Recalling E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), Earth to Echo is a modern rendition of the child-meets-alien formula that explores the experience of growing up. The coming-of-age sci-fi adventure retells an old story to a newer and younger audience that has grown up accustomed to modern gadgets and gizmos. Earth to Echo is a children’s film that tackles some rather heavy topics relatable to kids of a young age such as foster families and feelings of loneliness, abandonment and being outright shut out from the rest of the world.
Earth to Echo focuses on the story of three friends who are dealing with the prospect of moving away from one another. On their last night together, the group of kids investigates a strange signal that has been disrupting their iPhones. This leads them to stumble upon an estranged alien life form that they name Echo and who needs to rebuild itself in order to return home. The clique of friends’ tries to help the affectionate alien find its way home and away from the danger of the government agents looking for it.
Earth to Echo is seemingly focused on the experiences of growing up and forging new friendships as well as having to move on from old ones. A hefty portion of the film follows the story of the young Alex (portrayed by newcomer Teo Halm) who spent most of his life in foster care. The hardships in his life has made it difficult for him to say goodbye, which is something he must confront throughout the film. This is repeatedly referenced by the plot as Alex must bid his best friends farewell and part ways with Echo. By the time Echo returns home, the characters have all aged and matured, especially Alex. They come to understand that growing up is a natural process and friendships can endure the many hardships of life. Echo is a metaphor for the idea of growing up and leaving home; the little alien first appears weak and vulnerable and needs the trio to help him find his way. As the film progresses, Echo grows.
Earth to Echo is indebted to traditional 1980s coming-of-age films such as the beloved E.T. and Flight of the Navigator (1986) and modernizes these dated stories for a new generation via the found footage genre. The modern generation seemingly live vicariously through their phones, or other technological supplements, and this genre is a way for filmmakers to create fantasy stories within an appearing-to-be real world setting such as those found in Chronicle (2012) and Paranormal Activity (2007). Both examples are fictional stories that leave audiences constantly wondering what is real and what is not.
Earth to Echo is presented via handheld camera footage that the characters use to capture their story and tell through a YouTube account. Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley) records his daily life in hope of getting noticed and gaining attention from people who otherwise ignore him. This technique of found footage promptly establishes a bond with the audience and appeals to pathos, consequently engaging us with the film and the characters involved. Despite being a film about alien visitors and stargazing, Earth to Echo tries to remain grounded in reality through this genre. The film does, however, still impart a sense of escapism and encourages the idea that these events could actually happen, at least for the highly imaginative child inside us all.
Earth to Echo was clearly made for a young and modern audience that has grown up with an abundance of technology readily available at their fingertips. David Green’s film is similar to other sci-fi films such as Super 8 (2011) with a heavy reliance on technology. Echo too uses technology as a means of communication with the human characters. The film is conscious that children rely upon technology in day-to-day life and end up living their lives through technology rather than their own physical experiences.
Stripped back to its high-tech nuts and bolts, Earth to Echo is a modernised version of E.T., perhaps not recommended for a generation still familiar with the Steven Spielberg classic but rather targeting a newer audience. Green takes influence from the 1980s but has given these stories a dose of modernity via the film’s dialogue with technology and culture. Earth to Echo succeeds insofar as trying to recapture a classic story for a new age of cinemagoers.
Earth to Echo is out on DVD Monday 17th November