Director Dave Green makes his feature film debut with a large task at hand, adapting a children’s story into a Blair With-inspired adventure epic, which he pulls off like a veteran. In many found footage films, there are moments that break the feeling of immersion by cutting to a film camera or playing with the source of the hand-held footage to something that couldn’t possibly be cut into the film in the way it’s being presented. Even Chronicle, a film I consider one of the absolute best in the genre, did this when it showed footage from countless cell phones that couldn’t have possibly been recovered and worked into the footage, however Earth to Echo never breaks through that wall, and remains dedicated to it’s presentation the entire way through.
The story is told through the eyes of three best friends in the middle of a life crisis. Tuck, Alex and Munch are three kids who have only ever known each other as friends, and much like the adventure classic The Goonies, the film which is most closely mirrored by Earth to Echo, their hometown of Mulberry Woods, NV in the midst of a demolition project that will see their homes torn down in the name of creating a monstrous new highway. This forces their families to have to pack up and move, despite the kids best efforts to stop their group from being torn apart. Tuck and company do this by taking all of the video footage that they can, mostly through the numerous camera equipment that Tuck owns, and putting their work up on YouTube to attempt and generate public interest, enough to stop their town from being destroyed.
However, their efforts are clearly in vain, and in the final week these three friends have together, they’ve accepted defeat. That is, until their cell phones start acting crazy, or as the kids term it, “barfing”, which what turns out to be imagery of surrounding areas, creating a map. As any three entrepreneurial children would do, they hatch a plan to spend one last great adventure together, and follow the map on their final night together in Mulberry Woods. By playing the oldest trick in the teenage sitcom book, the kids each tell their parents that they will be staying over at each others houses, and set out on their nearly 20 mile bike ride through the desert at night to find the source of the signal, and hopefully expose the construction company in some nefarious act, thus saving their town and most importantly, their friendship.
Along the way, the trio comes to find that their phones are actually leading them on an adventure to help an alien who has crash landed on Earth, who they name Echo, find the missing pieces to his ship and get back home. They also manage to pick up a fifth member of their crew in the form of Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), the pretty, popular girl from school whose home happens to house one of Echo’s missing ship pieces. Naturally, she becomes determined to follow the three boys on their journey, and becomes an invaluable help to them along the way.
The kids all fill their roles well, though to varying degrees of success. The most interesting casting decision is that of Tuck, who is played by Brian “Astro” Bradley. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, Astro was a contestant in the first season of the American version of the X-Factor on Fox, a Simon Cowell singing competition whose loose rules allowed for a competitor like Astro, who rapped for each of his songs, to perform extremely well on the show, and gain notoriety outside of the music industry. He showed incredible charisma, if not a bit of immaturity in the spotlight, and wrote a new song every week, remixing pop hits such as Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Kris Kross’ “Jump”. On the big screen, he’s shown a bit of raw talent, while adding a humanity to the film, trying his best to keep his friends together for this one last night.
If there’s a weak link to the three young actors, it’s the character Munch, who is played by Reese Hartwig. Though Hartwig does a serviceable job in his role as Munch, the characters annoyance combined with him being just a step or two behind his costars makes Munch a bit much to handle for a lot of the movie. Munch is the stereotypical scaredy cat, the one in the group who is dragged along by the wrist, kicking and screaming, as he’s not comfortable with the danger, the lying to their parents, and the long journey that lies ahead of them. It helps the character a lot that Hartwig happens to look remarkably like a young Sean Astin, and in a film that harkens back to The Goonies so much, looking like young Mikey is a huge plus. Munch does have his redeeming moments in Earth to Echo, though, and in the end, every character ends of serving a valuable role, even if one or two of them can get on your nerves. Munch is even one of two characters to get the typical Blair Witch moment, where the handheld camera is zoomed in too close to his tear-soaked face as he makes a final plea to his friends to help him.
Alex, played by Teo Halm, adds the emotional beats in the film. A foster kid who’s bounced from foster home to foster home, hes developed an abandonment complex which is only compounded by the potential of having to move away from the only friends he’s ever known. Halm also shows the most range as an actor in the film, he hits almost every emotional moment with accuracy, and lends a reality to the characters that a film like this desperately needs. His connection to Echo, stemming from the robotic creatures own abandonment on their home, is what ends up driving the group to continue, even in the face of insurmountably tough odds.
Earth to Echo brings a sense of grand adventure that has rarely been seen in the science fiction genre in the past few decades, one that matches the pitch-perfect tone of JJ Abrams Super 8, which itself made many homages to classics like E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. It’s every bit the modern-day Goonies with an alien twist, and the characters go on a fun-filled ride into the night. While there are a few moments of logic that you could pick apart, such as the sheer distance the kids travel in the span of a single night, and mostly by bike, there’s not enough to take away from the pure enjoyment you get watching this coming-of-age tale. I will warn those who get motion sickness in the theaters, the camera is rarely stable, usually attached to someone’s head or bicycle as they ride on desert roads, and more than a few people in my theater had issues staying the entire time. If you can manage to sit through it, however, you will be treated to a delightful family film, one that I hope to see many times in the near future.