Earth to Echo ‘is a smartly made, visually arresting bit of fun that recycles nostalgia for a new generation‘ says MacDara Conroy
Earth to Echo in one sentence: a rag-tag bunch of junior high school kids have a life-changing encounter with a weird-looking but cute little alien, a situation that tests their mettle when they’re pursued by the powers that be (who want that cute little alien for nefarious experiments, no doubt) but ultimately teaches them that the power of friendship knows no bounds.
Now where have I heard that before? Yes, it’s basically the plot of ET. And some critics have been quick to dismiss this film as a rip-off of Spielberg’s classic, which misses the point in a few important ways. For one, the plot isn’t merely lifted from ET: it’s ET filtered through the reams of coming-of-age and sci-fi fantasy flicks it inspired throughout the 1980s, from Explorers to The Goonies, Stand By Me, Flight of the Navigator, Batteries Not Included – the list goes on. I don’t remember the critical establishment being so unkind about Super 8, which does pretty much the same thing.
If anything, Earth to Echo is a slightly younger-skewing twist on JJ Abrams’s nostalgia-fest, and a better conceived modern-day take on the concept at that. That’s because the filmmakers – director Dave Green and screenwriter Henry Gayden, from a story by Gayden and Andrew Paney – appreciate the magic sway those ’80s movies still hold over a certain generation (it’s in the atmosphere more than the plots; there’s something about the great wide open that speaks to the adventurous heart in everyone, young and old), but they also understand that those films mean little to nothing to kids today. Earth to Echo assumes that its target audience have never seen ET, Explorers et al, so what do they care that its plot is so shamelessly derivative?
Besides, it’s a film that’s made for them, not for us – most evident by the fact that it’s shot in a ‘found footage’ style. Groan if you must, but really, you should read that as it’s made in their idiom. It’s just what kids do. Everyone’s got smartphones with HD video, everyone Skypes or posts clips of themselves and their friends to YouTube; making a movie out of these slices of life is a natural progression.
So, Earth to Echo’s main conceit is that it’s a self-compiled documentary made by four kids – Alex (Teo Halm), Munch (Reese Hartwig), Tuck (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, the ‘Stop Looking At My Mom’ kid from The X Factor US) and Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) – of their adventure in the desert to uncover the truth behind some weird electronic disturbances in their Las Vegas suburb that’s about to be torn down to make way for a new highway, or so says the strangely secretive demolition firm (hint hint, its name reflects its intentions). That truth turns out to be a crash-landed alien (that looks a lot like EVE from WALL-E) who just wants to rebuild its spaceship and get home. Echo – as the kids name their extraterrestrial friend – doesn’t even figure in the film as much as you’d think, which is for the best as its cutesiness would skew the age bracket a little too low in any larger dose.
If you can get past the marketing (will young teens thinks it’s too cute for them?) and the style of it (and I’m sure they won’t have a problem with that), what you’ll see is a well-paced romp that balances its tone between thrilling, scary and funny in all the right places, performed by a young cast who aren’t overly tasked beyond their capabilities. Sure, it’s not without its problems – yet again the lone female protagonist is a blonde, blue-eyed white girl, and an object of affection – but overall Earth to Echo is a smartly made, visually arresting bit of fun that recycles nostalgia for a new generation. And, much like The Kings of Summer last year, it shows there’s still plenty of life in the coming-of-age movie yet.