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Review: 'Earth to Echo' is more '80s kids movie than found footage fest

The found footage movie "Earth to Echo" is actually more a throwback to '80s boys adventure movies like "The Goonies," although it's too modest.

Reese Hartwig, Astro, Teo Halm and Ella Linnea Wahlstedt hang on to their phones in "Earth to Echo." Credit: Peter Iovino Reese Hartwig, Astro, Teo Halm and Ella Linnea Wahlstedt hang on to their phones in "Earth to Echo."
Credit: Peter Iovino

'Earth to Echo'
Director: Dave Green
Stars: Astro, Reese Hartwig
Rating: PG
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Earth to Echo” is the smallest of the three July 4 blockbusters — which isn’t saying much none of them are July 4th-sized blockbusters to begin with. It’s the underdog: the old school movie geared exclusively to young boys. Here are some ways it’s more than that:

It’s retro


“Earth to Echo” is being sold as a “found footage” film, but it has deeper roots in another genre: the ’80s-style boys adventure. The 1980s were lousy with such films — often produced and sometimes actually directed by Steven Spielberg — which were for kids about kids, made by grown-up kids-at-heart. “Earth to Echo” wants to be one of those. It even swipes the basic set-up from “The Goonies”: a suburban neighborhood is being uprooted, its inhabitants forced to move elsewhere. This will bust up the friendship of three kids, who — in part to suppress their despair — wind up on a fantastical journey, this one having to do with possible alien signals.

The three central kids in "Earth to Echo" snoop around for possible extra-terrestrials. Credit: Patrick Wymore The three central kids in "Earth to Echo" snoop around for possible extra-terrestrials.
Credit: Patrick Wymore

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It’s pretty modest, to a fault


As it turns out, the possible alien signals are real alien signals, and they happen upon a rusty, robotic alien that looks like an owl (in fact, like the owl from the original “Clash of the Titans”). There are the token government heavies, who have no problem shaking down curious kids. And that’s about it. It needs a couple more elements to really kick — some real bad guy (say, along the lines of the bumbling, villainous trio in “The Goonies”). And the kids never go beyond types: the energetic one (the one billed only as “Astro”), the serious one (Teo Halm), the nerd one (Reese Hartwig), and eventually the girl (Ella Linnea Wahlstead). That said, at least it never smacks of cynicism. The filmmakers themselves are sincerely engaging in their own nostalgia for a kind of movie rarely made these days.

This is what the cute little alien looks like in "Earth to Echo." Credit: Patrick Wymore This is what the cute little alien looks like in "Earth to Echo."
Credit: Patrick Wymore

Like some 'found footage' films, it’s not really 'found footage'


The kids are alright: They did not die and the footage they shot — with an assortment of GoPro head-cams and smartphones — has been pieced together after-the-fact by them. What we’re seeing is a time capsule of their last big adventure together before they move to different parts of the country. This also means the grown-up filmmakers have to mimic the style of tween amateur filmmakers, who have easy access to not only palm-sized video-recording equipment but editing programs that will depress anyone who grew up in an age of in-camera editing on bulky camcorders. That it’s probably not too tween-accurate is a good thing. Director Dave Green models the restlessly busy style more on “Catfish,” which overlaid images upon images with maps and other visual tricks, in order to simulate how the active modern brain works. It also has to integrate special effects into shaky-cam footage, and it’s remarkably seamless.

The three kids in "Earth to Echo" are about to be split up, lending the film a bittersweet vibe. Credit: Patrick Wymore The three kids in "Earth to Echo" are about to be split up, lending the film a bittersweet vibe.
Credit: Patrick Wymore

It’s actually melancholic


It may steal from “The Goonies,” but at least in “The Goonies” the kids were able to buy their town back from evil developers with rescued pirate booty. Here, the deal is already done, families have already found houses and the day after the adventure is for most of them the big move. This thought sits in the back of the mind, hovering over the proceedings, which increasingly seem like a big distraction — one last score before they inevitably drift away from eachother. There’s always social media, but it’s clear that this adventure is made all the more exciting because it happened in person. It can be recorded, edited together and made into a movie they can watch to relive the thrills. But it’s not the same.

Read Dave Green talk to us about making camcorder movies with two VCRs back in the day and trying to ape the style of kids' filmmaking today here.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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