Three young friends – Tuck (Brian Bradley), Munch (Teo Halm) and Alex (Reese Hartwig) – plan to spend one final night together before their neighbourhood is bulldozed to make way for a freeway. That day, the boys begin to receive strange messages on their phones, and decide to cycle out into the desert to get some answers.
The 1980s were a breeding ground for family friendly sci-fi, but it feels like it has been years since kids got to be at the heart of an adventure about friendship, courage and aliens – with the notable exception of Super 8. Writing directing team Dave Green and Henry Gayden are determined to set this right, with Earth to Echo.
Don’t let the posters fool you; Earth to Echo is not some Wall-E knock off, and nor is trying to be anything it’s not. The film weaves together strands from E.T., Flight of the Navigator and Cloverfield to create a fresh but familiar adventure with loyalty and friendship at its heart. Brian Bradley, Teo Halm and Reese Hartwig are great in their roles as the three young friends; their chemistry and character traits balancing and complimenting one another. We don’t learn a huge amount of information about the kids, but what we do find out is more than enough to keep the story moving. The three leads work well together, and their enthusiasm for their project is infectious.
Screenwriter Henry Gayden borrows themes and ideas from many 80s classics, and brings the story right into the present day through the use of mobile phones as a way for Echo the alien to communicate with his new friends, and the use of YouTube clips, GoPro cameras and found footage… Although the found footage notion – and it’s execution – feels like it has been done to death. Another problem with this format of storytelling is that there are times where it is unclear whose footage we are watching; Echo’s or the kids’. This may seem like a small detail, but it is a niggle that kids in the audience will definitely pick up on.
As director, David Green allows the youth and enthusiasm of his actors to shine through, and it certainly feels as though the film is one that they made. Inspiring wrap up aside, Earth to Echo is filled with the things we remember from films that inspired us when we were kids; fear, danger, romance and adventure, and David Green has managed to capture an innocence and wonder in his cast that feels like it long disappeared from this world. However, there are times when the pacing is messy and the camera work grates, which manages to sometimes turn real drama into cutesy kiddy time.
In all, Earth to Echo is a fun adventure aimed at kids on the cusp of adolescence. Adults in the audience will have plenty to cling onto though, since Earth to Echo is entirely informed by the kid friendly sci-fi adventures from the past. The young cast is great, the alien cute, and the danger just real enough to be engaging, without ever being frightening. The found footage style of film making needs to be left in its grave, however, and the inspirational montage at the end is just slightly on the hokey side.