“Nonetheless, there’s a true adolescent spirit in the film that proves incredibly more substantial to any kids/tween/teen fare that has found its way into the multiplexes this year…”
Review by Steve Pulaski
Earth to Echo is a charming, if familiar, fantasy film, putting its greatest human gift in the forefront, which is the power and the limitless boundaries of the human imagination. I feel bad for the audience members and critics who can’t look past their own dissatisfaction and their relentless criticism for the film being unoriginal or overly similar to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Scroll through the critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and you’ll realize those who lost their imagination, their childlike whimsy and spirit, and their willingness to explore and keep their childhood friends close, a bit too early.
Films like Earth to Echo reinvigorate the mind, body, and spirit; at least in myself, who adores coming of age films that take place during that “summer that changed everything,” so they say. The film revolves around three tight-knit friends from an upper-class suburban residential area in Nevada that is about to be torn down so a freeway bypass can be built in its place. We center on the three misfits of the neighborhood; fast-talking, camera-geek Tuck (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley), the roly-poly Reginald, who they nickname “Munch,” and the quiet foster kid Alex (Teo Halm), who has been transported to various foster homes, never finding a place he liked or relished calling “home.”
The three kids are brought together by Tuck’s desire to film every event during their last couple days together and their iPhones “barfing,” or showing some sort of blue-screen map leading to a specific destination in the middle of the Nevada desert. Mystified but thoroughly intrigued, Tuck, “Munch,” and Alex decide to pack up and head out to the specific location to try and figure out a potentially groundbreaking mystery, with Tuck filming every step of the way. A trip out in the middle of the desert proves extremely noteworthy when they discover a small, metal alien in a shiny metal orb in the middle of nowhere. They name it “Echo,” for its dedicated and frequent repetition of what they say, and realize that Echo is trying to get home after accidentally plunging to Earth and being severely hurt in the matter. Discovering they’re at odds with some persistent “construction worker,” who wants to disable “Echo” and his chance at ever getting home, the three, as well as the pretty and affluent classmate by the name of Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), who meets them halfway through the mission, try to help an extraterrestrial pal before they are cruelly split apart.
Earth to Echo has immediate similarities to other films that stretch beyond the Steven Spielberg classic. I, for one, found striking tonal similarities to other great films like Stand By Me in a sense of friendship and close, inseparable bondage and Super 8 and Wall-E in a sense of the capabilities of unpredictable technology. While it’s worth noting that the film may not be as wonderful or as complete as any of the aforementioned pictures, but Earth to Echo accomplishes quite a bit for being as quietly ambitious as it is. It prefers to be the E.T. for the digital age, utilizing numerous different ‘found-footage’ camera techniques, several different online services, and making an emphasis on the ubiquity of modern technology in an ‘In the Year 2525′ sense. With that, the film creates a fitting and rewarding product-of-its-time kind of film that proves wonderful in spirit and imagination.
But to top it off, the film emphasizes the importance of tight-knit friendships. Admittedly, there will be audiences who sneer at, what they deem, the corniness of the boys’ relationship, but many would be lying if they said they never had a relationship like that, bound by rampant secrecy and relatability in income, personalities, and sometimes, staying together because, together, you’re like your own island of misfit toys. If nothing else, the film deserves credit for illustrating that kind of uplifting and encouraging spirit, which is one I never tire from, laced with the love and tenderness of coming of age formula, something else I often find hard to dismiss.
To say Earth to Echo is flawless, however, is an overstatement. The use of the unsteady camera, while naturalistic, provides for an occasional headache in terms of guerrilla videography and the lack of depth or intrigue in the ‘Echo’ character is a biting problem. For the explicit amount of devotion the boys have to this creature, it doesn’t seem we get to spend much time with it in a way that allows us to get to know it. Nonetheless, there’s a true adolescent spirit in the film that proves incredibly more substantial to any kids/tween/teen fare that has found its way into the multiplexes this year, with the notable exception of The LEGO Movie. The heart is there, the spirit and imagination accompany it, and the storyline and makeup almost complete it to make, what just may be, with a tiny pinch of magic, the most unexpected box office hit of the summer.