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E.T.

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The movie is the distillation of Spielberg's decade of loneliness in adolescence. Ten-year-old Elliot, living with his divorced mother, older brother and younger sister in an upstate Californian town reflects the teenage Spielberg in Scottsdale.

-Thanks to Steven Spielberg: The Unauthorised Biography, John Baxter. Pg 229

More Trivia from E.T.
This phenomenal film landed in 1982 and made such an impact that it would be, for many people, the defining film of the eighties. The image of Elliot on the bike with ET sitting on the handlebars is immediately recognisable as a symbol of the blockbuster, the success of Steven Spielberg and the emblem of his company Amblin Productions.

In the UK, ET has recently been brought back to people's minds as a result of a most grotesque, super expensive and dream-snatching series of TV commercials for British Telecom (BT). But, if we set all the baggage aside and return to the film itself, we cannot help but be overwhelmed by its atmosphere of innocence and wonder.

From the moment that strange long finger pulls back the ferns to view the new world, every inner child leaps up and down in awe and delight as we are drawn back to a time of believing. No film afterwards has that same purity and naivety. Seemingly, the children of today are cynical and jaded, they've seen it all before and don't buy the innocence. Hollywood churns out an endless series of films aimed at the teenybopper audience with cute little actors and actresses trying to follow Drew Barrymore's footsteps, but ultimately they fail because the kids don't act like kids, they act like stars, and normal children can't relate to them.

A good part of the magic of ET is in the characters, the everyday, regular suburban kids the story is set around. Elliot, Gertie and Michael could have been your friends, they could have eaten pizza with you, and played space invaders at your house. They were unashamedly full of the passions of most American suburban kids in the 80's and the film related to the new modern problems they faced such as the increasing incidence of family break-ups.

Because it was set in this domestic, conventional environment that everyone was familiar with, the alien became easy to believe in, in this dream world of suburbia, ET becomes almost a regular kid. Much of what touches us about ET is the little hurdles he comes up against trying to adjust to his new life, we can empathise with him because we've all moved to a new town and new school; he's just like the new kid in class.

ET is the 80s parallel to Peter Pan and Steven Spielberg alludes to this when Mom is reading a bedtime story to Gertie, if you believe in fairies, clap your hands. This fairytale is clearly for kids and to be included in it, you must watch it as a child.

Elliot: you can't tell anyone not even Mom
Gertie: Why not?
Elliot: Cos grown ups can't see him, only kids can see him.

Steven Spielberg: "I didn't pretend that ET was anything other than a kids movie, about kids, for kids, of kids, I was still a kid then. I still am."

From the outset, the film is shot from a low angle, knee- height or kid height and ET height. This draws us in to a kids mindset and point of view, and makes it easier for us to identify with ET. We see ET landing in the woods, symbolic in America, woods are hiding places, magical places, the last untamed areas in built up suburbia.

ET waddles like a geriatric bear-monkey towards Elliot's house. The way he looks is a hugely important factor in the way we perceive him. There is nothing threatening about ET, he is awkward, wrinkly, wizened, plump and the perfect shape for kids to hug. Steven Spielberg wanted E.T.'s eyes to resemble Einstein's, wizard-like, frivolous, old and sad. He is like a mini-alien-Buddha come to learn and heal and spread fuzzy glows all around.

ET hides at first in Elliot's garden shed. Elliot is, of course, the first to see him and the first to believe. After the initial shock of seeing an alien in the garden shed, Elliot is full of wonder and takes in this strange little creature. For Elliot, ET is like an imaginary friend come true. In Elliot's discovery of ET and throughout the film the viewer is encouraged to join in celebrating the joyous hope in the unknown and uncharted. Elliot takes ET back to the house and tries to hide him in his bedroom, but of course, Gertie bumps into him and naturally screams, ET captures our smiles by screaming back --of course the little Drew Barrymore is just as scary to him. But small kids are used to being confronted with new things and ideas and she soon adopts ET as Elliot had.

ET belongs in a kids world and kids imagination, so he has to stay out of the way of grown-ups and Mom. As with most imaginary friends ET has to be hidden in the closet with the dolls and toys. He becomes a cosmic clown, sad eyes peeking from a mountain of teddy bears and dolls, made over by Gertie and dressed as a girl. So, in this haphazard way, ET slowly stumbles into 80's life, he stays at home while Elliot goes to school, absorbing this modern culture, cable TV and talk shows, he sits on the couch and even gets drunk.

Then unfolds the most surreal and symbolically personal scene to Steven Spielberg. It becomes apparent that ET is connected emotionally with Elliot, not only can he heal things like flowers by touching them with his magic, glowing, red, bony finger, but he can bond and create an empathy, telepathically with Elliot. ET gets drunk and so does Elliot at school.

ET watches a golden-oldie kiss on TV and all havoc ensues in Elliot's class, a mysterious force is controlling him. Elliot is meant to be dissecting frogs but overcome by the ET Buddha, he sets them all free, and in a funny, strange, cringful moment grabs a little blond girl in class and kisses her, just as in the cheesy film ET is watching. The scene was based on Steven Spielberg's own experience as a child: "when I was a kid I let all the frogs go in the science class, I was supposed to be dissecting them, about five of them got away so what the heck! I put them in the movie."

Ultimately, despite suburban bliss, ET gets lonely and wants to go home. He tries to communicate with his folks by making an umbrella-satellite. We see him struggle to explain his wish to Elliot, "ET phone home" --this has probably become the worst line of the film since it spawned the soul-destroying BT advert. Elliot agrees to take ET back to the woods to try and signal his family. They are heartbreakingly unsuccessful and the result is ET's downfall, in exposing himself and venturing outside he becomes more ill and vulnerable. Elliot has no choice but to hand him over to the grown ups. He even lets his mom see ET.

The film becomes sinister when the kids lose control and the grown ups take over. Faceless scientists have become aware of the strange creature in Elliot's house and have been watching. They see ET is helpless and move in. Elliot's mom is helpless to stop them taking ET, the scientists overrun the family home with equipment and experiments, they put protective covering over everything, they are dressed in ridiculously cautious protective suits, which resemble space suits. The scientists look like astronauts, they look like they are exploring the moon. They are far more threatening than little fat ET or any alien could ever be. Steven Spielberg seems to be challenging our perceptions of what human qualities are, at this point ET has made a human bond with the viewer, he demonstrates empathy and sensitivity, both of which are lacking in the scientists, it is ET who has gained the most emotional response from the viewer. The whole episode lingers in the viewers mind and Steven Spielberg seems to be suggesting that man as scientist, explorer and astronaut causes damage and exploitation, by imposing rational explanations on the supernatural, man has failed to understand what he has discovered and in doing so may have become less human.

The viewer is incensed by the inhumane way ET is treated when he is close to death, to the scientists he is nothing more than a precious guinea pig, he must be kept alive because he represents their scientific discovery and could lead to more discoveries, this is in direct opposition with Elliot's attempt to keep his friend alive. The tearjerker moment comes about as ET is dying next to Elliot, both still connected telepathically. Elliot is recovering as a direct result of ET deteriorating, the ironic knife in the back, Elliot losing his friend because he is sapping away ET's lifeblood. Many children howl as they see the flower that ET revived at the beginning, slowly wither and die.

But, this flower becomes the message of hope, when everyone except Elliot has given up on ET, just as they are about to take away ET's lifeless body, we see the flower suddenly rejuvenate itself. The famous red glow illuminates ET's space style coffin. Elliot sees this and is careful to pretend nothing is amiss as the scientists are still hovering around. He pretends ET is still dead, crying hysterically, the over the top melodramatic humour of this moment signals an upturn of atmosphere, ET is back on track.

As in all the best kids movies, the kids hatch a fabulous plan to outwit the grown ups. Elliot and Michael decide to hijack the van which is ready to take ET away. Michael's character shines through at this point, as he, once sceptical now joins forces with Elliot as driver; he is no longer the jock, bully brother but an ally to the cause.

The action jolts up a notch with a fast paced car chase complete with bad driving shenanigans. Elliot's mom now joins forces with the kids, she is similar to a kid herself in her attempt to keep the whole thing secret from the scientists made difficult by a loudmouthed Gertie.

The bike chase is perhaps the most memorable scene and definitely the climax of ET, one of the most inspiring for children. The sight of scientists, government officials and cops in high-powered cars being made helpless by a bunch of street-urchins on BMXs is endearing and uplifting.

The gang speed off on a huge chase all over town, BMX tricks aplenty. This chase is what every kid wanted to do on their precious BMX, definitely a pure 80s moment.

The cops in close pursuit, the kids whiz towards the woods, the cops close in and a roadblock looms in front of them - is it all over? We watch on the edge of the sofa, then this suburban dream becomes complete ET uses his magical powers to send all the bikes zooming up into the air, once again like the modern Peter Pan, he seems to be saying dreams come true if you believe in them hard enough. The silhouette of ET in flying bike pose against the moon is a haunting, whimsical and ultimately magical image. ET is a film that successfully brings magic to suburbia; anything is possible if you believe, even in dullsville, Middletown, America. The BMX gang escape the amazed grown-ups, it is time for ET to return to his homeland.

As ET says goodbye the viewer feels as Elliot feels, we are losing a friend, but both Elliot and whoever watches the film has gained a magic and wonder of space and dreams of adventure that will remain in the mind long after the film is over. The music sours and takes the goodbye to an emotional crescendo. The viewer says goodbye with renewed wonder in the world and ET vanishes into the great wide blue yonder.

Verdict?

The ultimate feel-good movie of the 80s. This is the 'kids movie' that touched even the crustiest of cynics. To watch this movie now is to be transported through a misty-eyed glow, back to a happy, hopeful world of innocence and faith in the future. You can only wonder where this place called childhood has gone. Laughter, cringing, tears and exhilarating adventures on the great BMX's -- who could dare to ask for more?

Notice any mistakes? Review

Strengths: The film that 'out Disney'd' Disney. An all time classic.

Weaknesses? A bit too 'soppy' for some.

Our rating: 9.5 out of 10


Review Written by Corinne Anyika:  Contact  |  More Reviews by Corinne Anyika
E.T.