The Chronological Spielberg: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

et I don’t think there’s a person my age who doesn’t have some pretty strong feelings about E.T. I was born the year after this movie came out, so it always existed in my brain. Back in my day movies tended to live on in my mind morso because of regular viewings on cable instead of tape rentals. But, I do have two very distinct memories of watching this movie. The first time, I was pretty young, maybe five or six, possibly seven. It was one of the few childhood Christmases I remember where my aunt, uncle and cousins who lived in Indianapolis all came and stayed at our house. Grandma also came in from Cleveland, so her whole family was in one house. That might have been the Christmas I got my Nintendo, but I know that we all sat down together, dimmed the lights and watched E.T. on VHS. That’s a great memory that still lives on in my mind.

The other important viewing of E.T. came in 2002 when the film was re-released to theaters with some extra scenes and all the guns edited out. I was 18 or 19 at the time and had been dating my future wife since early November of 2001, but since neither of us had a car or much money, we tended to just hang out around campus or maybe go out for some coffee. Eventually we decided that we should probably go out an official date, so we hit up one of the local Mexican places, caught the movie at the local, privately owned movie theater and got coffee at The Mean Bean. It was a wonderful date and I think we both really enjoyed watching the movie again.

Even with those two very fond memories, E.T. isn’t the kind of movie I purposefully revisited on a regular basis. I’d see bits and pieces of it on TV and I bought the DVD release of the 20th Anniversary when it came out, but I don’t believe I’ve seen that movie again since that 2002 viewing. The film lives in my brain in a weird, incomplete space where I have pretty solid memories of E.T. appearing, the frog scene and the bike stuff leading up to the end, but not all the doctor and sciencey stuff. I think it bums me out, so I forget it.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the deal with the movie if you’re unfamiliar or don’t remember too much. The film opens with a spaceship landing in the forest. We don’t know why they’re there, but they seem to just be looking around and taking samples. Some folks show up and scare the aliens away, but one of their own gets left behind. That alien, eventually dubbed E.T., finds his way to a house inhabited by Elliot, his older brother Michael, his younger sister Gertie and his recently divorced/separated mother Mary. Elliot and E.T. form a bond as the two become good friends and also form an empathic bond. We soon discover that E.T.’s not doing so great and wants to contact his people, so Elliot, Michael and their friends do what they can to save their new, weird friend.

The beauty of the film is its emotional heart. Every member of Elliot’s family has an emotional center that seems related to the others, but different. Mary loves her children, but also has a broken heart from her husband’s leaving with another woman. Michael is the only one who understands this and wants to protect her. He actually speaks a line that’s kind of the heartstone of the film early on to Elliot when he says something like, “Why don’t you grow up and start thinking of other people for a change,” to Elliot. Gertie does this in a more child-like fashion while Elliot’s entire arc revolves around the idea. That’s really what this film is about: empathy in all forms.

On a quick side note, I just realized something really great about this movie: the older brother isn’t a total jerk. Isn’t that how most of these 80s movies go? There’s always a jerky older brother who gives his brother crap and the two don’t even seen to be related. I don’t have any siblings and I understand that they don’t always get along, but it seems like, especially in movies like these from this time period, that dynamic was never more complicated than “the older brother’s a jerk.” Michael has a lot of depth and it shows in the film. I love the part where he’s so excited to hear about E.T. being okay that he jumps up in excitement and bangs his head on the ceiling. That’s a great bit.

And the movie is jam packed with great bits. I was especially blown away by the first 10 to 15 minutes of this movie which all seemed like a big homage to Spielberg’s previous hits. Of course you start off with a spaceship (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) that leads into the shadowy introduction of the film’s hero (Raiders Of The Lost Ark) and also something of a chase scene where you don’t really get a good look at the pursuers (Jaws). In fact, I didn’t realize this until I was looking through the film’s IMDb Trivia Page, but you don’t really see an adult’s face aside from Mary’s until the scientists show up. And guess who the villains are? Yup, adults. Spielberg might have stumbled upon the idea of keeping the shark hidden in Jaws because of technical difficulties, but he took that idea and used it in his other films.

Speaking of film connections, E.T. is a really interesting companion piece to Close Encounters because of the similarity of content but looked at from different angles. They’re both about people dealing with the reality of aliens but in very different ways. While Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy practically loses his sanity trying to get to the aliens, which doesn’t happen until the end of the film, Elliot finds his right away and goes from there. Another interesting bit of info I came upon while reading the Trivia page is that E.T. started as more of a horror movie where a family is terrorized by alien creatures. He went the nicer route and wound up using the nefarious elements for Poltergeist which he produced for Tobe Hooper to direct, but the two movies kind of work together as different sides of the same coin. Maybe I’ll give that movie another watch and see how they compare while E.T.‘s still in mind.

Aside from that, I’m going to do my best to get to the next Spielberg film in a more timely fashion. I’m going to watch at least Spielberg’s part of The Twilight Zone movie which I don’t always enjoy watching because I’m constantly comparing every frame to the original episodes in my brain. From there it’s on to my personal favorite Indiana Jones movie, Temple Of Doom. After that, I think I’m going to hit up the two episodes of Amazing Stories that he directed (“Ghost Train” and “The Mission”) before moving on to two movies I’ve never seen: The Color Purple and Empire Of The Sun. Should be a fun ride!

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