This is a nice science fiction film about an unlikely friendship between a stranded alien and a young boy who doesn’t have many friends. E.T. is a very heart-warming story by Steven Spielberg. He came up with the idea for E.T. when he was developing an idea for a sequel to his recent hit Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The script that was eventually delivered to him revolved around a group of aliens that returned to attack earth. He thought the story was too dark, but was intrigued by one of the sub-plots where one of the aliens befriended a human child. This sequence reminded Spielberg of his own childhood. He had created an imaginary friend when his parents got divorced, and this friend also happened to be an alien. He loved the idea so much he went away with writer Melissa Mathison (Harrison Ford’s ex-wife) and the outcome of their meeting was the script for E.T.
The film follows Elliot (Henry Thomas), who stumbles upon a friendly alien hiding in his garden shed who he nicknames E.T. (extra-terrestrial). E.T. has been left stranded on earth when his spaceship had to leave suddenly after he and his friends were discovered by humans. E.T. makes a run for it and ends up in Elliot’s shed while his friends fly away. Elliot befriends the alien and they begin to share a bond like no other. Elliot even becomes intoxicated at school when E.T. stumbles upon some beer in their kitchen. It is never really explained why they have this connection, but it doesn’t have to be. The story flows so well, you just go with it. Eventually E.T. begins to miss his family and wishes to go home. Elliot must help his new friend contact his home and avoid being captured by the authorities until they can come and pick him up.
My only complaint about this film is the alien puppet. It is just not able to do all of the things Spielberg wants it to do. The movement is minimal, and the character is supposed to be quite mobile. It is very noticeable today, but I’m sure in 1982, the effects were very good.
I really enjoyed the story of Elliot befriending E.T. This is mostly down to Henry Thomas being able to believably interact with a puppet. He is really good as the young outcast who just wants a friend. Drew Barrymore also plays his younger sister, Gertie, she is a lot of fun as the mischievous young girl. It is sad that just a few years later she was an alcoholic.
This is a fun adventure film, and although the special effects don’t hold up to today’s standards, the solid young cast and a plot with a lot of heart make E.T. one of the better films of the 80s.
I recently read a very interesting article in The Atlantic titled “The Overprotected Kid.” In it, author Hanna Rosin talks about how child rearing has dramatically changed since the 1980s. Where children were once given the freedom to roam beyond their neighborhood and play largely unsupervised, kids are now kept within eyeshot (or at the very least earshot) of an adult at all times. It’s just “too dangerous now” to let children explore and make discoveries on their own.
The entire time I was watching E.T. I kept thinking about this article. This movie perfectly exemplifies so many of the points made by Rosin. These kids are given an amount of freedom and responsibility that few children would be trusted with today. They are free to roam the woods looking for aliens (leaving a trail of Reese’s Pieces behind as bait). Elliot is trusted to stay at home alone when sick, because his mom can’t afford to miss work. The boys are allowed to go trick or treating by themselves on Halloween, so long as they keep an eye on their little sister. They have their own language to describe places that adults aren’t privy to (Elliot instructs his brother to look for E.T. at “the bald spot,” the place in the woods where the alien phones home.) They know all the shortcuts through their neighborhood, and can easily shake the police patrol cars on their bikes.
It was striking to me how foreign this childhood seems to my own, let alone the childhood that my younger cousins, nephews, and niece are leading. The children in E.T. are largely left to their own devices, yet they cope with an insane situation without any help from the adults around them. In fact, the only adult who really factors into most of the story is the mother. No other adult faces are seen clearly until the second half of the film. This is a movie for kids, told from their perspective. It showcases their young reasoning, problem solving, and ability to work together. They don’t need their parents to arbitrate every fight or coach their exploration of the world. They simply figure things out for themselves.
It will be interesting to see how well E.T. ages in the coming decades. The movie was applauded in the 1980s, and has continued to resonate since its release (I cried when watching it this time, which is a big improvement over being terrified by it as I was when I was five). But as kids’ lives become more structured and supervised will they continue to see any of themselves in Elliot and his siblings? Will they wonder why these kids are left alone so often? Will this film become even more of a fairytale, one that seems just as deep in the past as any Brothers Grimm story?
I hope not. A lot of the wonder and delight in this film comes from the kids’ interactions with their alien friend. When the adults are clued into E.T.’s existence, things get dark and scary. If this movie becomes less relatable to children, it won’t be their fault. The blame will sit squarely on the shoulders of their helicopter parents.
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