E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Directed by Steven Spielberg. With Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, C. Thomas Howell, Drew Barrymore and Robert McNaughton.
I don’t recall a mainstream director who mines the same depths of fear, love and joy of imagination across age categories, like Steven Spielberg. He’s a film maker who has the rare ability to make an adult feel like a child again, while simultaneously exploring coming-of-age themes that prepare kids for responsibility and loss. All this while making films that wildly entertain, films that seep into the public consciousness to become part of the culture. E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial is perhaps, his best example of all of the above.
Released in 1982, the film was a smash. So much so, that it surpassed Star Wars as the highest grossing release of all-time. The story is about an alien stranded on Earth, who is taken in, and looked after by Elliot (Henry Thomas), and his brother and sister. Although it achieved phenomenal success, it’s unlike so many ‘tent-pole’ blockbusters of the modern era, in that it has a purity, and feels more low-key and personal. Essentially, Spielberg is after our hearts. Of course, he succeeds brilliantly, but that said, he does a fine job of breaking our hearts before attempting to put them back together.
Although E.T. is an experience to be enjoyed by all the family, it’s also one that features a huge portion of sadness and melancholy. Spielberg’s ability to capture the homely, cluttered buzz of American suburban family life, echoed through much of his work in the ’70’s and ’80’s. It’s evident here, yet it’s tinged with sadness and regret, as a single-parent (Dee Wallace) struggles to balance a busy home and work schedule, as the backdrop to the central narrative.
Not only does Spielberg understand how to entertain children, he also has a knack for being able to direct them. Both Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore are excellent in their roles, evoking a strongly felt sense of wonder as they react and adapt to E.T.
With composer John Williams’ soul-stirring main theme, atmospheric cinematography by Allen Daviau and Spielberg’s unique sprinkling of magic, E.T. is a memorable, landmark film. For younger viewers, it’s likely to upset as much as it uplifts, but the difference in light and shade only contribute to its enduring power. 5/5