by Del Harvey
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Echelon Conspiracy is a number of things: beautifully filmed, high production values, some good performances, quality locations, and high energy action scenes. There is one rather unignorable major flaw, but we’ll get to that later. First, let’s read the blurb put out by the DVD distribution company. The following is that blurb, re-quoted here verbatim:
Called “a cyberspace thriller for the male action crowd” (The Hollywood Reporter), the edge-of-your-seat suspense ride ECHELON CONSPIRACY makes a breathtaking debut on DVD and Blu-ray July 21, 2009 from Paramount Home Entertainment. Featuring an all-star cast including Shane West (A Walk to Remember), Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan), Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction) and Martin Sheen (The Departed), the high-tech action-thriller weaves an engrossing story of greed, intrigue and the price of national security. Mysterious cell phone messages promise a young American engineer untold wealth — then make him the target of a deadly international plot. Dangerous security operatives chase the engineer across the globe, while a powerful government official pursues a mysterious agenda that threatens the stability of the entire world.
Well, sure, this film is all that. And in Blu-Ray it is a beautiful sight to behold. The cinematography by Lorenzo Senatore (Lake Placid 2, The Contract, Return to House On Haunted Hill) is quite beautiful, especially in Blu-Ray. Direction is by Greg Marcks, who is arguably new to the scene, only having 11:14 and Lector to his credit prior to this film; but he does an admirable job with what he is given. The young lead, Shane West, also does a quite decent job of centering our focus throughout the film. Previously he has been seen as ‘Tom Sawyer’ in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Liberty Heights, and 2009’s The Lodger. Supporting him are two top-notch and convincing indie actors, Ed Burns and Ving Rhames. And in a minor supporting role, the typically capable Martin Sheen. Female interest is provided by the slender and talented Tamara Feldman, most recognizable from television’s Gossip Girl and Royal Pains.
The big problem stems from the writers. Michael Nitsberg adapted with Kevin Elders from Nitsberg’s original novel. Elders’ credits include all thee Iron Eagles films, so he clearly helped beef up the slim story’s action bits and, just guessing, helped keep the whole thing together for the adaptation to screenplay. But the problem with this film is huge and cannot be ignored. I don’t want to do a SPOILER ALERT, but I feel it is only fair to be honest and tell you that the antagonist in this film is very close to being non-existent. And that is a tragedy, especially considering all of the effort which obviously went into bringing this story to screen. It is the first thing a writer learns in honing their storytelling craft. It is the first thing we learn as children listening to fairy tales and fables. And it clearly was not learned by the original author in this case.
The ECHELON CONSPIRACY DVD is presented in widescreen enhanced for 16:9 televisions with Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround and English, French and Spanish subtitles. The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p high definition with English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD and English, French, Spanish and English SDH subtitles.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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