Sounds Like Spielberg

Tale of little crash-landed space alien has familiar extra-terrestrial ring

EARTH TO ECHO

Earth to Echo

Starring Teo Halm, Astro & Reese Hartwig

Directed by Dave Green

PG, 89 min.

E.T., phone home—your cell number’s been hacked.

And your identity’s been stolen. But most of the audience for this adolescent sci-fi adventure yarn, about a crash-landed space critter and the kids who discover and assist him, won’t remember the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic to which it obviously owes its inspiration.

Originally made by Disney then sold off to another company for distribution, Earth to Echo features a cast of unknown young actors in a storyline setup that will feel familiar to anyone who’s seen E.T.—or many other movies, for that matter: Three “misfit” best friends (a nerd, a foster child, and one’s who’s practically “invisible” to his parents and older brother) are about to be split apart by a massive freeway construction project that’s going to pave over much of their suburban neighborhood.

Earth To EchoWhen cell phones in the subdivision begin freaking out (“barfing” on their display screens, the kids call it), the trio discerns something that looks like a map in the digital patterns. They follow the hijacked signals one night, on their bikes, to a deserted field, where they’re led to a crusty canister containing the little owl-like, beep-beeping robotic alien creature they name Echo.

Then come the mysterious white-jump-suited grownups with clipboards and flashlights, a cute female classmate who wants in on the action, and lots of things younger viewers will find funny, heartwarming and exciting as the kids learn about Echo’s plight and band together to help him “go home.”

Making his big-screen debut, director Dave Green keeps things light and basic, setting up most of the action around the search for parts Echo needs to facilitate his journey. The kids and their little outer-space friend—who already, conveniently, looks like a toy in a fast-food kids’ meal—have a series of close calls in a pawnshop, a game arcade and a biker bar, always one step ahead of the men in white.

ECHOThe young, mostly inexperienced cast is convincing as friends who’ve discovered something crazy-cool, and they also work well—and naturally—with the movie’s contemporary format: The entire story unfolds as a movie-within-a-movie, a back story the trio of boys made about their out-of-this-world experience. So we see the ’tweens as they document each other, fiddling constantly with their equipment, their camera phones, cameras mounted on the handlebars of their bikes, spy cams in their eyeglasses—it’s a movie for today’s tech-saturated, digital doo-dad, reality-TV times.

Grownups and geeks may fixate on how much the movie borrows—there’s also more than one nod to Spielberg’s Close Encounter of the Third Kind, and a significant parallel to Super 8, which he produced but didn’t direct, and it will likely make anyone who’s seen Stand By Me recall the potent nostalgia in its tale of childhood pals on a thrilling mission one life-changing summer that bonded them forever.

But kids likely won’t catch any of that—and likely won’t care. Instead, they’ll see a movie that entertains them, makes them laugh, makes them think a bit about friendship and belonging, and makes them root for a little waylaid spacebot just trying to make his way home.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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