July 02, 2014

Earth to Echo

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Earth to Echo

SCIENCE FICTION/ADVENTURE:

United States, 2014

U.S. Release Date:

2014-07-02

Running Length:

1:31

MPAA Classification:

PG

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Teo Halm, Astro, Reese C. Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt

Director:

Dave Green

Screenplay:

Henry Gayden, based on a story by Henry Gayden & Andrew Panay

Cinematography:

Maxime Alexandre

Music:

Joseph Trapanese

U.S. Distributor:

Relativity Media

Subtitles:

none


I suppose it would be fair to characterize Earth to Echo as an homage to E.T. Or at least I assume that's what director Dave Green and screenwriter Henry Gayden were going for: a gentle throw-back to the kinder sorts of science fiction films of the '70s and '80s helmed by Spielberg and his likes. (There are a few nods to Close Encounters of the Third Kind as well). Those were movies in which aliens were the good guys and people, particularly those associated with the government, were the ones to be feared and mistrusted. There are, however, a couple of fatal flaws in Earth to Echo's approach. First, the script is dumb. This isn't a family-friendly film - anyone over the age of about 8 will immediately recognize that significant chunks of the story don't make sense. Secondly, the decision to use a "found footage"/first-person approach to the presentation is not only distracting but is so ineptly handled that it will cause those prone to motion sickness to be retching in the aisles.

The story is straightforward. Three childhood friends - Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Astro), and Munch (Reese C. Hartwig) - are spending a final night together. The next day, they all have to move out of their development to make way for a highway. Strange things have been happening with their cellphones and they set out to investigate. This takes them on a night journey across the desert where they discover a small robot alien that has been damaged in a crash and is trying to find its way to a spaceship. Joined by classmate Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), the boys help out the robot while being pursued by Federal Agents who want the alien for nefarious purposes.

There are four simple things to remember about Earth to Echo: (1) the alien is impossibly cute, (2) the kids are all smart and wise, (3) the parents are morons, and (4) the Feds are evil. That pretty much sums up character development. Earth to Echo doesn't contain an ounce of sophistication. It's so derivative of E.T. that Melissa Mathison should sue for a story credit. (Even the poster is an obvious rip-off of E.T.) The problem is that Earth to Echo somehow manages to discard almost everything that was good and magical in the Spielberg movie while retaining the weak and/or forgettable elements. Which brings us to the so-called "found footage" approach… One question is foremost in my mind: Why?

The film is presented through video taken by the protagonists. I suppose this was clever the first few times it was done (mostly in horror films like The Blair Witch Project) but it's the kind of gimmick that quickly wears out its welcome. An additional impediment is that the constant shaking and panning of the hand-held camera may trigger nausea in some viewers. And, even for those not subject to motion picture motion sickness, the format is more distracting than innovative or interesting. It could be argued that a style like this is employed in an attempt to cover up other inadequacies.

The acting is adequate at best and sometimes not convincing. None of the four principals has a lengthy filmography and one of them, Astro, is best known for his participation in the TV singing competition "The X Factor." The director, Dave Green, is making his feature debut after having done some TV work and crafting several short films. Earth to Echo has a made-for-Disney Channel feel with limited production values and video game quality special effects. Still, stepping back for a moment and recognizing that this was made with kids in mind, it's a passable diversion and certainly no worse than what many children watch on TV (or online). It's just a shame it couldn't have been made a little more bearable for the adults who will accompany their offspring to theaters.

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