Wednesday, October 23, 2019

CANON OF FILM: E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL


E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)

Director: Steven Speilberg
Screenplay: Melissa Mathieson



Roger Ebert wrote a particularly memorable Great Movie review of Steven Spielberg's "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,"; he wrote it in the form of a letter to his two grandchildren, then ages four and seven, both of whom had watched the film for the first time, and he recorded their observations. That's actually really clever; he does get into other aspects of the movie, but "E.T...." for all-intensive purposes is a movie about kids and for kids. As an adult, even as a huge Spielberg fan, I honestly never think much of "E.T....".  My memories of the film are almost all as a kid myself. 

Being a little kid in the late eighties and early nineties meant that you watched your favorite films on videotape, all, day, long. Thank god my family owned a video store, so I was loaded as a kid. But, as all little kids do, we go back to our old favorites. Mickey and Donald, Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Tweety… For full-length features, we had the Disney Classics. My favorite was “The Lady and the Tramp,” which I watched for the music and the famous spaghetti scene. I watched “101 Dalmatians” as well for Cruella De Vil. I had a copy of “Sleeping Beauty,” although I never watched it, the fight with the dragon was always too scary for me. (Also, it isn't any good to begin with; come at me!) I watched “Ruthless People,” which is by no means a Disney film, it’s a comedy with Danny DeVito and Bette Midler where she is kidnapped by people wearing Donald Duck masks, and DeVito, her husband, couldn’t be happier that she’s kidnapped. I watched that film a lot back then because I thought the Donald Duck masks were funny, although it does actually still hold up pretty well. 

I bring this up because I also watched “E.T....” quite a lot as a kid. I remember the top of the videotape, the part you pull down to check to see if the tape was tangled up, was green. That was different. It was also the only movie I watched which I didn’t have a box for, and I just used a clear plastic box for it, so it didn’t exactly stand out visually in my collection of animated films, and “Ruthless People.” But for the life of me, I can’t remember exactly what drew me so well to “E.T.” to where I’d watch it day in and day out hour upon hour. I have similar thoughts in regard to “The Wizard of Oz.” Yet, these are the films I hold in the highest esteem from my childhood. 

I don't know what separates those two, but I think it’s because as kids, there were certain parts of all the other videos we had that we liked, and were immediately attracted to. With “E.T.” and in a lesser way, “The Wizard of Oz,” it was the first time as kids we realize that it’s not the funny masks or the part where Daffy Duck sees the treasure and proclaims, “It’s mine, you understand, mine, mine, mine! Down, Down, Down! Go! Go! Go!” but the first time we realize that the film as a whole, watching it in it’s entirety for the journey, and the experience is what we watched the film for. 

Yet, I do think quite a bit about "The Wizard of Oz" as an adult; I don't honestly think much about "E.T....". I mean, what I do think of it, is mostly positive. I mean, I guess we all negatively reacted to Spielberg's re-cut version he released for the film's 20th Anniversary, which edited out some details, changed or altered a few lines and added some special effects details to E.T. himself, to make him be more visual of a facial character. Most were not in favor of these changes, and while I do think it's the filmmaker's perogative, I do tend to agree. One of the details about E.T. was how mysterious he is, and I think making him seem more life-like, (Or, I guess alien) in hindsight, just feels wrong. 

There's also some of the more swarmy people out there who will bring up that "E.T...." shared several similarities with an unproduced Satayjit Ray script called "The Alien" that was apparently floating around Hollywood for awhile. (Shrugs) They're probably right, but even Ray didn't care enough about it to sue or anything, and it easily could've been mostly coincidental for all we know, and you know what, a great movie is a great movie no matter how it originally came about.  

And "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" is a great movie. I think at times, it's just so obviously a great movie that it's hard to actually explain why. Well,- not really, I guess it's just really Spielberg to explain why it's such a great movie. Remember, we were still pretty new to his motifs in 1982, so I think it probably feels fresher to a kid, or to us back then, but nowadays, the lonely childlike protagonist, especially one with a secret and a broken home, that's fairly common for Spielberg nowadays, And of course, it's equally reminiscent of his own youth and background) but prior to that, it was not a field he had mined out quite yet. He was also still a fairly young director who still had recall of his emotions and feelings of his recent. To some degree he still has it, it's why while other contemporaries of his seem-to-have mixed frustrations at best at the popularity of comic book movies these days (And for some reason we seem to care about that), Spielberg is more willing to dive into the youth culture even today with stuff like "Ready Player One". 

Trying to figure out exactly how to describe the movie, the story or the plot. Part of it is just that it's almost unnecessary, I assume most of us know it pretty well. E.T., is a little alien, who's been accidentally left on Earth. He's discovered by a little kid, Elliott (Henry Thomas) who instinctively knows that he must somehow hide and protect E.T., until they can use their skills and the tools available tohelp E.T. find a way home. 

From here on, the rest of the review will basically be just descriptions of favorite scenes. There's some famous ones, like the the Reece’s Pieces that always got a laugh out of me, and of course the bicycles flying across the sun, escaping from the police. I know where they’re trick-or-treating and they fly across the moon is great too, it's the iconic image of Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment now, and of course it should be. That really is the great iconic Spielberg shot and moment. A little boy and an alien, flying their bicycle across the moon. Spielberg's greatest skill is that he is able to take the classical ideas of cinema and then combine them with the modern technical tools of today.  It really represents the youthful imaginative spirit and the pure sophistication of Spielberg, all in one single idea. 

Of course, the ending always brings even the toughest old men to tears, where we see E.T. pointing to Elliott’s heart proclaiming, “I’ll be right here,” and the ending with the spaceship making a rainbow in the night sky, yes a blatant Biblical reference, but nobody cares about that part of it when they’re watching it. Of course, that scene would mean absolutely nothing without everything that came before it. 

Ebert also noted that his grandson could recognize when we were watching something through E.T.’s vision. I never noticed it before, but most of the film is either through E.T.’s point-of-view, or Elliott’s point-of-view. He hit the nail right on the head there; it's not necessarily the most difficult choice to make for this film, but it is the right choice, and I do believe that only the right filmmaker could do that this well. It works because Spielberg can best capture that idea of film; its how we saw the adventure in it, the camera was showing the situation the way we, as little kids, would view the situation. Little kids eyes are brand new, and we’re still learning how to use them, and E.T.’s in a similar position. 

My favorite scene expresses this the best too, it's when Elliott's sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) screams out the first time she saw E.T.. It's an iconic scene, but I love it because E.T. screams out in fear and shock as well. He was Just as afraid and curious as we are as both of them discovered the new stimuli that neither of them has seen before. 




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