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Earth to Echo – Movie Review

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Earth to Echo – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

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There’s a certain nostalgic quality to the films made by Amblin, Steven Spielberg’s first production company. Whether it was the boy-and-his-alien story E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial or the treasure hunt adventure of The Goonies, these films bring to mind the days of cycling with friends in the neighborhood and discovering new ideas along the way. While Spielberg is not involved with Earth to Echo, director Dave Green and screenwriter Henry Gayden clearly devoured his works in their youth and this sense of childhood adventure is all over this film. Take out the references to modern devices and social media and this could have easily been a script written in the 1980s. From the beginning, the movie is supportive of the notion of exploration and while it is very easy to spot the influences, they add to the fun of this story.

What is immediately evident is there is a certain bond among the heroes of this story. These are clearly friends who have known each other and been close for many years and the emotion is certainly there at the prospect of moving away, due to the actions of a construction company. They talk and act like real youths would and that’s a credit to both the screenplay and the acting. All of the young actors, whose credits only stretch back a couple of years, feel authentic and do not fall into the usual child actor tendencies. They are not placed into specific boxes, though Munch certainly brings to mind the similarly chubby and timid Chunk from The Goonies, but rather work as a likeable set of pre-teens just wanting to explore the strange occurrences in their neighbourhood. The use of found footage gives the film that extra sense of being invited to investigate with them. As the current generation becomes more interested in detailing their almost every exploit, this storytelling format is actually quite an appropriate element of the film. Even the use of the Internet and webcam conversations exist to develop and expand on the characters.

The relationship the protagonists form with alien Echo will definitely bring to mind E.T., even down to one of them forming a special connection with him and his wish to return home. The film even includes shots of authorities desperately searching as flashlights loom over the desert landscape. However, while images of the Spielberg classic are instantly on one’s mind whilst watching those scenes, Dave Green nonetheless brings the necessary charm required. The special effects and concept teams have done a nice job of making Echo an adorable creation. Almost reminiscent of a small woodland animal scared out of its wits, Echo’s carefully animated expressions give him an instant likeability. Like the filmmakers behind E.T., Gremlins and Wall-E, the Earth to Echo concept artists clearly understand that big eyes immediately gives a sci-fi creature a certain appeal and adorable quality. Like the characters, the viewer is immediately charmed by Echo and that makes the need to help him even more personally riveting.

Scattered through Earth to Echo is a nice message about the importance of neighborhoods. The threat of losing their houses to a construction company wanting to knock them down is not used as a mere plot device, but also as a commentary for the current obsession of destroying the old and replacing it with the new. It is upsetting to see perfectly good houses torn down, just so a bigger and soulless mastodon of a home can be put in its place. How does that improve the neighborhood? Why can’t the classic and new ways be respected and placed side-by-side? These are questions intelligently asked by the screenplay in subtle ways. It’s in there enough to convey the message, but not obvious enough to get in the way of the story. This theme ties in nicely to the way the film both celebrates the old-fashioned ways young people can explore and spend time together, while also noting that new technology can add to the fun. All of this makes the movie more poignant than if it were just a simple science-fiction family film.

Disney was the original producer of Earth to Echo, but it dropped the film during a recent executive shake-up. However, upon watching the finished product, it’s very perplexing why especially since Steven Spielberg has a current distribution deal with the Mouse House. The Amblin influence is obvious, but that actually adds to its charm as it’s a lot of fun to spot the various nods. However, on its own, it’s a well-meaning family picture and a nice depiction of childhood wonderment and the sense of adventure one finds themselves in during their youthful years. The science-fiction elements are just the icing on the cake for a movie that seems destined for cult status among today’s generation.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison