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E.T. for the smartphone generation? Not quite Add to ...

  • Directed by Dave Green
  • Written by Henry Gayden
  • Starring Teo Halm, Brian Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt
  • Classification PG
  • Country USA
  • Language English

If I were a hostile alien life form bent on conquering Earth, I’d build a huge mirror field around the planet and just let it get bombarded by its own trash bouncing back. No need for messy invasions or costly urban Armageddons: just strafe the suckers with the endless blowback of their own pop-cultural transmissions. Then sit back and watch.

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Many summers ago, this was the premise of Joe Dante’s subversively inspired Explorers, in which a group of suburban kids discover an extraterrestrial entity completely saturated, and rendered suitably stupid, by wayward earthly TV signals. A cheeky retort to such sugary Spielbergian space-invader fantasies as Close Encounters and E.T., Dante’s movie reformulated the old Pogo the possum dictum of meeting the enemy (”and he is us”) for a world too fixated on its own propensity for amusement to even notice it’s being outsourced to off-world interests.

As the title suggests, Dave Green’s Earth to Echo is an exercise in retrofitted preteen, world-saving space shenanigans, specifically (and unavoidably), a digital remastering of E.T. for the smartphone social-media kinderkultur.

On the eve of their suburban Nevada neighbourhood’s paving over to make way for a superhighway, three variously disenfranchised but charmingly precocious kids – Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Brian Bradley) and Munch (Reese Hartwig) – notice that their phones have gone all kaflooey and determine the interference is actually a map: a signal that draws them deep into the desert (on BMX bikes, natch) to come to the aid of a homesick space pilgrim that looks like a backpack-sized android owl designed by a Japanese toy company.

Unfolding largely through the recorded images the boys’ technology and temperament elevates to second nature, Green’s movie is all skittish surfaces, POV joyrides, and glimpses of life lived as a kind of permanent YouTube performance. This premise holds the potential for a Dante-like takedown of a world where nothing is real unless it’s virtually rendered, and where the experience of childhood itself has been processed into a state of hyper self-aware reality programming. But Earth to Echo is far less inclined to jam the prevailing culture of cradle-to-grave digital narcissism than sell it as liberating: the medium by which kids save the world, send shiny toy aliens home to theirs, and generally assert control over everything. Until, of course, the next generation of technology comes along and you have to ask your parents to pay for it.

Would that the movie had gone the next step, and possibly imagined that this bright, shiny little E.T. had figured out how to get kids to do its sinister work for him by providing free WiFi and endless smartphone upgrades in exchange for undying loyalty, we might have had something altogether different on our hands. Then again, Explorers was a flop. Just Google it on your phone and you’ll see.

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