I may not actually be the best person to write this review. I have known for a long time that I liked films and wanted to watch all of them and evaluate them. But before I was running MovieByte, it was more difficult to justify the expense. As a consequence, I have seen only one of the previous films that treads the ground that this film waltzes across a little haphazardly. That one film is E.T., which I remember hating from my childhood. Yes, yes, I know, you may all gasp in shock and horror at the atrocity I have just committed. And to be fair, I haven’t actually seen E.T. since well before I was even into my teens so I may now well like it. I just did not back then.
The comparisons of Earth to Echo are all but inevitable. This story, like E.T., involves pre-adolescents who think they are much too old for their own good, parents with little to no clue what’s going on in their children’s lives, an extraterrestrial trying to find his (or her?) way home, and a menacing U.S. government. But Earth to Echo is really more like E.T. light. It’s far less crude in its humor, and to my way of remembering E.T. at least, far more likable and easier to view.
The film tells it’s story from the perspective of Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley) in the style of found footage from this young camera enthusiast (who’s editing skills and camera work are apparently Hollywood Level, more on that later). He, along with his two best friends, Munch (Reese Hartwig), who’s quite the awkward one, and Alex (Teo Halm), who is arguably the star of this film, are all about to part ways because of a mysterious interstate project that will be building right in their neighborhood (don’t think too hard about that). When their phones all start going crazy, they decide to spend their last night together figuring out what’s up with their phones and how it might link to a government conspiracy. The maps on their malfunctioning phones lead them to the desert to discover an alien in need of help to repair his ship and get him home. Along the way they will encounter difficulty with the government.
It is nice that the cast is full of fresh faces and they didn’t do terribly — well, most of them didn’t. In particular Teo Halm was pretty good, and Ella Wahlestedt performance as the tag along girl none of the three pre-teen guys wanted around was probably the best of the cast.
There was also a certain adorableness to the film and to the alien Echo that resonated well with me. I certainly connected with the story and with the characters on an emotional level at times.
The film also wastes no time in getting started, but yet does not feel rushed. I felt I got all the information I needed when I needed it without being saddled by dialog dump.
There’s something too, in the disconnectedness of the parents. I never personally experienced that — my parents were always been well connected to me and my life and I am grateful for that. But I’ve certainly had friends and known people who have that sort of disconnected relationship with their parents. It is a very believable element of the film and strikes some relatable notes.
What Doesn’t Work?
Alright guys, buckle up, this list is a much longer. Let’s start with the obvious:
I have yet to find an instance where “found footage” isn’t a cop-out or cover for bad filmmaking or low budget. This film is no exception and seems like a little of both. It’s a really poor story telling device that let’s the filmmakers justify their reasons for why we can’t see something, or why, perhaps, something here and there does not make any sense.
But when is the last time you saw a 12 year old boy make a documentary. And then, if a 12 year old boy did, would you expect it to look like this hollywood production with smooth camera moves, well placed and strategic shots, and 4K or higher resolution? Of course not.
The worst part is, it feels like we miss crucial information at times because of the limitations of the format. And those times when we do get crucial information that we probably should not be getting, it feels very forced. It takes the worst of the first person story-telling format, and combines it with the worst filmmaking techniques, which add up to a terrible cinematic experience.
Copy and Paste
This film almost literally copied and pasted the story beats from E.T..
At the prerelease screening of the film, producer Andrew Panay said:
I grew up watching The Goonies, Stand by Me. Don’t you think it’s weird that your generation hasn’t had a Goonies to talk to you? … I thought it was about time you kids had the same experience us adults have had.
There’s just one problem here, those films were not trying to recreate a film for nostalgia’s sake. The thing is, you have to create your work and let it do its own thing. When you try to force stuff like this you are almost always going to fail.
Because of this copy/paste nature, the story is way too predictable. The film never really gets into its own groove.
Echo himself is a bit of a disappointment. He can do cool stuff when the script calls for him too, but when the script calls for it, he’s just a weak, and mild little creature who’s helpless and powerless. And mostly, the little guy is just boring. He looks like a kids toy you might buy at Walmart, and he can barely walk.
It was obviously quite expensive for him to be on the screen though, because we just don’t see much of him.
Overall, how is it he could do crazy stuff but needed the pre-teen boys to help him with… anything?
Interstate Cover Up
The whole “we’re going to build an Interstate here so we have to get everybody moved out” cover story is very flawed. Don’t think about it too long because it doesn’t make much sense. What happens in a few years when there’s no Interstate? And are you telling me that plucking up an entire neighborhood and moving them just happens? I mean, I know eminent domain and everything, but you have to have a majority that are willing and stuff. I just didn’t buy it.
Reese Hartwig as Munch is absolutely terrible. He could barely keep from smiling during some scenes — I’m sure you know that thing where you’re trying to keep a straight face but the corners of your mouth are twitching and turning up? Well, that’s Reese. He just can’t play the part and he needed to be replaced.
And I just never bought the whole nerd routine.
Ship is down (spoilers follow)
In the end, it turns out the ship is under ground — under the whole neighborhood. It’s apparently a big old thing. But it was stated by the evil bad government guys that they shot the ship down. But it appears that neighborhood has been there for a while. How did that ship get down there? It seemed to be intact there and no land seemed to be disturbed. And how did the alien get way out in the desert so far away from the ship?
What did that great big powerful ship get shot down with? And when it reassembled itself in the air and flew off, where were the government guys that were just there hunting the boys and the alien?
What was the Point?
The final nail in the coffin of this film is they kept trying to force the story into having some meaning about lasting friendship and whatever. But the story was obviously not about that and it felt like they kept trying to shove it in. It didn’t work.
At times it felt like the film was trying to be too big — swelling the music in odd places, and a recap/montage thing at the end (obviously serving to pad the length of a pretty short film), that felt way too pompous and arrogant for what the film was. And there was this big monologue thing about how distance was a state of mind and now that they knew an alien that was light years away, they would be able to keep in touch with each other on little old earth. It really, REALLY didn’t work.
Save Your Money
There were adorable moments, and I didn’t hate myself for seeing it in the theater, but neither can I recommend it. It’s utterly forgettable, has too many plot holes, and is not very well made.