Reeling it in: ‘Echo’ follows in footsteps of ‘E.T.’

“Earth to Echo”

Relativity Media

1 hour, 29 minutes

 

 

I am currently writing from the mountains of rural Vermont, and all the power has suddenly gone out, the result of yet another wild summer storm. How it can be 85 degrees out and be raining cats and dogs is beyond me, but I guess that’s the East Coast for you. We’re on an extended trip to the Green Mountain State while my wife goes back to graduate school, and we’re all learning the ins and outs of a new place.

One of my favorite activities when in a strange locale is, as you might imagine, finding a new and unique movie theater to frequent. A few towns down the road, my wife and I discovered a restaurant/movie theatre called The Big Picture, an establishment as quaint as it is comfortable. Unlike slick and polished affairs like Anchorage’s Bear Tooth or the Texas-based chain Alamo Drafthouse, The Big Picture is definitely small-town and an obvious labor of love. It reminds me of my own community theater, Triumvirate, which I’ve been missing while away.

The first movie we went to see there was last week’s “Chef,” where we piled into a comfy loveseat, one of several in the small auditorium, and set up our dinner on a small coffee table in front to watch the show. What a great way to watch a movie.

This week we took the kids to see the new “Earth to Echo,” this generation’s answer to “E.T.” about a cuddly alien in need of help from his pals. In “Echo,” when the power goes haywire early in the film, it’s a precursor to a great adventure, but here in my little Vermont abode I’ll probably just need to look for candles.

“Echo” tells the tale of three suburban Nevada kids who are being uprooted as the result of a new freeway extension going in right through their neighborhood. The movie is mostly found-footage style, with the majority of the action taking place in front of one of the kid’s handheld digital camera.

When all the phones on their block go on the fritz, our three heroes discover that the screens of their devices are showing a map, leading twenty miles into the desert. As it’s their last night together, and since they are pre-teen boys primed for adventure, the trio decides to sneak out with their bikes and head for the origin of the mysterious signal.

That origin turns out to be a strange little robotic alien, about the size and shape of a small owl. Employing a rudimentary attempt at communication, the boys discover the little creature’s ability to echo simple sounds, hence his name, Echo. The rest of the night is filled with adventure as our heroes discover they were not the only ones following the signal. The boys (and an eventual girl as well) head off to help Echo fix his broken machine and eventually get home.

“Earth to Echo” is undoubtedly enjoyable, certainly innocuous, and tailor-made for kids. My son had this to say after the movie: “Dad! Guess what is the awesomest movie in the world! EARTH. TO. ECHO!”

The effects are cute and impressive, but are used sparingly enough that you don’t get CGI overload. In fact, looking back on it, “Echo” was probably a relatively inexpensive movie to make, though the look is great. Echo himself is an endearing little creature and assuming the movie does well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a slew of Echo toys come Christmas-time. As a smaller, independent film, it shouldn’t be hard to more than recoup the cost of making the film.

If I had a complaint, and this is not solely aimed at “Earth to Echo,” the movie has little in the way of substance and weight. “E.T.” was a milestone for many reasons, but one of the major factors in its longevity is the gravitas Steven Spielberg imbued the film with. There was real weight, real emotion, and real peril in that movie.

“Echo” is cute and fun, but I can’t see it standing the test of time, a problem that is shared by nearly all non-Pixar kid’s films these days. Sure, “Earth to Echo” may be the awesomest movie now, but what about tomorrow? The only movie to really move kids this year was “Frozen,” and that’s only by accident considering that Disney had no idea what they had in that film.

I’ll keep waiting for the next “E.T.” but in the meantime, friendly B-level fare like “Echo” will have to tide me over.

Grade: B+

“Earth to Echo” is rated PG for moments of brief mild violence.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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