‘Earth to Echo’ Review

Published 3 months ago by , Updated October 7th, 2014 at 1:15 am,

The cast kids of Earth to Echo Earth to Echo Review

In the end, Earth to Echo is surprisingly more fun and heartfelt than the stigma it earned for being a found-footage knock-off.

In Earth to Echo, we meet three young friends in a small Nevada town, who are facing the heartbreak of being evicted from their community in order to make room for a new freeway. Young video blogger Tuck (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley) isn’t ready to accept the end, so he convinces his foster kid best friend Alex (Teo Halm) and tech-geek buddy Munch (Reese Hartwig) that they need to take one last Goonies-style shot at saving the town.

Their chance comes in the form of a mysterious disruption on their cell phones – a disruption they soon recognize to be a map. With nothing to lose, and a possible discovery that could save their town, the boys set out on a bike ride into the desert, to find what lies at the end of the mysterious map. What the find – and what that discovery ultimately leads them to – will change their lives forever – no matter the outcome of this one pivotal night.

Teo Halm and Ella Wahlestedt in Earth to Echo Earth to Echo Review

Earth to Echo can fairly be described Goonies meets E.T. by way of found footage – and the actual film pretty much reflects what that description would imply. Earth to Echo captures a lot of the wonder and heart of E.T., mixes in the one-night adventure and slight edge of danger from Goonies, but is ultimately held back by the usual shortcomings of the found-footage format. The end result is a a fresh-yet-familiar sci-fi adventure for adolescents that’s not as good as it could’ve been, but still delivers a solid good time, nonetheless.

Zombie Roadkill writer/director team Henry Gayden and Dave Green (with a story credit going to producer Andrew Panay) should be commended for making more out the found-footage format than most filmmakers manage to do. The script does a satisfactory job providing both characterization and logical motivation for the amateur documentation of events (a post-millennial vlogger trying to save his town), and then, maintains that logic throughout most of the transitions in footage peppered throughout the film (handicam to bike cam to spy cam, etc.).

The ending of Earth to Echo Earth to Echo Review

The filmmakers also make the prudent move of framing the story in a voice-over narrative, which immediately explains and justifies any cuts or other noticeable edits in the footage. (Because we are watching events after the fact, there is no conflict with the visual cues that tell us we are seeing a contrived and edited piece of work.) It isn’t so much found-footage as faux documentary, and that distinction makes all the difference in the world.

…And yet, that same distinction is also the movie’s greatest hindrance. Gayden and Green craft such a solid foundation for the film – with a good premise, well-rounded and relatable adolescent characters and a cute alien creature in Echo – that the lack of presentation becomes frustrating. They have enough here for a good movie shot in traditional fashion, and that fact makes it even more disappointing every time that choices and developments that might otherwise work in a traditionally shot film (coincidental encounters, sequences of comedy or wit or kinetic action) fall flat when presented in found-footage format.

Echo and Munch in Earth to Echo Earth to Echo Review

Echo in ‘Earth to Echo’

The format doesn’t add anything to the proceedings – other than presumably saving the filmmakers a lot of money on budget, which then could be invested in the visual effects used to create Echo and his advanced alien tech. The effects that go into creating Echo and his hardware (and the film’s action sequences) are good enough – but again, there is a sense of frustration that comes with every shaken, blurred, jumbled, or poorly framed shot of faux amateur footage, when we’d rather be observing these fun and captivating moments in more controlled and steady presentation. Despite the visual limitations of the format, the journey and adventure is alive and palpable throughout most of the film (a few drags here and there) – and there is genuine emotional heft to it all, thanks in large part to the talent of the young ensemble cast.

Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley (that breakout young rapper from The X Factor USA) spends much of the movie oscillating between an “urban youth” caricature and a well-rounded and believable version of “Tuck.” Ultimately, however, the young man reveals some unexpected dimensions of emotion and nuance that save Tuck from being an annoying braggart, and redeem him as the most sensitive and vulnerable kid in the group. Teo Halm is similarly as good as Alex, keeping a cool and reserved veneer that he slowly cracks (with meticulous control) to reveal a hurt and angry young foster kid underneath. It is Alex who carries the emotional through line of the film via his bond with Echo, and Halm pulls that off well, while also staying in balance with his human co-stars.

The Cast of Earth to Echo on Cellphones Earth to Echo Review

The young cast of ‘Earth to Echo’

Resse Hartwig completes the trio as Munch, providing both a sweet, childlike earnestness and the comic relief. As a trio, Bradley, Halm and Hartwig are like modern-day versions of Mouth, Mikey and Data/Chunk from Goonies, which gives the film the necessary core it needs to provide compelling narrative and character arcs, as well as satisfying emotional payoff. Poor Ella Wahlestedt’s character, Emma, is more plot device than actual character – but as a plot devices go, she has more spunk and spirit than most.

In the end, Earth to Echo is surprisingly more fun and heartfelt than the stigma it earned for being a “found-footage knock-off.” That same stigma is definitely justified in part (found-footage hurts more than helps in this case) – but even so, as a family-friendly sci-fi adventure for the holiday weekend, it’s a solid pick. (For everyone else, though, it will be a fun future rental.)

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 Earth to Echo is now playing in theaters. It is 89 minutes and is Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language.

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  1. Found footage is a total cop out. It’s just a crutch to hide inferior filmmaking and it needs to go away.

    • No it doesn’t, it needs to stay as a great idea.

      The only reason you hate it is because inferior films use it and make the format seem horrible when there are some ideas that can only ever be explored to full effect using found footage.

      There are less than 10 truly great found footage films in existence out of the many hundreds over the past 34 years (since Cannibal Holocaust’s release in 1980) and I just hope that talented people manage to use it in a way that it deserves to be treated rather than churning out lacklustre efforts for a quick buck.

    • District 9…

    • Fury Addendum:

      Shaky Cam is the crutch of a sh*tty director.

      • “District 9″ and “Chronicle” directly contradict you, Fury.

        • I disagree. I think both movies would have been much better without found footage and shaky cam. My opinion.

          • Let me correct myself. Both movies would have been much worse without found footage and shaky cam. That’s the point, those 2 crutches cover up lack of real story and emotion with artificial gimmicks.

            • …and I found the stories and characters interesting and well-done in both.

          • I’m fine with us agreeing to disagree. Personally, I think those two elements added to those films…made them better than if they had had straight-filmed narratives.

            • Oops. I misread your earlier post. I thought you said Cloverfield instead of Chronicle. I loved Chronicle, and won’t knock the story/emotion there. I still didn’t like the found footage style, but they made it work much better than most.

              Cloverfield I hated the first half with a passion, then once the action kicked in they won me over. And I did like the last part where the camera reverts to them in the ferris wheel. But overall, I just hate the found footage and shaky cam (not handheld).

              Didn’t care for District 9 as much as most people, but should give it a rewatch as I can’t remember much (which seems like a problem in and of itself to me).

  2. I still think this is more like Batteries Not Included than anything else, especially with the losing their home aspect of it. But I guess that was goonies too, LOL! But Goonies was a treasure hunt, not aliens, so still more like Batteries Not Included.

  3. It’s the E.T. for this generation.

    Same like ‘Super 8′ did.

  4. The kids I know only want to see superheroes and transformers. But we’ll see box office wrap.

  5. I liked it better when it was called Super 8.

  6. LOL, this just shows the gaps in age between movie fans.

    People holding up Super 8 as the example this movie is copying MUST be younger. J.J. Abrams copied E.T. and Goonies films to create THAT film.

  7. The found footage was extremely disappointing! It gave me a headache and would have been SO much better in regular format. Cute but disappointing, it could’ve been much better and more focused on Echo too. Save yourself the headache seeing it on the big screen and wait for the DVD.

  8. haven’t seen it yet but all i know is echo is cute he reminds me of bumblebee from transformers he cute i want one and i give it the benefit of the dout seeing as though everyone has different opinions on movies. EX: TMNT directed by micheal bay, my opinion -they look weird their aleins, why …gonna go see it because you never know what to truly expect unless you see it for your self. Avatar last airbnder movie…no redemption horrible. but earth to ech looks cute promising and reminds me of transformers and i love all things transformers and giant robots so yep :)

  9. I watched this film today in a theater. Just about 20 minutes from the end of the movie, my nausea from the filming became overwhelming and I threw up on the floor.Cute movie, but save yourself from seeing it in theaters.

  10. I saw it. It was absolute garbage. These two Director’s should be banned from making films.

  11. Zombie Roadkill director… yeah, I heard he ripped that idea off. Total hack.

  12. It might be a cute movie, but I’ll never know…had to leave the theater with 30 minutes left to avoid throwing up. The amateur “shaky filming” made me nauseous. Could’ve set the scene with raw footage early on and then swithed to regular camera shots and it would’ve been better.

  13. I liked the story. I wish it was only partially filmed in the amateur first person. I seriously was in the movie theater with my head between my knees suffering with vertigo. I wanted to stay and see the end of the movie with my kids, but the filming just killed me.

  14. Worst movie I have ever been to. 15 minutes into I seriously considered walking out as did a number of people.

    • Great movie with a feel good story, it has a feeling that makes you think what if as well as what could be, we are human and all have different opinion so don’t let the camera format kill you on not seeing it. It is a solid movie and a part 2 is in the works!! :)

      Most of these people just hate believing deep inside they have some superior knowledge of what the world likes and all these comments show these individuals feel they are more unique than the rest of us.

      It is a good movie with great child actors and it will have you once again scratching your head and thinking about the possibilities of space. :)

      Timothy R. Schmidt

      P.S. Haters are always going to hare…. WCKD IS GOOD!

      • I meant in my P.S. to say haters are always going to hate not hare, lol.