E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Melissa Mathison

Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote

This is one of those movies that, in a way, gave impetus to the idea for this blog. I’m not exactly sure how I got to be 25 years old without ever seeing this 1982 Steven Spielberg classic, but the fact that I did really seemed to upset people.

I talked with my parents on the phone recently, and they were adamant that we had watched this movie together as a family — but I don’t believe them. Or at least I wasn’t alive yet when the family watched it.

Anyway, seeing E.T. for the first time as an adult in 2017 admittedly does take away some of the magic. Some of — OK, a lot of — the child acting is grating, and the special effects obviously don’t cause the same jaw-dropping reactions they would have if I had watched the movie when I was younger.

If I had seen those kids on their bikes flying in front of the moon 15 years ago, my imagination would have run wild. I would have wanted to hop on my bicycle and zoom around the neighborhood as soon as the credits rolled. Watching it today, it’s hard not to just see the ridiculous use of green screen.

That said, Spielberg is a master at creating atmosphere, and the alien invading suburbia plot works so well in E.T. I especially like how the only adult showed in the first half of the movie is protagonist Elliott’s frustratingly clueless mother. All other adults — including the great villain-turned-hero “Mr. Keys” — are filmed from the waist down until the very end of the film.

So Spielberg creates this world that we experience from the child’s point of view, which is incredibly smart in making us believe this boy-alien relationship. It blocks out any encroaching “realness” of the outside world, and keeps the viewers — like the children — in a bubble.

There’s a scene in the middle of the movie that really stood out for being from an earlier time. Most people probably remember it because E.T. cracks open a few Coors and gets comically drunk while Elliott is away at school. But do you remember what Elliott was doing at school? He and his classmates are about to dissect frogs. But before they do this, they have to freaking chloroform live frogs in a jar.

Is this the way the world used to work? Did schools actually pass out live frogs and tell children, “OK, you take it from here.”

“They won’t feel anything,” the teacher tells the class as he instructs these 10-year-olds to kill a living creature. Elliot famously saves the day, and the result is a flurry of frogs hopping out of the windows.

Thirty-five years after its release, E.T. struggles to stay enjoyable in ways that other earlier Spielberg films (Jaws, Jurassic Park) don’t. I really don’t want to harp on the child actors too much, but Henry Thomas is just bad. Really bad. He can pull off amazement and wonder, but line delivery just isn’t his strong suit. I kept feeling like I wanted to escape his performance, but there was no way out. He’s in it nearly every scene — and it wore me down.

So, what’s the deal with this blog anyway?

I’ve always loved going to the movies. It’s the perfect excuse to get a huge, overpriced Coke and some popcorn layered with a liquid that they tell us is butter, but we all know was most likely concocted in some underground laboratory out in the desert.

Growing up in the internet age, however, I’ve put off watching movies more and more. My attention span in college decreased so much so that I couldn’t even read entire news articles online or in print — and I was a journalism major.

But two years ago I decided to jump back into movies with a mission — to see all of the Best Picture nominees before the Academy Awards aired. If you’re not familiar, that’s not always an easy feat. The nominees are released in January, and the award show typically airs in late February. So basically you get a little over a month to see up to 10 movies. For someone who isn’t always up to the “time commitment” of watching a film, this is asking a lot.

But Oscar leadup has been one of the real joys in my life the past couple of years. I’d race from work to the theater to catch a late showing of The Revenant or Hidden Figures. Sometimes I’d try to fit in two or three films in a weekend, and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of all of them with my friends. It was a way to connect with people, and in those months I learned about wonderful filmmakers like Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) and John Crowley (Brooklyn).

But even though I’m now familiarizing myself with the newer highlights of cinema, there are still so many films that I’ve missed. Some of them are blockbusters that any sane person should have seen as a child (E.T. … believe me, I know). While others are more recent movies that just slipped under my radar. Some of these I’ve wanted see for years but just never got around to making the time.

Well, now I’m making the time, damn it. I’m making my own constant film festival at Films I Should Have Seen By Now. And I invite any film buffs or casual movie fans to tag along.

I’m still not exactly sure precisely what this blog will contain, but I’m going to try not to make these strictly reviews. Each post will focus on one movie, and other than that I don’t really know what to promise. You’ll get some of my opinion, definitely, but I also want to show what I’ve learned from each movie.

So grab a seat, lather some butter goop on your popcorn and enjoy your day at the movies.