E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)


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.