Revisiting Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” after 40 years…

40 Years Ago.

When I was not-quite 11 years old, one of the most awe-inspiring movies I’d ever seen was Steven Spielberg’s brilliant “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”(1977). “Close Encounters” was life-changing, and propelled my current never-ending curiosity about the universe. Five years later, in 1982, I was a somewhat more cynical 15 years old when I’d heard of Spielberg’s new summer fantasy, “E.T: the Extra-Terrestrial.” Rumors suggested (via “Starlog” magazine) that this new film might be a sequel of sorts to Spielberg’s earlier cosmic hit. The music was, once again, being composed by Oscar-winner John Williams, and even the titular creature was being designed by Carlo Rambaldi, the artist who created the surprisingly expressive animatronic alien puppet seen in the finale of “Close Encounters.” The screenplay was written by the late Melissa Mathison (1950-2015), who was also producer and later ex-wife of Harrison Ford. By its talent pool alone, “E.T.” had the potential to be the signature Steven Spielberg movie.

Carlo Rambaldi’s graceful animatronic extraterrestrial from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977); the first movie to make me “watch the skies.”

With all of that going for it, I should’ve loved “E.T.” but after the massive cyclone of hype surrounding the movie’s release, I remember going to see it at the local multiplex and feeling a bit underwhelmed. Yes, the visuals were great (courtesy of Lucasfilm’s ILM), and the impressive young cast certainly delivered the emotional punches, but unlike the broader generational (and international) appeal of “Close Encounters,” “E.T” seemed deliberately aimed at children. Even at 15, I recognized the Jesus analogy with the titular being rising after his death, and possessing a magical healing touch. There was also a heavy dose of “Peter Pan” in the film’s DNA as well, with the alien rallying human kids to its cause, even granting them the power of flight (it’s no surprise that the movie’s mother, Mary, reads the story of “Peter Pan” to her daughter Gertie).

Elliott (Henry Thomas) says goodbye to more of Carlo Rambaldi’s amazing handiwork in the finale of “E.T.” (1982).

As the end credits rolled, younger me decided he preferred the cooler, more enigmatic aliens of “Close Encounters” to the glowing-hearted suburban house pet of “E.T.” 40 years later, I decided to revisit the movie that my 15 year-old self had such difficulty relating to, in the hopes that 55 year-old me might be more appreciative. Streaming the film in HD onto a 7 ft/2 meter screen through my digital projector, the movie looked exactly as I remembered it 40 years ago, right down to the film grain and warm tones of cinematographer Allen Daviau (1942-2020).

My home presentation was certainly good enough, but I wondered with what eyes would I see the film this time?

“E.T.” (1982)

The movie opens with some eerily ambiguous music as we see a shadowy group of silhouetted beings collecting plant specimens in the night woods in the surrounding suburbs above Los Angeles. We don’t hear these diminutive creatures speak, save for the humming sounds of their glowing ‘heart lights,’ with which they commune with each other. Unfortunately, landing on the outskirts of Los Angeles has alerted these carefree aliens to the presence of locals with pickup trucks and shotguns, who apparently witnessed the aliens’ ship landing…

Turn on your heart lights.
Yes, the glowing ‘heart lights’ in the ETs chests did indeed inspire the cheesy Neil Diamond song “Turn On Your Heartlight”, as well as a tune from no less than Michael Jackson, called “Someone in the Dark.”

Note: “E.T.” actually began life as an alien-themed horror movie called “Night Skies,” about a family barricaded in a remote Kentucky farm house under attack by menacing extraterrestrials–the polar opposite of its final form. That script was cowritten by John Sayles, who would later write and direct an urbanized answer to “E.T.” called “The Brother From Another Planet” (1984); a film I enjoyed very much, in fact. Steven Spielberg re-thought the entire horror concept and assigned his friend Melissa Mathison (“The Black Stallion”) to do a page one rewrite. A few minor elements of “Night Skies” would find their way back into producer Spielberg’s blockbuster haunted house film, “Poltergeist” (1982), which would be directed by Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Salem’s Lot”).

“Botany Bay?
Botany Bay?! Oh no! We’ve got to get out of here now! Damn!”

Aboard the small, orb-shaped alien spacecraft, we see flora from various alien planets, of which Earth’s specimens will be added, as well These diminutive creatures are on a simple botanical survey, and nothing more (not the wisest idea to land so close to a heavily populated city, perhaps…?). As the human hunters approach the aliens’ landing site, the aliens panic and prepare for launch, accidentally leaving one of their own behind. The abandoned alien quickly scurries out of the woods into the surrounding suburbs, finding refuge in the backyard tool shed of a suburban house…

Note: Much like the shark in Spielberg’s masterpiece “JAWS” (1975), we don’t get a good clear look at the alien until a bit later in the story. For the first few minutes, we only see E.T. and the others of his species in fleeting glimpses or in silhouette, save for their red heart-lights.

The DisneyPlus remake of “Goodfellas.”
Elliott (Henry Thomas) watches as the friends of his brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) play Dungeons and Dragons.

The house belongs to Mary (Dee Wallace), a recently separated thirty-something mother of three children; ten-year old Elliott (Henry Thomas), his kid sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and teenaged brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton). Michael is currently hosting a Dungeons and Dragons party with some teen friends of his, one of whom orders pizza for the group, while another tries to touch Mary’s behind as she bends over nearby. Later, the pizza delivery person pulls up in the driveway, and kid brother Elliott is sent with the group’s cash to get it.

Note: Mary’s home has a typically Spielbergian vibe to it, with lots of smoke lighting, clutter and product placement (Coke, Fresca, even Raid bug spray). While some directors do their best to capture major cities in their movies (Martin Scorsese and New York City, for example), director Steven Spielberg’s heart clearly belongs to the suburbs, as he illustrates with the family dwellings seen in “JAWS,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Poltergeist,” and other movies. The homes seen in Spielberg films are typically noisy, cluttered and messy, unlike the spotless, near-pristine, photoshoot-ready homes seen in many movies and TV shows.

This image of a young boy and a phasing moon among the clouds is reminiscent of Spielberg’s ‘moon-fishing boy’ logo for his short-lived Dreamworks company (1994-2006).

As Elliott pays the driver and takes the pizza box, he hears a noise coming from the backyard. Assuming it to be one of his brother’s friends, he walks to the backyard to investigate. Hearing noises from the shed, he cautiously tosses a baseball into it, which is quickly rolled back out to him. He then catches a glimpse of a very unusual little creature. Ditching the pizza, an excited Elliott runs back into the house to tell his family and friends. Of course, no one believes him. Michael’s friends tease Elliott about spotting a ‘goblin,’ while Michael rationally assumes it was a stray coyote or some other wild animal, but Elliott insists it was something more. Spending the night in the backyard waiting for the creature to return, Elliott is determined to prove that what he saw was real.

Note: As we see in other Spielberg movies, the protagonist has to prove their wild claim to disbelieving peers (“Jaws,” “Close Encounters”). Elliott reminds me of the young hero David (Jimmy Hunt) from 1953’s “Invaders From Mars,” directed by William Cameron Menzies. David also had a late night ‘close encounter’ with extraterrestrials which no one (not even local police) believed, at first.

Dee Wallace gives an effective performance as Mary, a typically ‘clueless adult’ role that the actress elevates.

Faking illness to stay home from school and search for the creature, Elliott says goodbye as his distracted mother leaves for work. Taking a bag of “Reeses Pieces” to lure the creature out from the woods into his backyard once again, a careful Elliott is surprised to see other people on the hunt for his creature, led by a mysterious man named Keys (Peter Coyote). Cautiously avoiding detection, Elliott’s creature not only takes his bait, but even gives the candy back to Elliott instead of eating it–clearly this isn’t some exotic wild animal. Elliott soon meets the creature face-to-face, before inviting it into his home. The extraterrestrial “ET” is a long-armed, long-fingered creature with an elongated head at the end of a craning neck, as well as clumsy, three-toed feet attached almost directly to its torso. Elliott realizes that the creature possesses intelligence, but is unable to communicate with it directly, due to their interplanetary language barrier. Looking around his room, Elliott introduces ET to his Star Wars toys, and other items of interest to a typical American suburban kid of the 1980s.

Note: The abundance of Star Wars toys and other references in the film (including a Yoda costume seen at Halloween) might seem to be nothing more than a more than generous nod to Spielberg’s friendship with George Lucas (whose ILM did the visual effects for “E.T.”), but as a teenager of that time, I can safely say that a roomful of Star Wars was, indeed, very period-accurate.

Elliott, Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and Michael (Robert MacNaughton) have a closeted encounter of the third kind.

Later, as Elliott’s older brother and sister come home from school, they are eventually (and a bit traumatically) introduced to Elliott’s new friend, “ET” (as in ‘extra-terrestrial,’ per the movie’s subtitle). Naturally, Michael votes for absolute secrecy, while Gertie soon gets over her initial fear of the creature and begins to regard it as a new exotic pet. The kids bring food from the refrigerator to the hungry alien, as it devours everything it can. We later see that Elliott is also empathically linked to the alien somehow–not reading its mind, but rather feeling its emotions.

Note: Upon its release, “E.T.” was hit with allegations of plagiarism by an Indian filmmaker named Satyajit Ray, who claimed that “E.T.” borrowed heavily from his 1967 script, “The Alien” (not to be confused with Ridley Scott’s “ALIEN” (1979), of course). Ray did not press any legal action against Spielberg, despite encouragement from friend Arthur C. Clarke (“2001: A Space Odyssey”). Playwright Lisa Litchfield filed a 1984 lawsuit against Spielberg, claiming the film borrowed heavily from her own “Lokey From Maldemar.” The case was dismissed. Speaking of plagiarism, the 1988 film “Mac and Me”, which was essentially a low-budget remake of “E.T.” in everything but name, squeaked right into theaters and home video without any legal action from Spielberg or Universal.

“Stranger Things,” Version 1.0.
Elliott is picked on by the neighborhood kids for his ‘goblin’ sighting. The kid in the gray jacket is actor C. Thomas Howell, who would go on to star in 1986’s “The Hitcher” (one of the best horror films of the 1980s).

Meanwhile, Mary remains completely obvious to the creature living in her home, as her frazzled mind is distracted by work, the pressure of raising three kids alone, and the anguish over her separated husband living with a new mistress in Mexico (more than enough reasons). As Mary’s three kids unite in their protection of the alien (keeping it in the closet whenever mom is nearby) Elliott realizes he’ll have to leave ET home alone in order to return to school. At the bus stop, Elliott is taunted by Michael’s older friends about his “goblin,” as even his brother Michael is forced to keep mum on the subject.

Note: Typical of 1980s movies is the cliche of the clueless parent/adult figures, as we see in countless teen sex comedies of that time, as well as more mainstream movies like “Weird Science,” “Risky Business,” “WarGames” and others. “E.T.” is no exception to this trend, as represented by ‘Mary,’ who at least has the benefit of a stronger backstory (recently separated from a cheating husband living with his girlfriend in Mexico) as well as the very natural performance of Dee Wallace, who really goes the extra mile to make Mary more memorable than other 1980s’ movie parents.

A drunken Elliott kisses “Pretty Girl” (Erika Eleniak); a future Playboy Playmate and Baywatch star (she’d also costar in 1988’s version of “The Blob”; a superior remake).

As Elliott leaves ET in his closet to go to school, the curious alien begins to investigate the house, eventually befriending the family dog, raiding the fridge, and discovering both daytime television and the imbibing effects of Coors beer (more product placement). After several beers, a drunken ET begins channel surfing the boob tube–his intoxicated state being involuntarily transmitted to an unwitting Elliott at school. Elliott is in science class, about to participate in the dissection of frogs, when he begins to feel ET’s shit-facedness. This intoxication prompts Elliott (and later others) to spontaneously release the captive frogs from their killing jars, causing a classroom panic as the freed amphibians begin to freak out Elliott’s classmates. As the besotted ET watches a couple kiss on TV (a scene from John Wayne’s “The Quiet Man”), his proxy Elliott suddenly grabs a young classmate (Erika Eleniak) and plants a kiss on the surprised girl’s lips. I won’t even mention the poor boy whose back Elliott stands on to kiss the taller girl…

Note: A couple things; Elliott is about ten years old in the film, and there’s no way that ten year old kids in California’s school system would be allowed to perform dissections in those days. Dissection was typically a middle or high school-level assignment in those days. I was in 10th grade when I did mine, and our frogs came to us already dead; we weren’t allowed to kill them ourselves, nor would I have wanted to. Kids today thankfully have the right to refuse participation in dissection on moral grounds. Secondly, the credits-listed character of “Pretty Girl,” whom Elliott kisses in class, is future model-actress Erika Eleniak. Eleniak would later become a Playboy Playmate and costar of “Baywatch”, one of the most inexplicably popular TV shows of the 1990s. I remembered Eleniak from a brief role she had in 1988’s superior remake of “The Blob,” which was cowritten by Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) and directed by Chuck Russell (1994’s “The Mask”). Elliott’s kissing his classmate would no doubt warrant a sexual assault charge today.

You go, girl!
Budding drag artist ET is tired of remaining in the closet.

As Mary brings Gertie home from school, the 6 year-old tries to get her mother to meet their new houseguest, but the forever-distracted Mary dismisses her daughter’s insistent demands for her attention. Meanwhile, Gertie adds a few words to ET’s vocabulary, confirming that the creature is capable of human speech. Gertie also notices that ET can revive the family’s wilting houseplants and flowers as well. Elliott then returns home after his wild day at school to learn that Gertie has been playing dress-up with the friendly alien. He also learns that ET has been carefully collecting electronics and other items from around the house, including a “Speak ‘N Spell” toy, in order to build a crude transmitter with which to signal his people–whose spaceship might still be within the solar system.

Note: ET is voiced by the late Patricia Welsh (1915-1995) whose lifelong chain-smoking led to her perpetually raspy and somewhat androgynous-sounding voice. Welsh would also provide the artificially generated vocals of Princess Leia’s “Boushh” bounty hunter disguise in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” Contrary to rumor, actress Debra Winger (1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman”) only provided the voice of ET in the temp audio track used to edit the film, not the final cut. Winger, a friend of Spielberg’s, did play a costumed ghoul in the later Halloween sequence.

Pull my finger.
Elliott discovers his new friend also has a healing touch.

As ET begins work on constructing a transmitter by manipulating and levitating various toys, electronics and a foil-lined umbrella, his friend Elliott accidentally nicks his finger on a sharp circular saw blade being used for the transmitter. ET senses Elliott’s pain, and reaches over to touch Elliott’s bleeding finger with his own glowing fingertip, instantly healing the wound. An amazed Elliott is both awed and grateful, as ET adds the word “ouch” to his vocabulary. Meanwhile, Halloween is fast approaching, and Elliott decides to take advantage of this kids’ night out to help ET send his distress call out in the open woods, away from watchful eyes of neighbors, as well as investigator Keys and his fellow government agents, who are honing in on ET’s location; no doubt acting on tips from the eyewitness hunters who spotted ET’s spaceship lifting off in the opening act. Michael tries to tell Elliott that the sickly-looking alien isn’t doing well, but Elliott insists he’s fine.

Note: ET’s magical ‘healing touch’ is one of the issues I have with aliens in movies possessing ‘godlike’ abilities, such as touch-healing or levitation. This is where the line between science fiction and religion often blurs a bit, as many sci-fi movies assume aliens automatically possess some kind of divine superpowers, such as touch-healing and levitation. Yes, it’s reasonable to assume aliens who master interstellar travel will be more technologically advanced, but that doesn’t necessarily grant superpowers. What if ET simply carried a piece of advanced alien tech that performed the same function, instead of a glowing fingertip? These were the kinds of nitpicking questions that bothered me as a precocious 15 year-old sci-fi geek when I first saw the film in the summer of 1982.

During the trick-or-treating scene, you can hear composer John Williams use a phrase of his own “Yoda” theme from “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), as ET recognizes a Yoda-costumed kid as a familiar face.

The kids formulate a strategy to smuggle ET out of the house on Halloween night disguised as a ghost–with Gertie also dressed as a ghost, acting as a decoy. Throwing a sheet over the creature, they pass their first hurdle; getting past mom (dressed as a cat), who insists on taking a Polaroid of the ‘kids.’ Once on the streets, they pretend to go treat or treating, as ET sees a child dressed in a Yoda costume and exclaims “Hoooome!” Michael then goes to retrieve Gertie, while Elliott takes ET on his bicycle high into the woods to try out their homemade transmitter. Unable to reach a clearing on his bicycle, ET summons the strength to levitate Elliott’s bicycle over the trees and across the face of the full moon–and an iconic shot is born. Once in the ‘bald spot’ of the woods, Elliott and ET deploy their makeshift radio transmitter. After their long night, Elliott fails to return home, prompting a worried Mary to call the police…

Note: I realize that the movie is told from a child’s perspective, but I cannot stress enough the utter irresponsibility of older brother Michael assigning his six-year old sister Gertie as a lone lookout. As an older adult, it pains me to see a complete vulnerable six year-old kid out by herself on Halloween night; it’s downright shocking today. And while I’m on the topic, I’d like to mention that young Drew Barrymore was absolutely phenomenal in the role of Gertie. Even at age six, her raw emotions and honest performance allows her to steal just about every moment she’s on camera. She was a natural.

Michael locates the abandoned radio transmitter and makes a terrible discovery.

The following morning, as Mary talks with the police officer, a weakened Elliott suddenly returns home–still in his Halloween makeup–as Mary thanks the departing policeman. Elliott is alarmed when he discovers that ET didn’t return. Feeling weak, Elliott begs his brother Michael to go search for ET in the woods. Michael, carefully avoiding the cars of federal agents on the hunt for the wayward extraterrestrial, manages to find the still-working radio transmitter, as well as the pale, dying form of ET, lying in a nearby stream. Realizing Elliott and the alien are somehow linked, Michael wraps the barely alive creature in his ghost costume-sheet and hurries him back to the house, carefully avoiding the agents lurking around the neighborhood…

Note: The movie’s continual sight of kids on bikes riding around the neighborhood at all hours might seem strange to modern kids and their hover parents, but I can assure you; this was perfectly normal in those days. We used to walk to and from far away bus stops, local convenience stores, and even take our bicycles out on newspaper routes without any adult supervision whatsoever. This is a detail that Netflix’s 1980s-set “Stranger Things” gets very right. In an age without internet, adults didn’t have the latest kidnapping statistics, or other alarming crime information at their fingertips, so perhaps that was why they worried less about us in those days. Or maybe we just weren’t loved as much, who knows

“Avon calling…”
Mary protects a weakened Elliott from the space-suited boogiemen taking over her home.

With Elliott and ET home, Mary is brought up to speed on her previously unseen houseguest. Soon, she and her kids have even less-welcome visitors arriving, in the form of space-suited NASA/government personnel who (presumably through US eminent domain) begin to quarantine Mary’s house by sheathing the walls in plastic and fitting the doors with translucent airlock tunnels connecting to mobile work labs outside. Without explanation, a terrified Mary is forced to watch as government agents dominate her home, setting up hospital beds for Elliott and the ailing ET, right in her living room. With her home and everyone inside of it effectively quarantined, Mary and her kids are unable to leave.

Note: My 15 year-old self had issues with the arrival of the spacesuited G-men at Mary’s home. Yes, I get that these would-be “men in black” would want to wear quarantine/hazmat gear when going to examine a genuine extraterrestrial (who’s no doubt full of alien bacteria), but bulky NASA shuttle spacesuits would not be practical to wear in Earth gravity, since they’re needlessly heavy, and the thick pressurized gloves (designed for use in the harsh vacuum of space) are nowhere near ideal for fine medical work, either. A sealed bio-hazmat suit, like the kind used in hospital quarantines, would be much lighter and easier to use. I also had issues with one of the spacemen literally roaring at Mary as he entered through one of her back doors–really, movie? Do government agents roar?

Elliott reaches out to his frightened and dying alien friend.

Medical personnel soon learn that ET has six bases in its DNA alphabet, instead of a human’s four (GTCA). They also confirm the psychic link between the dying alien and his human friend Elliott, as their brainwave patterns are exactly synchronous. Agent Keys is surprisingly sympathetic to Mary and her family, telling her that finding ET is something he’s waited for his entire life, and that he’s just as determined as her son to keep the alien alive. Elliott acutely and involuntarily feels ET’s fear as the withered alien soon goes into cardiac arrest, which terminates the creature’s empathic link with Elliott as well. ET’s body is then placed in a cold storage unit, as a devastated Elliott cries with absolute grief.

Note: I do appreciate that Keys (Peter Coyote) was not portrayed as a heartless bastard. He very easily could’ve been, in order to gin up more audience sympathy for Elliott and ET (who really didn’t need any more sympathy at this point). However, just as Spielberg chose to humanize the character of Project Leader ‘Claude Lacombe’ (Francois Truffaut) in “Close Encounters,” he also chose to give the character of Keys a sympathetic persona, as well. This was a very wise choice, as it eliminates the need for simplistic (and boring) black-hat villainy. Besides, no one ever sees themself as ‘the bad guy.’

And on the third hour, he rose…

Keys offers to let a shattered Elliott say his goodbyes to the alien alone. Giving them space, Keys and his personnel leave, as Elliott stands watch over the cooling unit containing ET’s corpse. Just before turning to leave, he catches the red glow of ET’s heart light reactivating. Throwing open the cooler’s door, he hurriedly puts a hand over the mouth of the rejuvenated alien, who begins repeating “Phone home!” Hurriedly, he tries to think of a way to smuggle the alien out of the family home. Throwing a blanket over the alien’s glowing chest, Elliott meets with Michael and they hurriedly concoct a plan with Michael’s friends Tyler, Greg and Steve (C. Thomas Howell, K.C. Martel, Sean Frye) to rendezvous at a nearby park. Elliott wants Michael to drive ET and himself out in an ambulance, which is connected to their house via a clear plastic tunnel. Michael, who’s only practiced reversing his mother’s car in the driveway, is now the getaway driver. With ET’s cooling unit stowed in the back, Michael then puts the vehicle in drive, chaotically ripping the tunnel along with it…

Note: Actor C. Thomas Howell, who plays Michael’s friend “Tyler”, would later go on to star with “Blade Runner” actor Rutger Hauer in 1986’s “Hitcher”, one of the best horror movies of the 1980s, as well as the utterly unwatchable blackface comedy “Soul Man,” also from 1986.

Strangest Things.
Elliott and ET lead Michael and his friends on a merry bicycle chase from the feds.

Arriving at the park, Michael’s friends meet them there, and are stunned at the their first look at Elliott’s “goblin”, which they mocked him over days earlier. Elliott and ET are moved from the van and onto one of the bikes. Pedaling for their lives, the boys then lead the authorities on a wild chase through town, as they head toward the woods where ET’s spaceship is expected to return. With agents on foot behind them, and a police roadblock up ahead, ET summons his power of levitation to lift all the boys’ bicycles into the air, clearing the roadblock and landing them safely into the forest.

“Running into the sun…”
Miniature bikes with miniature puppet riders are optically composited along the face of the sunset.

Note: The music by John Williams hits an apex at the sight of Elliott and the other boys’ bikes arcing through the air and across the face of the sun, with triumphant strings and brass echoing their escape. Some of the less-advanced 1980s-era optical effects make the handlebars on the miniature bikes seem to disappear, but that’s a minor nit, as little kids will be too caught up in the emotion of the moment to notice or care.

Welcome to Earth.
Against a rapidly setting sun, the aliens return to fetch a temporarily earthbound brother.

In the forest, the boys catch sight of the spherical spaceship’s return, as it descends to a clearing in the woods. Soon, Mary and Gertie and Keys arrive in his car as well, to say their farewells to the alien. Gertie gifts exo-botanist ET with a plant that he was able to revive with his magic touch, and he accepts. A tearful Gertie then says goodbye (a moment similar to young Barry Guiler’s goodbye to the aliens at the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”).

Elliott and ET.
Naturally, the first and last letters of Elliott’s name are ‘E’ and ‘T.’ Yes, I see what you did there, movie…

Finally, Elliott and ET, who were bonded together in mind and heart, have to say goodbye as well. ET simply asks Elliott to “Come,” while Elliott asks ET to “Stay,” with both knowing that neither option is possible. ET’s heartlight glows in warmth as he hugs his farewell to the young boy. Putting his hand to the boy’s heart, he expresses his heartache with the single word, “Ouch.” He then joins his fellow aliens as the ship prepares to depart. Everyone assembled watches as the the orb-shaped spacecraft lifts off into the twilight sky, bursting into the stars, and leaving a rainbow trail behind in its wake…

“Warp drive, Mr. Scott!”

Note: So ended my first time seeing this movie in four decades. I was a bit surprised at how well I remembered the story’s beats and even lines of dialogue after all of these years, especially since I’ve not seen the film on VHS or DVD for all of that time. Some of the nagging issues I had with the movie at age 15 were still there, but they’re tempered with recognition of the film as a well-made piece of pop entertainment.

The End.

Summing It Up.

Whereas “Close Encounters” featured characters across the age spectrum and featured scenes from all over the world (Mexico, India, and even the Gobi Desert in the extended version), the more homebound “E.T” is centered exclusively in the California suburbs, and is aimed entirely at kids. The young characters of “E.T” are surrounded by adults who are unable to understand (a staple of ’80s cinema). These kids befriend the stranded alien in the same way they might befriend a super-intelligent dog. While the character of ET is clearly from a superior species, he is rarely afforded the dignity of a visiting ambassador from the stars–which, of course, is exactly how children might treat such a creature. Director Spielberg clearly shows great affinity with and empathy for his young target audience.

“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!”

After watching “E.T” this second time in 40 years, I realize my failure to connect with it lies not with the movie. In fact, for the right audience, “E.T” is spellbinding and magical, particularly for kids too young or frightened by “Close Encounters.” Unfortunately, I am not this film’s target audience–then or now; I was too jaded at 15, and I am too old at 55. From the cinematic Class of 1982, I much preferred “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior,” or “Blade Runner.” “E.T.” is the prototype suburban fantasy for many that followed, including Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” but it’s just not for me. What’s important to remember is there’s no shame in that admission; it’s perfectly okay to not connect with a movie for no obviously definable reason. In this age of increasing aversion to differing opinions, the right not to enjoy an experience must always remain with the individual.

Once again, I marvel at the amazing practical puppetry of Carlo Rambaldi.
While ET lacked the elegant grace of his “Close Encounters” grays, it also has a greater earthiness and realism to it as well.

Objectively, I see Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” as a love letter to both childhood and suburban life; it is to 1980s suburbs what Norman Rockwell paintings are to 1940s pre/post-war Americana. Then-child actors Henry Thomas and little Drew Barrymore are absolutely spot-on with their perfectly natural performances, as is the craftsmanship of the artists who bring the title character to life. I can’t shake the feeling that I would’ve enjoyed this film a bit more if I hadn’t been so in love with Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” After Spielberg’s uplifting, grand cosmic adventure at Devil’s Tower, “E.T.” feels rather regressive and small; the movie’s densely suburban setting, arguably one of its strongest selling points for audience relatability, also feels somewhat claustrophobic.

“E.T.” is an emotionally resonant film for many, and I appreciate it on many levels, but after 40 years, this otherwise well-produced movie still fails to turn on my own heart-light. Nevertheless, I’d have to be as clueless as an ’80s movie parent not to recognize the careful construction of this finely-made children’s fantasy.

Where To Watch.

“E.T.” is available for purchase on DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K (prices vary) via Amazon.com, and is available for streaming on Universal’s Peacock streaming service for the time being, as well as Amazon Prime ($3.99 to rent).

Images: Universal Pictures.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. chadrebmann says:

    I enjoyed your write-up of the film. Funny enough, I watched this last night as I”m the middle of my review for my blog. I was 9 years old when the movie was released and the perfect target audience. It was the rare movie I got to see twice in the theatre, thanks to my constant nagging to the parents. I even grew up in a southern California suburb not unlike Elliot’s family, so revisiting the film was like a nostalgic sugar rush. The performances from the kids are truly remarkable, as Spielberg has a gift for directing child actors. But I think the magic has worn off in recent years, especially as many of the blue screens’ optical effects have aged poorly. I’d be interested to see how a child of 2022 would respond to E.T.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That would be very interesting indeed!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Lady Maneth says:

      I was “entertainment deprived” as a kid. My parents weren’t (and aren’t) moviegoers, and I was 10 in 1982. (My first contact with Star Wars was by reading a friend’s comics and playing with his SW toys, I first saw the movies on VHS as a teen.) E.T. is actually the first live-action movie I remember seeing in theater, when a friend’s parents took us to see it. At the time, I slept in the top bunk with my sister in the bottom bunk, and I had nightmares of ET extending his neck to peek at me for something like two weeks afterwards. I also thought that Elliott’s dark eyes were really freaky, especially when he opened them really wide (he does that constantly, to show astonishment/surprise, see the “pull my finger” pic in the post). About ten years later I watched the movie on either TV or VHS, and I remember thinking that it was very sweet.

      My son, who’s 13, liked the movie when we watched it about a week ago. I suspect that for some kids who’re more used to, say, Marvel movies, the pace’s a bit too slow. But my son said he liked 2001: A Space Odyssey when we watched it last fall, so make of that what you will…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Your son liking “2001: A Space Odyssey” sounds like you’ve raised him well. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. firemandk says:

    Oh, for this one you made me change my avatar ! 30 years ago I am tootling down the street in my 1969 Camaro when out of the corner of my eye I spy a life-size E.T. toy box / Clothes hamper at the Church rummage sale and throw on the binders and back up and 5 minutes later E.T. is having a ride in the back seat heading for the Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk ….. he has resided in my house ever since …fast forward to 2018 when then 3 year old son is at that oh so cute age when everything makes perfect sense to him and confuses us to no end …the conversation went like this :
    Wyatt: Daddy, go up stairs and see PBS !
    Me: What? you can watch it down here!
    Wyatt: NOOO Daddy, I want to see PBS!!!!
    Me : But Wyatt, it’s on the tv here right now !
    Wyatt: NO DADDY YOU DON’T KNOW!!!!!!
    Me: Okay well go upstairs and see PBS ……..

    well, PBS was E.T. , and I took three oh so cute pictures of which I just changed my avatar too one of them ……. Here’s the funny thing: Wyatt’s bedroom is now in the loft : E.T. is banished to the rear where my computer room is …at 6 , Wyatt is scared of E.T. ! Go figure, he has been in his life since we came back from the Philippines when he was 3 months old . There’s a secret Wyatt doesn’t know: all that halloween candy and left over Easter stuff is in E.T. as I write this ….lol. Maybe some day he will make friends with E.T. again , till then , E.T. has “the stash” and Wyatt still does not know where I keep pulling M&M’s out of………

    I saw it with a whole line of Male and female friends and I think we all had some tears when he was dying…… I guess we were just softies back then , but hey, I cried at Old Yeller when I was 6 , so what can I say !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It says you and your friends are compassionate. Nothing wrong with that at all. 😉

      And yes, I’m hearing from a few people who were younger than I was (isn’t everyone? Haha) when they saw ET, and most were frightened by him then. Very interesting.

      Maybe it’s something about ETs wrinkled skin, or eerie voice, or just the fact that he was some kids’ first cinematic/video brush with death at a young age…?

      It seems that Gertie’s reaction to the film speaks for many of that age at that time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. scifimike70 says:

    2022 is a 40th Anniversary for many timeless sci-fi films: Blade Runner, Tron, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and The Thing. But E.T. can still shine best now as it could back in 1982. Especially for its most enlightening message about family and friendship. The sci-fi universe that Spielberg’s share of creativity has given us will always be blessed by E.T. Its short film Christmas sequel is a blessing too. Happy 40th, E.T. 💓

    Liked by 2 people

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