Some of the most memorable family films to come out of America in the 1980s told the stories of ordinary young children (often boys) flung into extraordinary scenarios. Movies such as E.T., The Goonies and Flight Of The Navigator captured our hearts and our imaginations, and have never truly let go of them.
This is particularly true for the makers of Earth To Echo, whose film is an unashamed homage to those beloved classics. It tells the story of three friends spending their final night together before leaving town. Having received mysterious signals on their mobile phones, and seeking one last adventure together, they get more than they bargained for when they find Echo, a small alien robot who needs their help if he is to find his way home.
Their task is made more difficult, however, by the fact that the US government are also aware of Echo’s existence, and will stop at nothing to prevent him from achieving his goal. The three young boys, with help from a girl from their school who becomes entangled in their exploits, must evade the government agents, find the missing pieces of Echo’s spaceship and get him home before the morning – all without their parents finding out.
Earth To Echo is the sort of film which can be made or broken by its protagonists, and the young actors here are likeable, if slightly forgettable. Teo Halm plays Alex, the strong-yet-sensitive leader of the group, and is required to do most of the heavy lifting in selling Echo’s plight to the audience, and he does it well. The film is told from the perspective of Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley’s Tuck, who makes for a personable narrator but has a habit of getting a bit lost in his own film. The most memorable of the young stars is Reese Hartwig as Munch, the tightly-wound oddball of the group who ends up providing a lot of the film’s comic relief.
Of course, the real star of the show is Echo, the film’s titular alien. Echo is a small, wide-eyed robot owl who communicates in clicks, beeps and other unusual sounds. And design-wise, he’s hard not to fall in love with. The team at Legacy Effects have a pedigree that stretches back as far as Jurassic Park, and there’s definitely a touch of the Spielberg about the creature.
Unfortunately, that’s where the Spielberg comparisons end. I’m not a fan of reviews which spend a lot of column inches comparing one film to another, but given how much Earth To Echo wears its influences on its sleeve, it’s hard not to at least mention the E.T. in the room. There’s a lot of E.T.’s iconography on display here, from boys on bikes to scary government scientists. One of the film’s posters even features a version of the famous finger-poke.
But what’s missing is the heart, the reason why we should care about the alien in the first place beyond the cute factor. Alex goes through all the motions of being upset over Echo, and being recklessly determined to help Echo even if it puts his own life in danger, but it never feels like this is earned. Because the film takes place over one night, and because Echo only ever communicates in beeps and noises, we never see anywhere near enough of a bond formed to be upset when it looks like things might not work out. Where E.T. was the story of a friendship, Earth To Echo is the story of some things that happen to some children.
There’s a good chance you already have an opinion when I say the words ‘found footage’. Earth To Echo is told in the found footage style, and if you’re not a fan then it’s unlikely to win you over here. That said, director Dave Green does try and do a few interesting things with it here; the film has been shot and edited together by Tusk and uploaded to YouTube, so it’s not a ‘straight’ found footage film; there are moments when Tusk subtly alters the narrative, and we see various computer graphics, which hovers between being novel and being a distraction throughout. But there’s still a healthy dose of shaky cam at play here.
Earth To Echo isn’t a terrible film, but it’s not a particularly good one either. It’s a noble attempt to revive a genre of film which is sadly missing for today’s youngsters, but it falls wide of its target. If you’ve got children who want to see this at the cinema, hold back and use the ticket money on DVDs of E.T. and The Goonies instead; you’ll have a much more enjoyable afternoon.
Earth To Echo is out now in UK cinemas.
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