places her in a “Leave it to Beaver” type sitcom, there are ten instances of cringe worthy computer graphic spaceships and planets. The special effects and costumes appear to have been taken from a lower level “Doctor Who” episode. Despite the film taking place on different planets, every location is obviously Earth. Unlike Godard’s “Alphaville” a science fiction film that made little attempt to hide the fact it was shot in contemporary France, “Ekho’s” main fault is that it takes itself far too seriously. Since the production screams home made, why try so hard and pretend it is something it’s not. At various intervals the proceeding are infused with storybook chapters and a mysterious narrator alluding to a deepness that the film does not possess. The presentation of the storyline is kept deliberately vague despite the fact the films villains all but wear top hats and twirl their mustaches. Making matters even worse is the fact that “Ekho” ends with a cliffhanger, leaving events to be continued in a sequel. Since there is no real mystery to the audience regarding who the heroes or villains are it would have seemed easier to add an extra half hour to resolve things. “Ekho” is frustrating because despite the amount of build up there is no true pay off for the audience.
This is not to say Jim McCullough and Amanda Morton are not talented. The direction and editing is commendable in telling the story as artfully as possible. The acting is better than many of the other indie features out there and the love put into “Ekho” is apparent throughout. However, despite the best intentions of the filmmakers, their storyline is too thin and epic to be accessible in this format. Jim McCullough and Amanda Morton have proven they have more drive and overall ambition than most filmmakers out there, up next they should choose a project that is able to match their talents.