You ever notice that whenever someone complains about a movie being too similar to another, at least one person will happen to say, “Well, I haven’t seen that first movie before”?
The fact of the matter is that writers in Hollywood feel inclined to repeat clichés because there’s always going to be someone, usually the younger generations, that have never seen some of the more famous storylines in older movies.
We’ve grown up with “The Goonies” and “Top Gun”, but can you really blame someone for saying something is original if they’ve haven’t witnessed the kind of story they’ve seen before?
One storyline that gets overplayed too often, especially with family films, is the idea of children finding something that an adult has been looking for a while. We’ve seen it with aliens, genies, time travel and even space exploration. These are the kinds of stories that tend to achieve better in a technical aspect then a storytelling aspect.
With something like “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, I was never too passionate about the characters, and mostly thought “wouldn’t it be cool if I was there.”
These are stories that kids love because they themselves would like to be in the characters shoes, just not the character though. This is such a case with “Earth to Echo”.
Tuck, Alex, and Munch are three middle school boys that are simply a close group of friends that like to hang. They’re all being forced to move out of their neighborhood, as construction is about to begin on a new interstate freeway.
At the same time, their smartphones are acting up, showing fuzzy messages that look like a map. On the last night on the block, they lie to their parents about a sleepover they’re having, and ride their bikes out into the Nevada Desert to trace the source of their smartphone messages.
They find what looks to be a small, broken piece of satellite equipment, but discover is actually a small robot alien. The thing can only communicate through a series of beeps, hence the name it’s given, Echo.
The robot leads the kids through several towns to acquire the various parts it needs in order to get home. The boys manage to get a girl in the group named Emma. All four of them set out to help the alien, but are also being chased by government officials who might be behind the construction job at their houses.
What I’m describing must sound an awful like “E.T.”, right? This film’s hook is that it’s also a found footage style movie where the kids have shot the whole story using smart phones. I can give it credit that by going with this method it has more of its own identity. If it were made as a regular movie, I think people would have not been as intrigued by it’s previews. Now is it enough to make it work? For me, not completely. While I won’t give away what happens, I’ll say that if you’ve seen “E.T.”, then you’ve already seen this movie.
The movie’s biggest strength is the friendship between these kids. They all seem legitimately close to each other, and watching them interact and try to figure out where to go next is interesting.
I also like the design of Echo, harboring something like the aliens from “Batteries Not Included”.
What’s not interesting is the story. I think it plays way too safe by following the “E.T.” formula. If the film producers thought more outside the box, I would have liked it better. As a treat for kids, if they haven’t seen “E.T”., then I think they’ll really like this. There’s just very little for the adults.
I’ll give this three Echos out of five. This is simply another alien story for kids that are similar to others. Is it bad? I can’t go that far. It’s just a journey that I’ve been on before.
Robert T. Nickerson is a film critic. His work can be seen at mastermindfilmproductions.com.