Earth to Echo (2014)
An adventure as big as the universe.
Tons of movies get remade these days. Sometimes the only thing even remotely resembling the movie it's being remade from ends up being a title. Earth to Echo, from all pre-gathered trailer knowledge, strives to not be a remake in the strictest of senses, but instead be a bit of a modern take on the last generations big kids and alien friendship movies - E.T. Can a bit of new polish make it warm it's out of this world little way into your heart, or will you wish this too to be buried deep in a desert landfill? Yes, I know that was just the Atari game and not the movie, but I feel the compulsory need to make bad jokes, so just give it to me this time.
A group of friends find themselves in a sad situation. Somewhere, someone decided that the nice neighborhood needs be bulldozed and turned into a highway. The kids have a week before the big move away, when they will no longer see each other - and that's a pretty big deal for them, because you just can't get the same friends from just anywhere. Amidst some recordings of their farewells to each other, one finds that strange things have been happening to cellphones around his house. They get together, and put their collective heads together and find that it is only at his house this seems to be happening (verified through use of some other people's phones). They try and delve into this in any modern way - checking google for things like "my phone barfed" and taking the phones back to the store. None of these seem to offer many answers, but one kid finds out that the on-screen "barf" looks a lot like a map he found. The more adventurous of the kid's pitches the idea to go out to this location (in the desert) in secret to check it out, hoping beyond all hope that they will find something to prevent his neighborhood from getting freeway-ed.
So it follows that on their last night of living in the same place together, the three friends embark on their secret trip to the desert in search of their mcguffin. After travelling all the way out there, near the base of an electric tower, they find what looks like a small bomb. Two of the friends are baffled, and one is absolutely frustrated that they have found to all appearance just a piece of junk. Thankfully for our story, one of the kids is a bit of a hoarder and decides to take the junk with them, which "touches him" on their way back home via bicycle, prompting and interesting segment of scenes that shows you what not to do if you suspect something is a bomb. After getting some responses by beeping at it, their phones have a new map that they decide to follow, leading to a barn. A part gets torn out of the tractor sitting within, and after some massive chaos of ricocheting around, attaches itself to the junk they found. Whatever the junk is, it seems to be getting more charged up by this part, and is now capable of responding (one beep or two) to the slew of yes or no questions the kids throw at it. Turns out, this thing might not be junk after all.
The kids embark on another journey within their initial one, this time going from place to place via the maps on their phones collecting parts for their little mysterious friend. Answers received from their question session tells them it's an alien whose crashed here on Earth, and would like to leave, and the kids are more than eager to help out this unbelievable little thing with it's task. Things are generally going smoothly, with a few complications (including adding in another member unintentionally to their little fellowship) along the way. A little group infight occurs when they almost get busted by security at an arcade, but just as they remedy their grief with each other the worst they can have happen happens - the "construction crew" shows up and steals their little alien friend. In an act of pure emotion, one of the gang climbs in the back of their truck as they take off, and it's now up to the others to find him and save both him and the alien from these fake workers.
One of the most family friendly flicks I've seen in some time, the worst thing you will find in this movie (outside the fact a group of kids are running around unsupervised out in the desert) is a passed out drunk brother in one scene. Some younger kids might find some scenes rather more frightening - the imposing fake workers probing the kids for information while doing mean things to their alien friend - but in general this is definitely a movie that could easily shown for a family movie night. If you wanted to, you could certainly get into some deeper things that may or may not be intended to be that deep (such as one kid hardly being payed attention to by his parents when leaving for the secret outing), but none of those things are really focused on too heavy to draw too much attention by those not really searching for it.
The kids do a wonderful job of acting in this movie. The little alien companion also seems to move in all the right places to make it this adorable thing for kids - in all honesty, it looks a lot like a shiny robotic baby owl. It's cute, almost so much so it may cause pain. The adults likewise are acted rather well - for whatever amount of the movie they actually show up in. Costumes and scenery aren't a whole lot to bring up, considering the modern setting, but there is one other thing that can tie into acting that we should address: Found-footage. The movie is shot in a manner where most of it is from "cameras" or "phone cameras", although quality wise it's never degraded to the point where it makes you forced to be reminded of it - the only reminder you have is that of where the camera angles are shot from. It's arguable that the movie ends up feeling more rooted to the characters this way, but at the same time I feel this movie could have been done just as well without bothering with that aspect - although at times you forget it's actually being done in that format to begin with.
Effects here are pretty good - a mix of practical and not. Our little alien friend, although noticeably CG, is cute enough that you never really care as he floats around beeping at things that he's not a real thing at the time. Likewise, watching parts (lots and lots of parts) fly through the air to combine into a big spaceship or little appendage or whatever they me be doing is pretty exciting. The only other real effects on screen are those happening to the phones and cameras - artifacting and "barf" as the kids put it - and those are done well enough that it's actually annoying when the camera cuts out due to interference and you can't see what's going on anymore. I have to say though, those phones have some batteries on them.
Is it worth watching? I'd have to say yeah. Find it as a rental, treat the family to a fun little romp - although be advised that although the ending is relatively happy and touching, it's no Goonies. It's very family friendly, it's not a horrible "I hate found footage!" film, and it has a super cute little alien owl-thing that you will probably wish you had to keep you company around the house. It also has the benefit of not being a super-long movie, so there isn't really too much reason to avoid checking it out at some point.