I’m legitimately torn about this low-grade science-fiction kids film that “borrows” heavily from some classic ’80s, including most notably E.T.: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, EXPLORERS, STAND BY ME, and even bits of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, which was actually released in 1977, but you see my point (hopefully). The thing is, the makers of EARTH TO ECHO—director Dave Green and writer Henry Gayden—clearly love these classic movies, and have gone out of their way to not flat out steal from them, but offer certain touches, an energy and a spirit that match these great films without aping them without pity.
Not technically a found footage film (since the footage was never lost, and one of the kids in the story edits and posts his self-made documentary online, which is what we’re watching), Earth to Echo tells us the adventures of three best friends—Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley, Munch (Reese Hartwig) and Alex (Teo Halm)—whose community is about to be shut down to make room for infrastructure progress (highways), and this time we spend with them represents their last real shot at an adventure. They discover that many of their electronics go haywire in certain locations around town and figure out that they are being shown a map to a location far out in the dessert. Adding to the weirdness is a girl, Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), who joins the boys on their bike trip at night.
And it’s on this journey that the boys discover that they aren’t the only ones reading the signals, and that most likely this highway construction story is a bullshit excuse to toss out the families who live in this community so the government can go looking for…something named Echo, who has a much larger plan in mind.
For a film with no big stars and likely a modest budget, what EARTH TO ECHO pulls off is pretty impressive, both in terms of special effects and emotional connections between the kids. I’m trying to outline a story without giving away some of the best, more science-fiction moments, but all of the ads show a small, roundish robot at the center of this movie, so I don’t think that qualifies as a spoiler. But I think younger audience members will be suitably impressed and surprised by this story, if they know as little as possible going in.
The bigger picture metaphor here is about three kids about to say good-bye to each other, and reminds us that often kids on the verge of separation often want to have once last adventure together. The film is as surprisingly moving as it is entertaining. It also isn’t particularly challenging to young minds, and while many kids may not have seen the movies I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, they have seen movies, so many things may seem familiar no matter your age.
Still, I found myself thinking about a few of my own movie-going experiences as a younger man, and seeing some of those films today does one of two things: they don’t hold up, or they impress me even more than they did as a kid. EARTH TO ECHO probably won’t stand the test of time, but it is encouraging that some filmmakers love making us remember our unbridged passion for these kinds of stories in our youthful days. I bet if you focus on the kids’ relationships with each other (rather than the bells and whistles), you may actually find yourself enjoying the experience of watching this.