The film takes place in a neighbourhood that is about to be uprooted to make way for a new overpass, where three best friends- Alex, Tuck and Munch- are about to be separated for good. In the final week before they all move, their phones start displaying strange signals, possibly caused by interference with the phone network at the building site. They make a bike journey to the source of the signal as their final adventure together and happen upon an alien robot that is attempting to repair the key to its spaceship.
The current generation of filmmakers, whether commercial or independent in their sensibilities, grew up wanting to make films after seeing stuff in the 1980s. Happily for some of them, the current appetite for older properties mean that they get to direct new entries to those franchises rather than taking inspiration to create original stories with new characters and concepts. Instead of giving us the new Star Wars, JJ Abrams is currently making a new Star Wars, which is less than surprising from the director who gave us Super 8, a film to which this has suffered from unfairly unfavourable comparisons.
Although it did a good job of evoking the awe and emotion of the films it homaged, Super 8 felt more like a thesis film about the Amblin Entertainment canon (films like E.T, The Goonies, et al) than a story in its own right, because it doubled down on nostalgia for a period in which Abrams never really lived. Not that new is always better, but Earth to Echo is so enjoyable because while director Dave Green and writer Henry Gayden unashamedly delve into Amblin iconography, (torches and bicycles especially) and takes inspiration from sources as varied as Stand By Me and The Blair Witch Project, it never merely feels like a reanimation of those tropes.
The film starts on an uncharacteristic downbeat note in which there's anxiety about Munch, the group's Ralph Wiggum, and the likelihood of him finding friends in his new neighbourhood. It doesn't set the tone for the whole film, which has lots of really funny moments, but it does cast a bittersweet pallor over the adventure that ensues. Although no found footage film gets away completely clean in terms of cinematography and logic, but there's at least a good reason why young Tuck would keep filming, to document their last grand outing together.
Still, Green and Gayden downplay what might otherwise have been a Stand By Me "you guys wanna see a dead body?" quest with the more fantastical PG-rated sci-fi elements, travelling around town searching for components to help their alien buddy. The robot, dubbed 'Echo' for its learning curve in communications, is a cute character that gradually comes to represent more than a McGuffin as the story wears on. For such a low-range movie, there are some spectacularly imaginative special effects on show here, from the design of Echo to the cool move of dissembling and reassembling things- for a while it seems like the money shot is in the trailer, but the finale tops it with one last bit of ingenuity.
Although the last few weeks have been big on new releases, the family audience has been a bit under-served this summer. As much as we "grown-ups" enjoy 12A comic book movies, there's a large trend of children's characters getting away from that core audience with darker and more complex stories, leaving the PG market wanting. Hell, we've all seen what happens when Michael Bay does Transformers, explosions and titties and all. If you have kids and you've seen How To Train Your Dragon 2 already, (if not, why not?) then this is by far the best option for families in the multiplex right now and you should see it while you can.
Earth to Echo is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Earth to Echo, why not leave a comment below?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.