I very much remember the experience of watching E.T. in the theater. The year was 1982. The experience was a completely engrossing one. My little sister, who was 5 years old at the time, completely lost her sh*t towards the end and wouldn’t leave the theater until my parents bought her a stuffed doll of that goddamn ugly creature. She didn’t stop begging for more Reese’s Pieces for years. E.T. was my sister’s obsession, but I also enjoyed the ride and the sense of wonder so lovingly stoked by Steven Spielberg.
Earth to Echo is a lot like E.T. … minus the glorious upsweep of emotions, which — depending on your kid — could be a good thing. They’ll watch this movie and won’t remember it in a few days. You probably won’t have to order them an Echo alien on Amazon once you get home from the theater.
For those who are late to the homage train, Super 8 got here first in 2012. But Earth to Echo is an updated version of E.T. with a cuter alien life form. This is also a found-footage movie for the kiddies. The conceit of this filmmaking gimmick probably won’t affect them much, but adults who’ve been recently conditioned by watching found-footage horror movies may expect something very bad to happen during the human characters’ nighttime adventures. I was hoping for a cult member to step out of the shadows, but no dice.
Here’s what happens: A trio of Nevada kids decide to record their last hours as neighbors together with their iPhones rolling. One of the kids, Tuck (Brian Bradley), is an aspiring filmmaker. Their ‘hood is about to be obliterated in the name of suburban highway sprawl, so at first, they’re just messing around like kids do. Then things start getting weird and a little like both Chronicle and Wall-E. Weirdness commences in strange, map-“barfing” interference with the boys’ cell phones, and they figure out something strange is in the desert. Once the kiddies arrive on the scene (on bikes, natch), they discover a cute little alien robot who’s been injured in a crash. “Echo” communicates through a quasi-Morse code series of chirps. He’s f*cking adorable and impossible to resist.
The quiet outcast of the bunch, Alex (Teo Halm), bonds with Echo just like Elliot did with E.T.. He must protect his new alien best friend when the powers that be rush in to ruin everything (of course). Echo only wants to find his missing parts and
phone go home. A tough girl, Emma (Ella Linnea Wahlestedt), shows up to keep the picture from turning into a testosterone flick. She’s a gem.
At its core, this movie is a shameless knock off of the Spielberg classic. To kids who haven’t seen E.T., this movie is much more fun than their parents would suspect. These industrious kids know better than the grown ups when it comes to the fate of their trusty little bot friend, and their adventure is a worthy one. Parents will be bored as hell by this flick because it’s been done a few times already, but those who enter with virgin eyes will be entranced.
The one saving grace about this movie is that the characters (the kids at least … forget the the adults) seem real. They’re not just stock entries from some screenwriter’s handbook. These kids project the fear of the unknown as they prepare to move away from each other to different neighborhoods. It’s a little heartbreaking to witness them fretting over what will happen to the others and how they each will fare in their new settings. The realness of these kids (and the performances of the actors who play them) kept me interested and allowed me to forget that this was just a Spielberg knockoff. Then again, Spielberg wrote kids pretty well too.
From a technical standpoint, Earth to Echo looks pretty good for a $10 million budget film. Its special effects are sparse but well done, but the handheld camera gimmick can be a bit discombobulating. A bit? Scratch that. The shaky motion is a major problem in this movie, which is shame because even the sh*tty found footage movies for adults have overcome this hurdle. So, what we have here — despite actors who are earnest in their delivery and a not-awful script — is a film that could make the audience lose its popcorn. Coming from someone with a pretty solid stomach, it’s still a problem. This movie might play well on the small screen, but at the theater, it’s best to wait it out.
Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at Celebitchy.