#50 E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

(1982, Steven Spielberg)

“E.T. phone home”

Yes, it’s Spielberg time again. After our last visit to the work of everyone’s favourite popular director was a rather depressing affair, let’s take a look at something more light-hearted.

E.T. is the antidote to the numerous alien invasion movies floating around out there. Instead of an evil race of monsters, this movie provides a cuddly, likeable alien that befriends a small child. It’s essentially a kids’ movie, but don’t let that put you off, since this is what kids’ movies should be like.

As you may already know, E.T. is about a young boy named Elliot who encounters a strange being in his garden shed. It turns out to be an alien from another planet, stranded here accidentally when his people had to take off in a hurry. He quickly becomes friends with the alien, but he tries to keep it a secret from all the adults around him, particularly as a number of shady government agents are hanging around looking for it. Now Elliot has to help E.T. find his way back home again.

As I said, this is basically what all kids’ movies need to be like, but sadly aren’t. The story is simple, but not stupid. The characterisations are childish but not irritatingly silly. The tone is sweet without being saccharine. Spielberg did everything right here. It’s a movie that will enchant children, but will also hook in the adults in the room too, which is exactly how a good kids’ movie should work.

There are a couple of reasons as to why it works. First of all, the special effects wizards did a fantastic job on E.T. himself. He is adorable. Even when we vaguely see the silhouettes of his people at the start of the movie, they’re likeable. Their movements are cute, and their noises are cute. It seems impossible for any of these creatures to be menacing. And because of this, we like him, and we connect with his plight.

The second reason it works is that Henry Thomas is a fantastic actor. Child actors are very hit and miss most of the time, but Thomas is flawless. He not only plays the wonder of meeting E.T. well, he also manages to pull off the more serious, adult issues he faces successfully, particularly in his torment over his parents’ recent divorce. It’s a minor plot point, but the divorce aspect really rounds out Elliot’s character, and he acts appropriately. In fact, not once is he made to spout off lines that no real kid would actually say, as is far too often the case in other family movies.

It’s hard to criticise E.T. in any real way. It’s an adorable family film with a well-scripted story and a tear-jerking final act. If I must level criticism (and I must), it’s only really with the 20th Anniversary version I watched for the purposes of this review, where a few shots added in a CGI E.T. in place of the puppet. And yet, the added CGI effects looked somehow worse than the original puppet, despite it being supposedly an advancement in film-making. Far too often the CGI would look blatantly fake, where an awkward puppet actually contributed to E.T.’s endearing nature as he bumbled around looking a bit strange. However, this is easily avoided by not watching the 20th anniversary edition (which I wish I’d realised my copy was beforehand).

Obviously, I love E.T. It’s the perfect family movie, and one of the best kid-friendly movies ever made. If you have kids, sit down with them and watch it. If you don’t, watch it anyway and pretend you’re a child. That works too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eye…

Starring Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore & Henry Thomas
Written by Melissa Mathison
Produced by Steven Spielberg & Kathleen Kennedy
Music score by John Williams
Cinematography by Allen Daviau
Edited by Carol Littleton

Favourite Scene: E.T. gets drunk. Could have been unbearably silly, became brilliantly funny and endearing.
Scene That Bugged Me: Elliot shows E.T. all of his Star Wars toys. Yes, Spielberg, you’re friends with George Lucas, you don’t need to keep pointing this out with an endless stream of Star Wars references.

Watch it if: You need to entertain your kids but secretly want to entertain yourself too
Avoid it if: You like your alien visitors to be more violent and murderous

Originally posted on Blogspot Thursday 26 January 2012

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Posted on April 12, 2012, in 1980s, Family. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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