Earth To Echo is not only a great kids movie in the vain of The Goonies, Super 8 and Monster Squad but it’s also a fantastic example the found footage genre done well.
It is easier now than ever to document the world around us through smart phones or webcams and the proliferation of the found footage genre is a reflection of that. As such, people are already tired of it. It’s not hard to understand why as the found footage genre is more gimmick then genuine genre; not to say that this cannot change in time. Found footage movies are cheap, can be done with relative ease and, due to this conceit, the quality doesn’t have to be top shelf. They are lost in a no mans land between narrative and documentary film.
Earth To Echo manages to take into consideration the gimmicky nature of the found footage genre and tweak it so that it becomes purposeful.
But first a quick summery.
Earth to Echo is the story of three friends in small town Nevada. Their community has been annexed to make way for a new highway and all the families must move out. On their last night together the three boys, Tuck, Alex and Munch, decide to ride off into the desert to discover the source of a mysterious map that has appeared on all their phones. Their journey takes them to an alien, who they name Echo, that has crash landed on earth. With the assistance of the boys, Echo journeys about the town collecting parts to repair its ship. During the night the boys run into Emma, one of the girls at their school, who becomes the fourth member of the group.
Like the movies listed at the top, the characters in Earth to Echo are well drawn and engaging. There is a melancholy that hangs over the movie as this is the last night these kids will be together. The movie embraces this feeling while also keeping the movie fun and moving. This is a story about saying goodbye and the hardships of growing up.
One of the biggest questions often left with in a found footage movie is who found it and why did they decided to put it together. Earth to Echo has an answer. It was Tuck, who is an aspiring filmmaker. The conceit of the movie is that this is a documentary that Tuck put together to commemorate their last night together. This is a personal document put out into the world without any preconceptions of fame or glory but as an ode to friendship. Tucks narration throughout the film goes a long way in solidifying this feeling.
Earth To Echo doesn’t feel like found footage movie in the way most of its predecessors do. Earth To Echo feels really personal. I feel like a home movie that I would find on someones Myspace page. A memory of a time lost in the internet for people to happen upon from time to time. A movie like Chronicle or the Blair Witch Project feel like they are just desperate to show you what happened. That it’s desperate to be seen.
Another issue that they handle well is why the cameras are always on. The boys discover that Echo was damaged in the crash and uses their cameras to see. It’s a simple justification but it works well as Echo was already communicating with them through their phones before they met him. The groundwork was laid early on in the film so it feel natural as opposed to a shoe horned plot point.
I really don’t want to talk to much about what happens in the movie because while there are no big spoilers or twists I don’t want to ruin the story. What I will talk about are the kids performances. The movie stars Astro (according to IMDB) as Tuck, Teo Halm as Alex, Reese Hartwig as Munch and Ella Wahlestedt as Emma and they are all great. Each kid is defined by a type, Alex is the bad boy, Tuck is the leader, Munch is the comic relief and Emma is the hot girl but the movie uses these archetypes as a foundation on which to build and develop richer characters. Their journey through the movie gives us a peek into their home lives to show us they are more than just a type.
One example happens early in the movie. The three boys come up with a plan where they lie to their parents about sleeping at the others house so they can see where the map on their phones lead. Tuck tells his parents the lie but they are so engrossed in talking to Tucks older brother that they don’t pay any attention to him. So Tuck tells them the truth and they are still brush him off. In this moment we understand Tucks family dynamic and the fact that he is living in his big brothers shadow, desperate to escape it.
One of the issues that I have with the movie is Emma. While I feel that she is a character that holds her own in the movie her inclusion into the group feels very tact on. She is introduced early on as a girl the boys have a crush on. Later on, a piece of Echos ship is in her house and the boys must sneak in to get it. This gives us a view into Emma’s home life, as we’ve gotten with the boys, and she ends up joining the group much to the dismay of the boys. The look into her home life clunky as it is meant to justify why she joins the group as opposed to feeling like a natural part of the story. I would have preferred that she was part of the group from the beginning or that we didn’t get a look into her home life the same way we did with the boys.
That said if you are into found footage movies or young adult adventure films this is one worth checking out. It definitely got me choked up and I cannot wait to show it to my kid(s) some day.