Director – Dave Green, Screenplay – Henry Gayden, Story – Henry Gayden & Andrew Panay, Producers – Ryan Kavanaugh & Andrew Panay, Photography – Maxime Alexandre, Music – Joseph Trapanese, Visual Effects Supervisor – Mitchell S. Drain & Stefan Fangmeier, Visual Effects – Comen VFX (Supervisor – Tim Carras), Prime Focus (Supervisor – Josh Saeta), Shade VFX (Supervisor – Bryan Godwin), Production Design – Kasra Farahani. Production Company – Relativity Media
Teo Halm (Alex Nichols), Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley (Tuck Simms), Reese Hartwig (Reginald ‘Munch’ Barrett), Ella Wahlestedt (Emma), Jason Gray-Stanford (Dr Lawrence Marsden), Cassius Willis (Calvin Simms), Sonya Leslie (Theresa Simms), Virginia Louise Smith (Betty Barrett)
It is the last day of school for three friends – Alex, Tuck and Munch. Something seems to be causing their cellphones to emit strange noises and patterns. Trying to find an answer, someone online points out that the pattern that keeps appearing is a map of the area. The three conceive a plan to sneak out that night and follow the map. By fooling their parents into thinking they are staying at each other’s places, they head off into the desert on their bikes. At the location the map points to, they discover an object. The object comes to life and directs them to find other pieces of machinery. These come together to form a sentient alien being. They are able to communicate with it and name it Echo. Echo indicates that it wants to find its spaceship and go back home. As they set out to aid their extra-terrestrial friend, it appears that a group of sinister government agents – the ones that shot the ship down in the first place – are determined to capture Echo.
Earth to Echo turns out to be another Found Footage film. It may well say something about how overused the Found footage genre has become that little about this appeared in the film’s initial pre-publicity. The Found Footage genre has mined multiple genres over the last few years, mostly conducting variants on themes in the horror genre.
Earth to Echo is a directorial debut for Dave Green who was previously a production assistant on Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man sequels. The film is homage to a certain spate of 1980s films. In particular, it substantially homages E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) with its frequently near-identical plot about a group of kids who find a stranded extra-terrestrial and help it on its quest to go home, hiding it from grown-ups, their pursuit by sinister government agents and much action running around on bikes. It also freely dips its fingers into and samples elements from the spate of films that came out imitating E.T. – the likes of Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star (1986), Mac and Me (1988) and their ilk. In particular, the cute robotic (?) alien resembles the cute baby UFOs in Batteries Not Included (1987) or maybe the cuddly robot in Short Circuit (1986); the trio of kids piecing together messages and technology from the stars reminds a good deal of Explorers (1985); the secret journey of the kids to find something wonderful reminds of the quintessential (non-genre) Coming of Age tale of the era Stand By Me (1986). The kids are drawn in suitably likeable strokes that often remind of the same central triptych we had in Explorers.
Like the recent Super 8 (2011), Earth to Echo taps the same sense of wonder that these 1980s films found – the enthusiasm of the kids on a quest, the discovery of a wondrous and unusual alien creation, celebrating their outsmarting authority figures – while feeling a nostalgia for the films that the filmmakers themselves clearly grew up with. The build-up to the revelation of the creature, the hints about, its awakening, is all well done and here Earth to Echo feels very much like it has tapped into the essence of these adventures.
However, the arrival of Echo, while cute, cannot help but seem faintly ridiculous – what we have rather absurdly looks like a glowing robotic owl. (Shades of Bubo in Clash of the Titans (1981), I kept thinking). Moreover, the middle two-thirds of the film descends into running around trying to find pieces of the ship. As almost the same thing happens at every location they visit, this starts to resemble much of a muchness. This is what John Clute calls a Plot Coupons fantasy – the collection of a series of randomly assigned objects for the specific purposes of driving the plot. After a promising start, the film becomes stuck in one gear and never quite finds itself again. The sole moment Dave Green pulls off that stands out comes towards the end of the film where a truck and semi-trailer are heading straight towards the kids as they escape in a purloined van and Echo dissembles the oncoming truck into its component parts in mid-air and then reconstructs it behind them. It is one of the few moments that Earth to Echo finds a magic of its own rather than merely coasts by on the nostalgia of its predecessors.
Director Dave Green next made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016).