Entering uncharted territory you’re not entirely familiar with can be a daunting and challenging task to take on. Not only is Dave Green, the helmer of the new family sci-fi adventure thriller, ‘Earth to Eacho,’ which opens today at Long Island theaters, a first-time feature film director who creatively learned how to execute a feature narrative, but the young teen protagonists in the movie are also learning how to say goodbye to each other after the most adventurous night of their lives. Green humorously and expertly took on telling the story of three adolescent boys, who are close friends whose families are being forced to move from their homes by the local government, as they truly learn what it means to care for someone else during their last night together.
‘Earth to Echo’ follows three 13-year-old of inseparable best friends from a Nevada suburb-the seemingly fearless leader, Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley), the anxious, brainy Munch (Reese Hartwig) and soulful foster kid Alex (Teo Halm)-whose lives are about to change forever. Their families are being forced to move, as their town is launching a highway construction project around their neighborhood. But the night before they’re set to move, the friends begin receiving a strange series of signals and maps on their cell phones. So they begin to suspect that something bigger than a construction project is going on, and decide to follow the map to find out what’s really going on in their area.
Telling their parents they’re sleeping over each other’s houses the night before they’re set to leave, Tuck, Munch and Alex ride their BMX bikes across 20 miles of dark desert highway to find the source of the scrambled communications. When they arrive at the desert marked on the map, they discover is something beyond their wildest imaginations: a small friendly alien who has become stranded on Earth. The friends, who are continuously video recording their adventure to prove what they’re seeing is real, name the alien Echo. They soon discover he has crashed on Earth and needs to find its missing parts in order to rejoin its mother ship and return to its planet.
While the boys are determined to send Echo home, they’re constantly being followed by Dr. Lawrence Madsen (Jason Gray-Stanford), who’s posing as one of the construction crew members, but really has an underlying connection to the deserted alien. But with the help of their classmate, Emma (Ella Linnea Wahlestedt), who joins the three young friends on their quest to help reassemble Echo later in the night, the four teens come together to protect the alien and help him find his way home.
Bradley, Hartwig and Halm were well cast as the diverse, yet equally relatable, Tuck, Munch and Alex. The three teens naturally conveyed their characters’ shared sense of determination in discovering Echo’s journey and why he was stranded on Earth, and the reasoning behind Dr. Madsen’s resoluteness of keeping the alien and his origins hidden.
Throughout the course of ‘Earth to Echo,’ which is a contemporary update of such adolescent summer bonding films as ‘Stand by Me,’ ‘Goonies’ and the similarly-themed found footage-alien invasion sci-fi thriller, ‘Super 8,’ the three young actors infused their characters with unique personalities and effortless humor. Bradley creatively played Tuck as trying to pass himself off as the fearless leader who urges his friends to explore the desert to find the origin of the maps. But as soon as they encounter imminent danger, such as a security guard almost catching the group in an arcade after hours, Tuck quickly leaves his friends behind to save himself.
Hartwig amusingly portrays Munch as the smart friend of the group, who vigorously and unapologetically is the voice of reason throughout the majority of the film. However, once he truly begins to care for Echo, much like his friends do, he isn’t afraid to start taking risks to protect the stranded alien. Halm powerfully portrays Alex as the sensitive friend of the group, who is still contending with being abandoned by his biological family and being placed in foster care, until he’s permanently taken in by his current family. Alex is understandable the one who’s holds the strongest ties to Echo, as he understands the alien’s feelings of abandonment and needing to find his way back home.
While ‘Earth to Echo’ smartly showcases the natural bonding of a group of young friends during a meaningful and endearing experience they share, much like many coming of age stories, the skilled cinematography by Maxime Alexandre also cleverly emphasizes the insightful journey the friends embark on during their last night together. While the sci-fi adventure is similar in concept to ‘Super 8,’ most notably the alien invasion that’s captured by a group of young teens on video, ‘Earth to Echo’ truly appeals to children of all ages with its family-friendly images of the title alien. Alexandre expertly combined traditional narrative photography while the friends were discussing their plans to save Echo with concise found footage images of the teens helping Echo find the equipment he needed to build his spaceship and return home.
Green powerfully created the latest modern coming-of-age story for young teenagers who were eager to not only find meaning in their own lives, but also discover a true bond with the people they care about and those who have just entered their lives, in ‘Earth to Echo.’ The sci-fi thriller’s story is in part driven by the latest technology, such as video recording on the teens’ cell phones, as well as fabled devices, including Echo’s spaceship he built to return home, but the visual effects weren’t the main driving force in the adventure film. While Alexandre did cleverly infused natural narrative shots, as well as smartly utilized found footage sequences, into the film, ‘Earth to Echo’s emotionally and humorously relatable story about four friends truly uniting on their last night together to accomplish a meaningful task is the true epitome of coming-of-age stories.