Director: Dave Green
Cast: Brian Bradley, Teo Halm, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt
Plot: Three friends are about to separated, when their homes are scheduled to be knocked down in order to build a freeway. However, when they get mysterious maps sent to their phones, they are thrown into one last adventure.
Earth to Echo is the kind of movie that stands on the shoulders of several other films. Watching it, there isn’t much originality going on. The story is best described as E.T told through a found footage style, easily being inspired by Josh Trank discovering the sub-genre could be used for things other than horror with Chronicle. There is nothing wrong with borrowing ideas from established movies, especially ones that worked so well, but it does give the sense that Earth to Echo won’t be hanging around in anyone’s memory for some time. I only heard about it a week before sitting down in my local cinema to watch it.
Found footage is a genre that showed so much promise, but has become a little overused as of late. I loved Cloverfield, because of the originality. This does mean that every time I watch a new found footage movie that experience is a little more watered down. Earth to Echo was a good example of that. The found footage was cleverly used and well done, yet it wasn’t quite enough to save it. It worked at points, because it made sense for found footage to be a part of this story. The main character is a blogger who is obsessed with documenting everything, urged on by the fact this is the last night he spends with his group of friends. The director added little beats to the style, so it was more than what we are used to. One early beat of exposition is told through a Skype call, which conveyed how kids these days communicate through technology. I liked the Youtube clip style of some of the scenes. However, despite the found footage being intelligently used, I kept noticing the normal flaws of the genre. The story is too quick-paced, as the filming logically edits over the transition between set-pieces. However, this means that their journey feels like a selection of moments rather than a true narrative arc. Another annoying aspect here was that the camera kept avoiding the major spectacles. Some amazing set-pieces are only partially witnessed, because the director purposefully has the camera pointing in the wrong direction. There are some great uses of CGI (a spaceship, a truck being dismantled in a car chase), but the film never wanted to show them off. There are quite a few moments where you really want this movie to stop being a found footage film for two minutes.
The main thing that will bring audiences, especially children, to Earth to Echo is Echo himself. For those that don’t know, this movie is about three kids finding an alien/robot who has crash-landed on Earth. He wants to get back to his space-ship, but weakened and being hunted by humans means that he needs the main characters to aid him in his quest. Echo has it in him to be one of the cutest little alien of 2014. He isn’t too different from EVE in Wall.E. It definitely helps that Dave Green’s version of ET isn’t a withered extra-terrestrial, but an adorable figure that everyone wants to take home as their pet. However, Earth to Echo’s biggest problem is that they never really use this idea. It adds to the idea that no one is going to be queueing for this film or talking about that movie with the cute little robot in it. He shows up for some adorable scenes, but he never escapes the idea that he is little more than a Macguffin in his own film. The focus is set firmly on the kids and their arc. I don’t mind the fact that the mythology or history of the alien is explored, because it is the visuals and action that children like the lead heroes would care about, yet some extended moments with Echo would have improved the quality of the film.
However, Earth to Echo is salvaged by heart. The tone and moral of the movie is in the right place and that makes it a comfortable DVD to buy for the kids, but won’t be a pain to sit through for the parents. There are some touching moments where the lead kids really bond with this creature that communicates with simple beeps and noises. All three are selfish in ways that kids of that age are: Munch isn’t willing to take risks for his mates, Alex doesn’t want to invite Emma into the group out of stubbornness and Tuck is more interesting in filming proceedings for his blog than looking out for his friends when they get into danger. However, when they become attached to Echo, they show a real sense of courage and maturity, in order to get this stranger back to its home planet. There is something emotional about them digging in and finding a softer side. Of course, as I said, Echo is really a narrative device for the kids to reflect upon themselves. Before the action even kicks in, we get the underlying sense that they are going on this journey as an escape from the problems at home. They are essentially kids creating their own adventure and before the danger kicks in, you are right there with them. This story, in many ways, is simple escapism for both the characters in the movie and the audience at home watching. And really, isn’t that what cinema is about?
Final Verdict: Earth to Echo is good enough to deserve a family trip to the cinema. Not ground-breaking, but touching and fun in the right places.