E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Starring: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore and Peter Coyote
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Released by: Universal Studios
Synopsis: A young boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas) feels lonely, angry and confused after the painful divorce of his parents. In this state of mind he discovers a little alien which he named E.T. Unbeknownst to Elliot and his family, their friendship yields an unforgettable series of adventures that will literary defy gravity and overcome the cruelty of man.
Review: Unlike many of the films I have reviewed at Filmstrip Memories, E.T. is a movie I grew up watching. I simply loved this film as a child, and in my search to find the greatest movies ever made I decided to watch this once more from an adult perspective. Does is still have the magic I remember back in my childhood or has E.T. lost some of its appeal? The answer is a little bit of both.
While E.T. may have been presented as a child’s film, it certainly isn’t exclusive to that demographic. Never does E.T. tones itself down for the sake of its audience, and isn’t afraid to give is a raw look at some of the darkest moments in our lives. When the film starts we realize that not everything is OK at Elliot’s house. He isn’t a happy child and his mother Mary (Dee Wallace) is still heartbroken due to her divorce. It doesn’t help that Elliot doesn’t get along with his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore). On top of this, when we first meet E.T. we see him struggling to escape, being left behind and be chased by secret agents. This is even more aggravated near the end of the movie when the agents do capture E.T. and nearly kill him.
The film had guts in showing us an imperfect reality for the characters, and in turn created a believable universe with identifiable characters and causes. But for all its darkness the film does have a heart of gold. This is presented to us in form of Elliot and E.T’s friendship. More than once the film slows down to give us a look at how this relationship develops, and for me at least these are the best moments in the movie. This is strictly because Spielberg gave us a different look at human/alien relations. Close Encounters of the Third Kind gave us a peaceful and suspenseful look at alien encounters. E.T., however, takes it on a much deeper level.
Elliot treats E.T. like a child would treat an unknown animal. There are no ill intentions in Elliot’s heart, just curiosity and wonder towards the alien creature. The same can be said about E.T. . The film constantly reminds us at E.T. is a scared alien looking to find a way home, and thus when he encounters Elliot for the first time he experiences sheer horror. Thanks to the film’s pacing, though, we get to see that bond evolve from horror to a beautiful friendship.
And this is why E.T. has been as successful as a family film regardless of its very dark story. The movie knows what it means to be a child constantly surprised by the ups and downs of everyday life, and for kids this made for an enjoyable experience that they could easily relate to. It also never forgets to inspire the imagination of its viewer, giving us unforgettable and simply magical scenes like the flying bike ride in front of the full moon.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is also a film filled to the brim with symbolism. For years film experts have discovered that E.T.’s story is similar to that of Jesus Christ, killed by the cruelty of man, but brought back to life by the love of a child. The film’s theatrical posters also make reference to Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Finally, the whole story could be seen as the autobiography of Steven Spielberg. Many of the scenes in the movie were inspired by events in the director’s life, such as the scene in which Elliot pretends being sick just so he can stay at home. Most importantly, the friendship between E.T. and Elliot was inspired by an imaginary character Spielberg created when his parents divorced in 1960. These elements add a lot of unseen depth to the film, which has elevated it to masterpiece levels.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, however, is not a perfect film. This is something I discovered while watching the film again recently. The acting, while really good, tends to be melodramatic to the point where it’s manipulative. For example, the first dinner scene with the family in which Elliot reminds his mother about the divorce. The reactions in this are clear, but over the top. The melodrama is increased further by John Williams score. Don’t get me wrong, though. The movie does feature a very beautiful soundtrack that truly does help in telling the story. The problem is that at times Williams goes for a very strong and loud score in scenes that don’t need it, like Elliot’s first search in the forest. It’s not as bad as in other movies, but the odd placement of music makes for some unnecessary drama.
I should note that the version that I saw was the 20th Anniversary Edition. In order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film in 2002, Steven Spielberg went back to the film and altered its special effects while including scenes not seen in the original version. The new effects consist of alterations done to E.T.’s facial expressions. Expressions that weren’t possible in 1982 are now possible thanks to the aid of computer animation. One scene included in this version gives us an additional glimpse at Elliot and E.T.’s exploration of everyday life. In my honest opinion, the film already worked fine without these new additions. The CG effects just makes the issues stand out more, and the new scenes do add some more stuffing to the story, but none of it was necessary.
In many ways, E.T. the Extra-Terrestial is a lot like our childhood memories. We often forget about the flaws and issues we experienced, but keep with us the moments that made us grow as human beings. E.T. is a great film that inspires people with its message of love and friendship, ideals that are universal, no matter whom you are, where you come from or even if you are from this galaxy.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5