- Movie Rating -

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

| June 11, 1982

E.T. is a glorious film, a story of friendship, frustration, love, responsibility, and also a red-blooded adventure and a lot of fun. It doesn’t talk down to its audience like a “children’s movie” would. Steven Spielberg presents the story at the level that a 10 year-old would tell it. You can tell that he is a kid at heart.

The story in E.T. is universally known and sweetly simple. A boy from a broken home, with no friends, absent of the ability to empathize, meets a creature from another world who has been left behind on this planet during a mission to collect plants. E.T. is alone, scared to death and knows that beings from this planet are searching high and low to find him. Why? He probably doesn’t want to know.

Wandering into a small California town he finds himself in the backyard shed of Elliott and after some moments and then some caution, they quickly realize that they can trust one another. Their bond is mutual, but it is also empathetic (each is lost on this planet) and telepathic. What the alien feels, the boy feels, and so he knows that hiding his new friend would probably be a good idea. His siblings have the same initial approach, but they come to love this alien. The movie is specific about the kids but wants them to stand for all kids, that’s why it isn’t specific about their lives other than the very basics (note that the movie never gives them a last name).

The casting of the kids is essential. 10 year-old Elliott is just the right age to deal with keeping E.T. hidden and dealing with the nature of their friendship. If Elliott were any younger he may have been scared away, any older and he might have called the authorities for help. He is flanked by an older, more cynical, teenage brother named Michael whose friends represent the kind of immature smart-aleck gawkiness that Elliott witnesses but has yet to experience. On the opposite side there is a younger sister, Gertie, who still lives in a world of dolls, dress-up and Sesame Street.

The movie explores E.T.’s domestic experience with all the usually “alien-around-the-house” destructiveness that is common in a fish-out-of-water tale. There’s the introduction of junk food, television, toys and the inevitable tussle with the frightening entity known as the family dog. Plus there is a strange connection with a resurrected geranium that, at one point, acts as E.T.’s pseudo-heart monitor.

E.T himself is a masterwork. He is really little more than a collection of rubber, paint and robotronics but fused so convincingly that the filmmakers were able to rise beyond just a clever puppet with blinking eyes. They gave him a life, an energy, they made him expressive so we feel what he feels. He’s not just an over-sized Muppet but a fully realized soul who, like Yoda before him, comes to life and is able to fool the eye with life-like details. And the movie would be nothing without the element of danger. All through the movie, as E.T. hides in the safety of the children’s closet, government scientists circle the area and close in on his location.

The movie has some things in common with another Spielberg production, Poltergeist, which was released exactly one week before this film. Both had Spielberg’s touch, but while he directed E.T. he only took a producer credit for Poltergeist and gave directing duties to Texas Chainsaw Massacre scribe Tobe Hooper (although it is still famously debated that Spielberg actually directed both). The two films are polar opposites of one another, where one film is about hope and love, the other is about fear and terror. Both films maintain their center in the children’s closet, Elliott hides E.T. away in the safety of his closet while the one in Poltergeist becomes the center from which the terror consistently flows. The best of both films is the way Spielberg allows his character’s personalities to drive the story, both have wonderful special effects but they don’t take over the film.

Spielberg is best as seeing through the eyes of his characters. He begins by seeing through the eyes of his alien to help understand how he sees our world. Revisiting the film, I noticed a shot in the beginning that illustrates this without a single word. As the movie opens E.T. and his alien crew are wandering through a California forest at night and the only light is the brightness from the interior of the ship, at one point he walks past the trunks of two giant redwood trees whose branches are hidden by the darkness. Look closely and the tree trunks almost resemble a pair of giant legs. What must the alien make of this? What fear does it put in his heart?

Look at another moment when the aliens turn a corner and a pick-up trunk turns in their direction. The headlights could be, to them, a pair of beaming eyes and I could swear the truck roars when it turns into the shot. Spielberg plays the scene as the aliens would see it.

Then there are the moments of pure exhilaration. Take the most famous moment in the movie when Elliot nestles E.T. into the basket of his bike and they ride into the forest to set up a makeshift communicator that they have built to signal the alien’s home planet. The bike takes off, flying through the night sky and the moment, coupled with John Williams uplifting score, is one of the cinema’s most thrilling moments. The polar opposite of course is E.T. ‘s death scene in which the scientists have pushed their way into Elliott’s home and begun experiments on the alien who is apparently dying. The tone and the emotion of that moment make for one of the most heart-tugging death scenes in movie history. Spielberg pulls us along emotionally but never tells us how to feel.

That scene is the one everyone remembers because it is hard not to cry. But for me, the most tearful moment in the film is the last one, as the two friends part company. Look closely at the scene, look at the lighting, the composition, the camera movement, coupled with Williams’ beautiful score and you see a moment that really reminds us of why we go to the movies.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized