Summer Movie Showdown: "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" Review


Summer Movie Showdown: "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" Review

-- Rating: PG
Length: 115 minutes
Release Date: June 11, 1982
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

"E.T. The Extraterrestrial" is a science/fiction fantasy film directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy. Veteran screenwriter Melissa Mathison wrote the original screenplay based on an idea from Spielberg. The film was shot on location in California during late 1981, generally in chronological order. Spielberg chose this approach to evoke convincing performances from the starring cast members, who were quite young at the time.

The film opens with alien botanists collecting plant samples in California. They flee from Earth when they are confronted by government agents, leaving one alien behind. The next scene shows 10-year-old Elliot (Henry Thomas) returning to his suburban home with a pizza. He notices the alien hiding in the tool shed, but the alien runs into the woods when Elliot discovers him. Elliot later lures the alien into his house with a trail of candy.
Elliot plays sick the next day so he can stay home with the alien. He shows the alien to his 16-year-old brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and his 5-year-old sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore). The alien shows that it has special powers by levitating some balls and bringing a dead flower back to life. Elliot begins to form a psychic bond with the alien, which causes Elliot to act drunk when the alien drinks beer. Elliot also kisses a girl (Erika Eleniak) that he likes when the alien watches a John Wayne movie.
The alien dubs himself "E.T." after he learns English by watching "Sesame Street" and begins building a communication device with a Speak & Spell toy. E. T. starts to get sick and Elliot begins referring to himself in the third person. Elliot and Michael place a sheet over E.T.'s head to make him look like a ghost on Halloween. They go into the forest, and E.T. sends a message with his makeshift communications device. E.T. disappears the next day, but Michael finds him, only to discover that both E.T. and Elliot are dying.

Government agents invade the house and place Elliot and E.T. under quarantine. Elliot gets better, but E.T. appears to die. E.T. comes back to life and says that his people are returning to rescue him. Michael and Elliot steal a van and take E.T. into the forest after they evade the authorities. E.T.'s spaceship arrives and leaves with E.T. as the rest of the group watches.
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was Spielberg's previous film in the science fiction/fantasy genre. "E.T." takes place in one town, giving it a much smaller scope than "Close Encounters." E.T. is also more intimate compared to the heroic feel of "Close Encounters," although both early films show many features that became constants in Spielberg's later work.

Children are the most effective communicators with the alien in "E.T." Elliot is an open, intelligent protagonist who respects all forms of life. Spielberg intentionally decides not to include Elliot's father in the household, since a strong male presence would have disrupted the relationship between Elliot and E.T. Elliot's mother (Dee Wallace) plays a minor role in the film and is generally unaware of E.T.'s presence. The absence of an adult male in the family also eliminates any suggestion of sex in this children's film.

The aliens in "Close Encounters" and "E.T." choose to contact humans in the United States. They primarily interact with middle-class families who have houses stuffed with modern gadgets. This backdrop of ordinary culture contrasts sharply with the theme of interstellar exploration. The adults in both films have become hardened by their jobs and are typically obtuse in their reactions to the aliens. A doctor in "E.T." represents the sole exception to this general rule.

Communication with the aliens in "E.T." is ultimately based on the children's openness instead of the adults' grim intellect. The film relegates the intelligence normally associated with adults to the aliens, which is emphasized by their superior technology. The film makes this change in social dynamic credible by focusing on the lead actors, all of whom are children.

E.T. is a charming film that takes joy in the victories of the children. The central character in the film is E.T. as much as it is Elliot, which was made possible by Carlo Rambaldi's clever creature design. John Williams composed a sweeping score, while Mathison's script provided authentic dialogue between the young actors in "E.T."

Rating: 4 out of 5