in ,

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Very few filmmakers become so culturally pervasive that they acquire their own descriptive adjective. Hitchcockian, Felliniesque, Lynchian: these terms will conjure up visons of the respected auteurs’ distinct artistic style, but Spielbergian can evoke as many negative associations as positive ones due to the love-hate relationship many critics have with the blockbuster director’s work. He has a tendency to lay the schmaltz on pretty thick, sometimes it works (Empire of the Sun) and sometimes it doesn’t (Always), but there’s no denying the man’s power over an audience and the enormous impact he’s had on pop culture. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was in the glory days of Spielberg’s creative streak (beginning in 1975 with Jaws, then Close Encounters of the Third Kind in ’77, and Raiders of the Lost Ark in ‘81), when audiences couldn’t get enough of what he was selling. This film is where he is at his most Spielbergian. All the trademark motifs are here: absent fathers, lens flares, oners (one to two minute long takes), simplistic plots, and expert-level emotional manipulation.

In honor of Spielberg’s attraction to “high concept” movies that can be explained in twenty-five words or less, here’s a succinct rundown of E.T. for the uninitiated: a childlike alien accidently left on Earth is discovered by a ten-year-old boy from a broken family, and the two form an emotionally symbiotic bond. E.T is a spiritual successor to Close Encounters; if Richard Dreyfuss had left his family (rather than just neglecting them) while obsessing over aliens, it would be the ultimate irony if his son developed such a close friendship with one.

While I’m glad the version streaming is the original, and not the 20th Anniversary Edition (bad authority figures pointing guns at kids was one of the best things about ’80s movies), the puppet does not hold up well. Young children won’t mind because of the great job each of the three lead actors does in reacting, relating, and responding to E.T., but older kids might think it cheesy and adults will be saddened by the loss of some of the magic. What ultimately makes it still worthwhile are the relatable characters and excellent filmmaking.

As an adult I ask: “Why the hell is there so much smoke everywhere; why is it so dark; where is that light coming from?;” but as a child I inherently realized that this is the way we would see these events, with a mystical/mythical quality. Kids are the focus here, not only in terms of the narrative, but in the film’s form itself. Optical point-of-view shots let us see exactly what E.T. is seeing, and overall the movie is dominated by low angles to help us feel as Elliot and his best friend do. Aside from the children’s mom, adults and the majority of their actions are scary at worst and uneasy at best; they are not necessarily intended to be evil, but told from the child’s perspective, they are not one of us and their true motivations are unclear. (The sequen when an unknown government agency takes over the family home is genuinely frightening for adults and children alike.) This is all part of the early genius of Spielberg; his methods are largely invisible and intended at the widest audience possible, so the quality of his art is often overlooked.

This movie will never really be for adults, as the years go on you’ll be able to relate to it less and less. E.T. exists in the realm of overactive imaginations and exhilaration at movie magic, and should still be required viewing for the kids.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings

Netflix Has Twice as Many U.S. Subscribers as Comcast

What’s New on Netflix and What’s Leaving in May 2016