Saturday 18 November 2023

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)



I remember when E.T. came out. Not because I watched the movie at the time, going to the cinema was not something we did a lot, but the E.T. figures were the rage. Like in frenzy rage. Most of my classmates would have a figure or a doll, the bigger the better. Some with light in the finger and some who would say the famous line “E.T. phone home”. The fad did not last, none does in second and third grade, but while it lasted, there was nothing else in the world.

E.T. is a classic movie that holds up well, here 41 years later. I watched it last night with my wife and son and it still keeps us engaged, we still feel that lump in the throat and my son would grip my arm and not let go. Mind you, we have all watched it before and not just once. It is the quintessential family movie.

E.T. is an extra-terrestrial botanist who gets left behind on Earth when his spaceship must leave in a hurry. He seeks refuge in the shed of a suburban house and is discovered by ten-year old Elliot (Henry Thomas). Elliot lives in the house with older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton), younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and recently separated mother Mary (Dee Wallace). E.T. and Elliot befriend each other and are soon linked on a mental level, sharing their emotions. The children keep E.T. as a secret and Mary only late discovers the alien, ignorant mostly through her own distraction.

The alien needs to go home and while learning to communicate with the children, he builds a communicator to call his spaceship, which they rig up in the forest. It is during this excursion we get the famous shot of Elliot and E.T. on bicycle, sailing past a full moon. It is almost too late for E.T. though. Something on Earth does not agree with him and he turns very ill. Through their link Elliot shares the illness. At this point agents of, presumably, a government agency, enters and takes over E.T. In their hands E.T. finally succumbs. Or does he? Will his spaceship arrive in time to save him?

Steven Spielberg famously explained that the story of Elliot and his family is based on his own childhood and how he dreamed of meeting an alien. A fantasy he also lived out in “Close Encounters”. This connection with Elliot and his family is clearly felt in how fleshed out they are in the movie. This looks and feels like a real family with none of the glamour or crisis of most other movie families. The biggest issue for them is the absent father and the very mundane stresses of just getting along. The ordinariness of this family is what makes the encounter with the fantastic being which is E.T. work so well. We feel it is us meeting the creature and experiencing the adventure. There is nothing spectacular about these children beyond the love they share with E.T. and each other and that love we feel as well. This is what makes this so solid a family movie.

It is amazing how well E.T. holds up after all these years. Look past the dated haircuts and it looks and feels very modern. Part of that can be ascribed to Spielberg’s very talented team, but a large part is also that E.T, the movie, has been admired ever since and has stood as the beacon of what a family movie should be like. A lot of this movie has been imitated, copied or inspired countless times ever since. Make it look and feel like E.T. and you have done it right. Even Spielberg himself has used it as his golden standard. This admiration runs the risk of making the original look cliché, but it is so good that it stands above that. 41 years down the line, E.T. is as effective as it was back when we all ran around with a doll with a light bulb in the finger.

I should mention the most famous actor to come out of this movie, Drew Barrymore. We all know what an astonishing career she has been having, and there, as little Gertie, we can see where it all came from. I think few people can watch E.T. and not fall a bit in love with that little girl.

1982 starts very strong and I have a wonderful program ahead of me for the next few weeks.

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