First-person E.T. for the YouTube generation
Earth to Echo is a contemporary ’80s movie for a generation weened on spastic jump cuts and internet availability. In fact, Echo drapes a sheet over past kids/alien cinema – Goonies and E.T. specifically – and follows the curves as they may lie, albeit with a first-person camera recoding it all.
It’s not fair to lash out at Earth to Echo for minimizing its originality. This is a film for them, those younger kids separated from the ’80s by a few decades. Their technologically connected lives and their experiences are brought into a familiar framework (almost one gigantic trope by itself) to give the routine story an update.
Dave Green directs, his first full length feature after a series of shorts, and does admirably with the young cast. Despite the basic character archetypes, the casting choices are commendable. Alex, Tuck, and Munch feel like they’ve been together for some time.
Found footage is sort of a modern pre-teen’s genre. An entire generation is inseparable from lens of a camera, and thus this fictional adventure is logically over-cataloged. While nostalgia creates a wall of unfair prejudice, Earth to Echo’s failing is constructing something which seems insincere. Before it closes, narration turns into podcast remarks, rallying those younger to believe they can do anything as if the writers felt the previous 80 minutes missed their intended mark.
Maybe they’re right. Most of the narrative wanders between a few heavy set pieces and mild drama. It’s aimless in spots. Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Brian Bradley), and Munch (Reese Hartwig) join forces with their homes readying for demolition as a freeway project pushes in, leading to a final night of adventure before they’re forced to separate. Turns out the alien has impeccable timing to land on Earth and bond close friends.
This is an alien for this period of childhood too, an eccentric piece of metal and electronics. No wonder the trio relates and remains fascinated. The cost is personality. Echo rarely does anything other than chirp or glow despite the animation affixing mechanical eyebrows to add some level of anthropomorphic features. Connections to the scared robotic being are minimal and thus the back half of Earth to Echo, when emotions begin to roll, fail in its honesty. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
What appears to be an entire suite of cameras were employed for this production, creating a purposefully inconsistent appearance which wanders from scene-to-scene. There are a few consistencies, including black levels, holding to a solid density through much of this one night story. Likewise, color is hardly tweaked, left alone to ensure the reality and legitimacy of the situation is upheld.
Technical flaws are everywhere. Introductory scenes use a heavy pixel effect while noise visits often. Shadows won’t keep the artifacts out. Encoding from Fox is fine as it doesn’t appear to be adding anything, as if it compression wouldn’t seem normal anyway. Some interlacing is frequent too and it turns out that even though Echo is infinitely more advanced than us as a species, he still projects things as they were on a CRT.
Up close, there is substantial facial detail, although given the handheld nature of the camera, it’s often difficult to see. Clarity comes from the innards of the Red Epic in many scenes, offering a boon in resolution well beyond consumer level equipment. It may not be authentic (no teens are running around with Epics) but it looks better than it probably should. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
While just outside the range of being decorated with a “powerhouse” label, there are some scenes in Earth to Echo with punch. For one, this DTS-HD track adores engines, whether from cars or the eventual alien ship. Echo himself likes to strike up a small earthquake in the quest to find parts, bringing in sufficient rumble.
Said search also allows for bountiful surround use. A cascade of objects follows, whipping between channels as they pass or crash around the boys. The effect is absolutely splendid and it happens more than once. Moments of strong ambiance are around too, from a party swelling with music and the school lunch room which is appropriately rich in chatter. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
Creating the Truck Scene is bonus feature one, a breakdown of a major effects shot from conception to competition. Casting the Characters details the worldwide process of finding and hiring the stars. From there, the disc segues into We Made That, a typical making of with limited energy. Friends No Matter How Far looks into the pre-production process of bringing the kids together to ensure they would act naturally on screen. For a finale, six deleted scenes wait.
All combined, extras run about 30 minutes total. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.