If there is one particular genre that has suffered in recent years, it’s the family film. Growing up, this genre was at the height of its popularity – films like The Goonies and Home Alone made the 80′s and 90′s a decade to remember for kids that grew up in those years. But recently, there has been an absence of family films where kids take top billing – especially science-fiction – but Earth to Echo is a film that’s trying to bring them back, and ends up as an E.T. for the social media generation.
The families of a small Californian town are being relocated after plans to build a new freeway are put into action, at the same time, all the cellphones in town begin to display peculiar images. Three local boys decide to locate the source of the message as a final farewell before they part ways. The mission transforms into a journey when they discover that the images are being broadcast by a marooned alien life form that is searching for way back to his spacecraft.
Fans of found footage style films (are there any?) will love this movie, and fans of retro family films should make a note of seeing Earth to Echo.
The Bottom Line
At first glance, Earth to Echo looks and feels like another found-footage rip-off and this fad has managed to last to the point where it has become a cliche. But don’t let your preconceived notions of cinema verite turn you away from what is one of the more endearing mainstream releases of the year.
Tuck (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley) is a young and upcoming filmmaker, armed with the latest gear to make his dreams a reality, he bands together with his friends Alex (the gutsy orphan played be Teo Halm) and Munch (The ironically non-chubby coward and tech expert played by Reese Hartwig) to investigate the mysterious maps that have found their way onto cell-phones throughout town. Heading off into the desert, they discover a helpless alien creature (that they call Echo…or beep, I’m not sure) that can only see using the onboard cameras of the kids’ cellphones and uses the children to locate the missing parts to his/her/its ship. This is where the creative part of found footage is realised to a greater extent than those films that have taken this road in the past.
However, even though Director Dave Green uses the idea of found footage more effectively than most films that decide on that aesthetic, it still doesn’t translate well as story-telling device and in all honesty would have worked to film’s credit were it shot with traditional cinematic techniques as opposed to the cumbersome over-reliance on technology.
The film for all intents and purposes is a rehash of what Steven Spielberg did with E.T. decades ago, but with a modern twist. By that same token, the script isn’t as tight as the aforementioned masterpiece, nor does it have the undeniable heart. Something about Echo (the creature) just feels too alien – he is metalic and cold, and even though he can be cute at times, doesn’t have the soul of E.T. and ultimately disengages the audience. The kids’ acting is serviceable but hardly of the calibre that you’d expect from a production like this; they simply do not have the experience or the ability of comparable talents from years ago.
There is a charm to the film, a flickering light that offers a glimpse into the past and why we loved movies as children…but rather than this Earth to Echo behaving as the tinder for smouldering embers of the dying genre, it feels like the film that will inevitably snuff it out, smothering it in veil of phony sentimentality and poorly thought out production values. Earth to Echo is a fascinating return to family films, but it’s a knock-0ff nonetheless and we’ve yet to see a more compelling offering that will bring us back to the heydays of family-centric science-fiction.