I have a lot of emotional ties to E.T. It remains one of my favorite movies ever made – and it has the distinct honor of being the first movie I ever saw in the theatre. I was 6 years old when it came out, and I seem to remember seeing it at least twice while it was playing. E.T. represents a lot of first for me: I believe it’s probably the foundation from where my love of film began. It’s also the first film as a kid where I remember feeling extreme emotion while watching. I remember crying at parts watching it. Yeah, E.T. is a big one for me. Always will be.
I hadn’t seen it in its entirety in about 14 years I’d say. In 2002, a commemorative DVD was released for its 20th anniversary and I immediately snatched it. I probably watched it then but never since. Until today. I wondered if it still held the same emotional impact as it did back in 1982, or even 2002.
I’m happy to say that it has. It still holds up and it’s still just as magical as it was back when it was released.
I am struck by a few things about it, but mostly how the film itself is propelled by the action of all of the children in the film. Every single one of the young cast move the story with their choice to be proactive, to be completely of themselves without compromise and, with a few exceptions, outsmart and outwit all of the adults.
I think this is probably why it struck such a nerve in me as a kid. Watching it now in 2014, I can’t think of another film where all of the kids are so multi-faceted and so brutally honest. Steven Spielberg, as his career would go on, would show that he has a real knack for working with child actors. His continuing themes that he likes to explore in his films include family and the strength that lies in keeping said family together. E.T. would be the first film where he would explore this theme.
You have Elliott, Michael and Gertie: three children living with their single mother, whose father has recently left them. They are all reeling from this, and within each of their performances, their raw emotional connection to their loss is so palpable and real. Elliott, our hero of the film, is probably the one with the largest void, so of course once he meets our new alien friend, his relationship with him would fill that void that was clearly vacated by his missing father.
But, you know the story, I don’t need to rehash it. I only mention this now because watching the film over 30 years later since its release, those themes are still ones that are as pertinent and strong as ever. Which is why the film hasn’t aged.
John Williams’s score still to this day makes my heart swell. That famous overture of his once the bikes take off into the sky, still makes my heart fall into my mouth, and tears well up in my eyes. His score is also just as magical in this film. It’s beautiful, it’s majestic and it’s perfect. To this day, if you heard that piece of music, you can easily identify exactly where it came from.
Can I discuss Drew Barrymore for a second? She is so damn cute and so so vulnerable in this. She steals every single scene she’s in. I am convinced that she is not acting in this film at all but rather feeling everything so strongly in those moments. You can’t act that – that’s the reason why her part is so perfect. She may be a child, but her reactions to every beat in this film are relatable for pretty much anyone – young or old.
I was also struck by Robert MacNaugton as well who plays Michael. There’s definitely a layer in his acting that I clearly would not have seen as a 6 year old watching the film. Caught between being a young teenager, and being “the man of the house” since his father’s departure, he really infuses a lot of emotion in his moments where he doesn’t speak but just gives a look. Really amazing.
The other thing that was a great wink to the film climate when E.T. had come out were two obvious references to Star Wars: one where Elliott is explaining to E.T the names of all of his toy figurines in his room (“That’s Lando Calrissian”), and the other when on Halloween, E.T. (disguised as Gertie. disguised as a ghost) sees a kid dressed as Yoda and says “home!” – funny. And even funnier in this day and age knowing how embedded Star Wars is amongst general pop culture.
I may have been the same age as Gertie when the film came out, but everyone connects with Elliott, and Henry Thomas’s every movement: his levity, his tears, his laughter…every SINGLE moment he gives to this character remains so unacted as well. It’s really remarkable watching.
There’s a real dearth of films for young people these days. You watch E.T. and you can see all of the layers that are taking place with each of the kids. Those roles don’t really exist anymore in the current state of cinema. It’s really too bad if you think about it. I think current filmmakers wanting to write films for young actors could take a lesson from E.T.
You never forget the films that really were the ones that made you stop in your tracks, and struck a nerve in your heart. E.T. is that for me. I’m so glad I rewatched it again. I wondered if TWTB clamored Spielberg asking him to make a sequel. I am happy that he never caved to that pressure, because I think a part of my soul would have died if he had done so.