“He’s a man from outer space and we’re taking him to his spaceship.”
As anyone would be when revisiting their beloved childhood films, I was hopeful but dubious about returning to E.T. The Extra Terrestrial for critical analysis. Tons of scenes from the film have been swirling through my mind since childhood, and it’s one of the earliest films to really impress me and stick with me in a meaningful way. However, I hadn’t even seen this thing in over a decade. With a bit more knowledge of the film’s context, legacy, and cinema as a whole, I feared that the charm of the film would have faded away. However, I was delighted to find that I still enjoy this movie very much. It’s a heartwarming tale of friendship that left me smiling even years since I first enjoyed it.
For those somehow unfamiliar with the film, it follows the story of Elliott (Henry Thomas), a young boy who finds that an alien has arrived on Earth and seeks shelter in his home. Accompanied by his two siblings, Elliott finds that the creature is a friendly companion, and it seeks to find its way back home. The children must keep their extraterrestrial secret, aiding E.T. on his mission while avoiding government operatives who would stand in their way. It’s a story so timeless and warm that even if you haven’t seen the film, you’ve likely seen a similar story capitalizing on its success. Screenwriter Melissa Mathison puts forward a masterful piece of family entertainment that actually speaks to viewers of all ages, a label which very few screenplays can actually claim.
A magical pulse runs throughout this movie. Spielberg was on quite the hot streak in the early 80s, and E.T. is one of his best examples of this escapist sort of magic. The visual aspects of the film are revolutionary for the time, and the story is treated with the utmost care, respect, and a strong attention to detail in every shot. The film provides just enough laughs and fun alien antics to compliment the more heartwarming, dramatic scenes, resulting in a truly powerful story about a child’s friendship. This is the kind of movie that people wanted (and still want) to see on the big screen. It’s a movie for just about anybody to enjoy, and that’s what made Spielberg’s work at this time so incredible. E.T. resonated with me as a child, and it’s still a captivating experience over a decade later. An analysis of the cinematic techniques will reveal (to no one’s surprise) that Spielberg has a powerful handle of the cinematic art, but he uses these techniques together in beautiful conjunction to create a breathtaking, moving adventure that’s accessible to all types of audiences, and even the most perceptive film scholars will simply get lost in the beauty of the film as a whole.
If I had any qualms about E.T., they would probably have to do with formulaic plot. This is a film with a lot of staple 80s scenes, something that was excused far more easily back in ’82, but you can’t help but notice the lazy toss-ins that were included in so many screenplays of this time (divorced parents being a big one). I also found the “all hope is lost” section where E.T. dies in the makeshift hospital to be a bit tedious, but the following chase scene is so innovative and fun that it excuses the following section wholeheartedly. In 1982 standards, the plot may be nearer to a flawless family story (particularly because Spielberg films invented some of these plot devices that were so effective that they eventually become tedious years later), but it’s just harder to get through some of the more hackneyed scenes as a modern audience member for this reason. The movie still ages really well, however, and just about every scene has something magical to latch onto and think about after the credits have rolled.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is a beautiful, beautiful film. I probably won’t find the time to watch it again in the near future, but I hope to eventually enjoy it many times throughout my adult life. No matter how many films I watch, it really speaks volumes that a blockbuster work such as this movie still retains its magic. They don’t make family films like this anymore; the industry feels far too specialized or repetitive, and any attempts at this “impress everybody” sort of escapist filmmaking just seem to fall short. (Maybe Pixar gets the closest to this today.) Most films that I might compare to what E.T. accomplishes would probably be done by the very same director, indicating real gravity and legitimacy in the legacy that Spielberg has built. I watch a lot of movies, and there are lots of movies that I would probably rather watch than E.T. on a given day, but I can’t imagine not having seen this movie. It’s a landmark achievement of American cinema, and I don’t know that the magic will ever fade away.
Films Left to Watch: 909