Let me set the scene. It was like going to a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, minus the Skee-Ball and unapproachable pizza. The setting was a “press” screening in which your humble reviewer and one other were the only members of the Fourth Estate present. The rest of the theater was occupied by families on hand to see an advance screening of the big summer movie Earth to Echo.
It’s a four quadrant movie if there ever was one. This means the movie is designed to appeal to four demographics at the same time: male and female, young and old. In the case of Earth to Echo, boys and girls will love it but I think parents (of either gender) will roll their eyes.
The story is about some young friends in a neighborhood that is being demolished (sound familiar?). They discover something at a construction site which leads them to a wounded alien who wants to get back home (sound familiar?). They are chased by government agents (sound familiar?). The entire movie is filmed from the perspective of cameras the kids are holding (sound familiar?).
In Hollywood, many agents and producers pass on screenplays because they say, quite casually, “seems too familiar.” If Earth to Echo was any more familiar, it would be the tee shirt I’ve had for ten years and just can’t get rid of. The first movie one thinks of is The Goonies. The producers of Earth to Echo go so far as to include a character with the nickname of ‘Munch.’ This can’t be a coincidence, for one of the most beloved characters of 1980s comedy –in The Goonies— was named ‘Chunk.’ With respect to the actor who plays ‘Munch,’ who does a very good job, you sir, are no Chunk! Next up is Super 8, which featured a bunch of underdogs helping an alien –that one much less benign– to rebuild his ship to get home.
Earth to Echo chooses to frame its narrative in the found footage style. That is, the entire story is told via hand held cameras and Google Glasses (the entire movie is a walking ad for Google, which makes one wonder if the Goog kicked in some production cash) the children are carrying and wearing. Though found footage movies seemed to have gone the way of cinemascope, they appear to be making a comeback, and Earth to Echo is leading the charge. This choice of perspective doesn’t add much and at times is literally dizzying. It also feels too much of a nod in the direction of Chronicle–adding yet more familiarity to the story. There’s even a chase scene toward the end which recalls E.T. the Extraterrestrial. I was half expecting the chase to occur in front of a pancake moon so brazenly had the producers borrowed from other movies.
So I can say Earth to Echo is derivative, pastiche, cliche, hackneyed, and borders on, at times, plagiarism, but does any of that matter?
No kid under 12 is going to know or care about The Goonies or Super 8 or even, perish the thought, E.T. I don’t know who is being more cynical here: me or Hollywood, which is banking on (and will make bank) the ignorance of children. However, if parents are going to be forced to take their kids to this, they too should be able to have a good experience. Unfortunately, I don’t believe they will. Earth to Echo is not on par with other four quadrant successes such as W.A.L.L.-E or The Incredibles. There’s some funny dialogue and good effects, and the child performers are very solid, but the script, I fear, is too unoriginal and flat for parents to like.
Therefore, the experience will be exactly like a trip to Chuck E. Cheese or Storyland. Parents will grit their teeth and bear it, while the kids will have a great time.
Directed by: Dave Green
Written by: Henry Gayden
Starring: Teo Halm, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Reese Hartwig , Ella Linnea Wahlestedt