Tuesday, December 4

ET the Extra-Terrestrial: Favorite Movie #20

1982 Fantasy Comedy Drama
From Universal Studios
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Henry Thomas
Dee Wallace
Peter Coyote
Drew Barrymore
Robert MacNaughton

If I had seen this film as a child rather than as an adult, it might be my #1 favorite film rather than #20 in my continuing list of my top 50 favorite films.  As children's films go, it doesn't get much better than ET.  Oddly, as much as I respect and admire Steven Spielberg and given that I have seen nearly every film he has ever made, this and Jaws are the only two of his films to fall under the banner of favorites.

It has been said that Spielberg originally thought of the E.T. character when he was a child.  Through his active imagination he was comforted after his parents divorced; it helped him cope with a loneliness.  In this brilliantly conceived masterpiece, a spaceship has landed in a California forest allowing alien botanists to collect plants.  Mistakenly one of them is left behind.  It hides in a shed on the property of a single mother and her three children.  Her lonely middle child, Elliott, discovers the creature and they begin a loving friendship.

In trying to keep E.T.'s presence a secret from Elliott's ditsy mother and government officials who know E.T. is somewhere in the vicinity, Elliott and his sibs provide light-hearted moments including dressing up E.T. and it getting drunk on beer and hiding among the stuffed animals.  The youngest child Gertie screams and screams when she first sees the creature, providing some genuine out-loud laughter.  Amidst all the mirth, however, are some powerful lessons, especially for young and not-so-young alike, on love and friendship and loyalty and trust and tolerance.  I was so touched so many times that throughout the film I was on the verge of crying.  It would go away, only to return time and time again.

The enterprising E.T. is able to craft a communications system together from various items around the home and along with Elliott they journey to an open field to send a signal to the home planet.  It works but after Elliott awakens from a night in the field, he finds E.T. at water's edge near death.

At the same time the government folks, a large ominous group, invades the home and discovers E.T. in a bad way.  They put him in a sterile tent with Elliott nearby but it appears as if E.T. has died.  When Elliott discovers E.T. has not died but has actually rallied, he determines to take him to the spaceship that is coming.

When Elliott's brother (Michael to you but Penis Breath to Elliott) gets behind the wheel of the van carrying both E.T. and Elliott, so begins one of the most exciting and touching finales in screen history.  There is much humor in the getaway as Elliott dislodges the plastic chute trailing the van and containing two scientists trying to get to Elliott.

You need a chase scene in your movies?  E.T. has one of the best as the van comes to a stop and the brothers and E.T. join three friends on bicycles to get E.T. to the spaceship.  They are chased by countless cars, all the while a smile on my face and my heart skipping a few beats.  As they are about to be nabbed by cops on the street, E.T.'s telekinesis lifts the boys and their bikes into the skies for the final leg of the trip.

(An interesting side note is that in the original version, those waiting cops were holding guns but when E.T.'s 20th anniversary version came out, those guns had been replaced with walkie-talkies.)

For the film's final scenes, the tears start to fall (which I mentioned in an earlier post, Crying at the Movies).  It's more likely I would win the lotto than not cry at the ending of E.T., despite all the times I have seen it.  We're not talking tears just welling up in my eyes... we're talking running down my cheeks.  E.T. tells Gertie to be good and he thanks Michael.  But it's, of course, when Elliott approaches him that I lose it.  "Come," E.T. says to Elliott.  "Stay," Elliott replies.  Well, here, see for yourself...

Saying goodbye to a loving friend is never easy.  But I cannot imagine it any sadder than it was for a little boy and his very special buddy.

I gotta give a shout-out to four principals of this film.  First, of course, to that master architect of imagination, Spielberg, who brought a grandeur to a children's classic that will endure for as long as there are movies.  I don't know if the film will be the one for which he will be most remembered, but it's unquestionably in the top three.

I've seen some astonishing performances in my day from child actors but Henry Thomas is right up there.  He lights up the screen with his beautiful little face, so full of love and mischief, and he speaks the words as though he thought them up himself.  He is quite simply dazzling as Elliott.

To single out this musical score from all the others John Williams has done seems wrong but I confess it is my favorite of all he has done.  It is majestic and triumphant during the chase scenes and as Elliott and E.T. say goodbye.

Finally to Carlo Rambaldi for creating the little alien.  At first I was a little put off by his homeliness, but E.T. grew on me and has continued to do so year after year, viewing after viewing.  Bravo to Mr. Rambaldi who died last summer.  A great talent.

Having just finished watching E.T. for the umpteenth time, there is no doubt that this is a timeless children's classic.  It wends its way into a permanent spot in one's heart.  That august body, the American Film Institute, declared E.T. the 24th greatest American film of all-time.  It is a sorrow that it was beaten out by Gandhi for Oscar's best picture.  Not that it was anything less than a fine film, but really, c'mon now.  

Review of Anna Karenina

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait until Cooper is old enough to watch this with me. :o)