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Monday, April 30, 2012



"I'll be right here."
-- E.T.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is a 1982 sci-fi film directed by Steven Spielberg that went on to win four Academy Awards. The film follows the story of small, friendly alien who is unintentionally left on Earth when his fellow aliens are forced to escape during a foraging expedition. The alien stumbles upon a house where he meets a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas). Although initially frightened, Elliott elects to bring the alien into the family home, hiding him inside his bedroom closet to keep him safe. He affectionately names the creature "E.T.," and he soon introduces the creature to his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and his younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore). Together, they do their best to hide E.T. from their mother Mary (Dee Wallace), but it becomes increasingly clear that E.T. simply wants to find his way home. E.T. and Elliott band together to create a communicating device that will send a signal into space in the hopes that E.T.'s ship may hear it and come to his rescue. However, a crew of government agents led by a man only referred to as Keys (Peter Coyote) learns of E.T's existence and moves into position to capture him for themselves.

I have to say that it's going to be difficult to write a review for a film so universally beloved as E.T. The film itself will turn thirty this year, and in that span of time, I'm sure millions, if not billions, of people have had the opportunity to watch it. It's a timeless tale about love and friendship, and even today, it still manages to find its way into the hearts of so many viewers. It had been quite a while since I'd had the opportunity to see the film in its entirety, but I was able to do just that yesterday, so here we go with my review.

I think we first have to take a look at the cinematic landscape in which E.T. was initially released. In the five years prior to E.T.'s release, the sci-fi world had seen the likes of 1977's Star Wars, 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1979's Alien and 1980's The Empire Strikes Back. To release a science-fiction film in the late-1970s or early 1980s was to have it compared to a slew of fantastic fare. At the same time, we need to look at the exploding Spielberg career. In 1975, he released Jaws, which he followed with Close Encounters. Then, in 1981, he released Raiders of the Lost Ark. With three preceding films like that, it was going to be tough to create something just as good. And still, Spielberg still managed to craft something truly brilliant with E.T.

Let's start with the film's screenplay, shall we? At it's base, it's a very simple story. A lost alien enlists the help of a young boy to aid him in getting home, and the two develop a beautiful friendship along the way. That's essentially the plotline in a nutshell. Sure, there are a few twists and turns here and there, but at the end of the day, that's the basics of what we're getting. Where E.T.'s screenplay excels is in its point of view. The film has a very childlike angle, placing the tale of first contact into the mind of a child. For the first two-thirds of the film, the adult perspective is essentially removed from the film - a feat achieved by denying the audience a view of any adult's face, save for Mary's. The story is strictly told from the child's perspective, and screenwriter Melissa Mathison didn't stop there. She managed to weave three different levels of childlike interaction into the film. We get the boyhood perspective from Elliott, the young girl's perspective from Gertie and the teenage perspective from Michael. Just seeing the difference in their reactions to E.T. is enough to make a quality film, but the interaction between the four characters is so brilliantly-crafted that it has to be applauded.

Fortunately, we're getting a well-cast group of actors to bring all these characters to life. As a younger movie-watcher, I had never noticed the merits of the acting in the film. It had always been about E.T. for me, but after re-watching it now, I have to say that the cast does a marvelous job. A lot of credit has to be given to Thomas, who plays the film's emotional lead. His relationship with E.T. is so genuine, and that couldn't have been an easy feat to achieve considering the puppetry used to bring the creature to life. And what a puppet it is! Even thirty years later, one can still marvel at how intricate and beautiful E.T. must have been to moviegoers in 1982. (Note: When the film was re-released in 2002 for the twentieth anniversary, some of the E.T. scenes had been reworked with CGI, but if you're looking for the better version, I still think the original 1982 flick is the way to go. Yes, the CGI brought forth a little bit more emotion for the E.T. character, but it just seemed - and still seems - a little out of place with the film.) I also have to give credit to the young Barrymore, who provides quite the comedic presence throughout the film. The rest of the cast fills out nicely, and as I said before, it's much better than I remember.

I also have to take a moment to give credit to John Williams, who composed one of this best scores for E.T. By this time, Williams had become Spielberg's go-to guy, and this was the second Spielberg film that Williams composed that nabbed him an Oscar for Best Score. Although I'm not sure whether it's his best score, I think that E.T. has to rank as one of Williams' most beautiful. Here's a snippet for your listening pleasure:

At the end of the day, E.T. is one of the most beloved films ever to grace the silver screen. As with Williams' score, I'm not sure I'm ready to crown this film as Spielberg's best; however, I certainly think it has the most heart out of any of his films to date. There's something timeless about this tale that keeps audiences rushing back to see it. E.T. is beautiful in its simplicity, and it tells a tale of friendship and love with which anyone can relate. It has rightfully earned its place amongst the best films ever created, and it has every right to remain on that pedestal.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
Should You Watch It? Yes

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