Monday, October 10, 2011
E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL
(June 1982, U.S.)
Anyone currently 35 years or older can probably look back on their childhood and find it difficult to remember a time when E.T. was not part of our popular culture. Seriously, take a moment and recall not only the film itself, but all that merchandising, the Reese's Pieces, the great flying theme by John Williams, that record with Michael Jackson, that really bad home video game from Atari, the theme park ride(s), and of course, the immortal line, "E.T. phone home." Yes, E.T. was more than just a blockbuster movie during a summer that also gave us the third ROCKY and second STAR TREK film, but a true pop culture icon of the 1980s. And despite the fact that the alien himself resembled nothing more than a sqashy-looking slug, the whole world found him irresistably cute, nonetheless. So did I.
Now while I can't claim that E.T. is my favorite Steven Spielberg film (that honor belongs to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), I can claim that almost no other family film has ever put such a consistent smile on my face while I'm watching it as this has, and like many other fans, my smile easily turns to sadness during that classic goodbye sequence at the end when E.T. is going home. But in writing this post, I'd like to make an attempt to get past the general "feel good" family feeling of the film and see if there aren't more serious themes behind the story of E.T. It's a true celebration of one's childhood, yes, but even childhood has its many obstacles. Any Spielberg fan probably knows that the separation of Elliot's parents deeply reflects the divorce of Spielberg's own parents when he was a young boy. But consider, for a moment, who E.T. represents to Elliot beyond the obvious facade of friendship - is E.T. not truly a surrogate father figure to Elliot more than anything else? His little sister Gertie is still but a baby and his older brother Michael comes off as more of an immature, uncertain goofball more than a brotherly mentor. E.T., while lost and confused on our planet Earth, is, in my opinion, the symbol of the smarter, wiser adult that a growing child needs to bond to during a fragile time of questions and curiousity. The father is gone (he's in Mexico with Sally), so E.T. seems the worthy replacement. And yet, at the same time, E.T.'s vulnerability gives Elliot the adult strength to help him and save his life at the crucial moments of the film when our own "evil" government invades our homes and our lives and tries to take from us what we treasure most - our comfort and safety.
This is truly a family film where we see the world through the eyes of children more than anything else. But consider, for a moment, the strong governmental character that actor Peter Coyote plays. A man with no name, he's dubbed simply as "keys" due to the jangling keys hanging from his pants. The question, I feel, is not so much who is he, but rather who WAS he? He says to Elliot in the film, "He came to me, too. I've been wishing for this since I was ten years-old." Was E.T. here before and did he discover "keys" as a young boy, as well? What sort of childhood must "keys" have been harboring having met and lost E.T. and then waited and waited for that miracle moment when E.T. might return to him? If all of this speculation is relevant, is it any wonder why "keys" would grow up to become a government official who spends his life seeking out extra terrestrial life? Makes you think that perhaps Elliot will inevitably grow up to be the same kind of man as "keys". It would certainly make sense.
Speilberg once said in an interview that E.T. is one of the two film he'd like to be rembered for the most. He'll very likely get what he wants. E.T. not only touched the world back in the 1980s when I was a teenager, but has continued to touch the hearts of generations since then. Stronger than the memory of seeing E.T. on screen for the first time myself is the memory I keep of showing E.T. to my little boy for the first time and watching his face light up with joy. And as the 2012 approaches, and with it the 30th anniversary of the film, I can only hope there there will be a special screen re-release engagment to celebrate. I'd like to take my son to see it.
Finally, I'd like to tell you about a man that I know named Steven (NOT Spielberg, but oh man, how I wish that were the case!). This man Steven was (and still is) the creator of undoubtedly the best fan-based web site of Steven Spielberg films out there called Speilbergfilms (look for it on Facebook). Now while I can't claim to know Steven personally, it became obvious over the years as a web fan that he not only seems not only the true authoritative fan on Spielberg and his work, but I also surmised that E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL is his favorite Spielberg film of all time. He's discussed it with great passion and has often spoke of hom much pride he's taken in watching the film with his kids. So it is to Steven that I dedicate this post. Thank you for giving THIS Spielberg fan, who thought he knew a lot about the great film maker, just a little bit extra insight.
And THANK YOU, Steven Spielberg for the true magic and joy you gave me and the rest of the world when you gave us the immortal E.T.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Elliot: "He's a man from outer space and we're taking him to his spaceship.'
Greg: " Well, can't he just beam up?"
Elliot: "This is REALITY, Greg."