Although Earth to Echo is obviously a children’s movie, thanks to its modern odes to such classic ’80s films as E.T. and The Goonies, I found myself just as entertained and invested in the film as the kids around me. Of course, when a movie features child actors on bikes, government agents with flashlights, and a displaced extraterrestrial, you don’t need a Speak & Spell to know there will be comparisons made to E.T. However, there are just enough original ideas, such as the found footage concept and sparingly (but smartly) used CGI work, to make this film entertaining in its own right.
In fact, I found the obvious similarities to be less annoying imitations and more winks to us filmgoers. They know, and we know, that we have seen this type of movie before, but it’s a tried and true concept. Why not update it for the latest generation? Especially since the film never tries to step on the legacy of its forefathers. While I did have a major issue with one of the scenes in the film, Earth to Echo is a fun adventure that adults and kids can enjoy. Not to mention, it took me exactly two seconds to become extremely emotionally invested in the safety of the adorable alien Echo (the kids kind of made me nervous too).
Earth to Echo follows three friends, Tuck (Astro), Alex (Teo Halm), and Munch (Reese C. Hartwig), as they go on one last adventure before they are all forced to move away. As it turns out, the government is using eminent domain to make way for a new highway that is being built through their neighborhood. After some crafty maneuvering when it comes to alibis, the boys set out on their bikes to investigate a mysterious map that appeared on their phones and won’t go away, seemingly leading them to an area in the desert. When they arrive on-scene, the trio alludes scary men with flashlights (a la E.T.) and then discovers a metallic object (that looks like a bomb) in the brush. After a while, the boys realize that the object is actually a capsule containing an alien who they later name Echo. Echo was shot down by the government agents and crash-landed on Earth. Now he/she needs the boys’ help to find objects that will fix the spacecraft, all while avoiding the bad guys who want Echo for testing.
While this sounds a lot like E.T., Earth to Echo does have new ideas, such as utilizing the found footage concept, and holds back on the CGI to make the film seem more realistic (I am sure it helped with the budget as well). There are also great performances from its group of child actors. One in particular, Reese C. Hartwig, consistently steals the show and creates a good portion of the movie’s comic relief.
The major criticism I have about Earth to Echo involves a critical scene at the beginning of the film when the children first find the capsule, which we later find out contains Echo. This capsule could be anything – including an unexploded ordnance– yet, the children handle it almost immediately. Only later do they start to think that it could be a bomb. When that idea crosses into their minds, Tuck starts banging on the object to see if it will explode. For some reason, he thinks that is what you’re supposed to do with bombs. Instead of using this insane logic as a way to teach kids not to pick up things when they don’t know their origin, it is supposed to be a humorous scene about a kid recklessly risking his life because of a silly idea.
Thousands of people (including children) around the world have been harmed and killed by unexploded ordnances. In fact, millions of dollars are spent each year to deal with this problem, including handing out literature to children that point out the dangers of these devices; they are not toys and should never be treated as such. What would happen if kids found a similar looking object around their house and thought it contained Echo? They would be putting themselves in serious danger if they handled it like Tuck and co. I know Earth to Echo is just a movie, and adventure films like Now and Then and The Goonies didn’t (to my knowledge) send kids to hospitals en masse, but that scene put a bad taste in my mouth and I think it could have been handled differently. Perhaps the filmmakers could have made the object look obviously extraterrestrial and completely dissimilar from a bomb, or leave out the whole “Tuck banging on a potential bomb” scene altogether.
Despite my criticism, Earth to Echo is definitely a fun film. It is a lot better than I expected and made me nostalgic for the ’80s adventure classics. Hopefully, if this does well at the box office, we will get a resurgence of the lower-budget adventure films that encompass such an important part of our movie memory. While I don’t think kids will be quoting any lines from Tuck and his friends, like we did for The Goonies, Earth to Echo has all the makings to be a stepping stone for bigger and better ideas! Here’s to hoping.
My Review: B/B-