Anyone who grew up during the past 30 years is aware of a smash hit movie called E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Until James Cameron and his boat movie turned up, Steven Spielberg’s film was the top grossing film of all time and one of the most influential sci-fi fantasies of its decade. More importantly, it’s still a magnificent film, with some of the best child performances ever captured and many sequences have become iconic.
But like anything successful, the wanna-bees, imitators and copy-cats followed. Some of them worked, though most never came close to matching the film’s depiction of how childhood can be wonderful, painful, unfair and hopeful. Then there’s Earth to Echo, a belated, irritating rip-off that shows us what E.T. would look like as a bad YouTube video.
We’re introduced to three boys who are outcasts, misfits and ignored by most of their peers. Tuck’s parents barely notice him, Alex is a Foster child disconnected to his new life and “Munch” is the “weird” kid. I’d mention the names of the performers but this is such a poorly acted film, I’ll just hope for the best and assume these kids have a future beyond this movie.
They’re playing stock roles and the emotional connection of their domestic lives never comes across. More importantly, we never see or feel any kind of mutual affection, not even puppy love, between the trio and the title character, their alien friend. Henry Thomas, you are missed.
The plot not only cribs heavily and blatantly from E.T. (the setting, troubled home lives, discovery of the alien, the capture and threat to the creature’s life, the final chase and the closing scene) but other great films. Earth to Echo has scenes that fantasy film buffs may remember seeing from such movies as Explorers, Super 8, Batteries Not Included and even the infamous MAC and Me. Even if E.T. had never been made, this would still be a lousy movie. It’s intended for children, but many moments are too distressing
The found footage angle initially resembles the approach taken by Chronicle, though this one cheats and forces the device so often, the filmmakers should have dropped it. Aside from The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and REC, few films know how to use those first-person cameras as a storytelling device in a way that makes sense and enhances the film.
This is a rip-off in terms of originality and also at giving audiences what they want. Echo, who looks like the offspring of the robo-owl in the original Clash of the Titans and Wall-E, is cute but not in the movie nearly enough. It’s mostly off camera in a boy’s backpack.
The finale has two big effects shots and they’re impressive but they don’t last long. Not only is the plot stolen from better movies, the sense of awe and wonderment is nil. At one point, a kid in the theater I was sitting close to said aloud, “Momma, this movie is boring.” Ladies and gentlemen, a future film critic is born!
Like most movies today, there are lots of shots showcasing online search engines, cellphones, laptops and every current electronic toy available. It makes sense to include this, as kids are more tech savvy than ever before, but their abilities with software from the Apple Store is stronger than their chemistry with one another.
The point where the movie lost me completely came an hour in, when the three boys hide in the bedroom of a girl they like from school. She discovers them and listens as they try and fail to explain their possession of an alien. To my amazement, she’s calm, unafraid, not bothered that three boys are approaching her in her dimly lit bedroom and unresponsive to the claims of the extra-terrestrial. To the screenwriters of this movie: have you ever, in your life, ever met a young girl before?