Synopsis: A lonely ten-year-old boy summons the courage to help a gentle alien stranded on Earth return to his home planet.
Stars: Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore
Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (10/10)
Review: What more is there to say about Steven Spielberg’s 1982’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial that hasn’t already been covered in countless reviews since its release 40 years ago? Deservedly firmly ensconced on numerous “All-Time Best” lists, the four-time Oscar-winning film (three technical awards and one for John Williams’s unforgettable score) has seen several re-releases throughout the past four decades. A controversial “special edition” was released to theaters for the 20th Anniversary with additional scenes and digitally altered/enhanced effects to please the director more than anyone. While it wasn’t the worst director tinkering post-release until that point (George Lucas held that distinction), Spielberg realized his error quickly, and this edition where walkie-talkies replaced guns is now considered out of circulation.
For the 40th Anniversary, a Spielberg-approved IMAX release of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in its original version is out, and I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to see this Best Picture nominated treasure in the theaters again. I try to make my rounds with Spielberg’s canon every five years, and it was the perfect time to revisit his sensitive exploration of a relationship between a suburban California boy and a friendly alien marooned nearby. I’ve always had a strong emotional pull toward the film because it’s one of the first movies I remember seeing in a theater and then owning on VHS. It’s also a movie that brings back vivid memories of connecting the sentimental feelings a character is experiencing with how I was receiving them. As I grew older, the poignancy of the movie only intensified.
Perhaps it’s the gorgeous IMAX presentation that brings stunning new clarity to Allen Daviau’s cinematography and that glorious Williams music, but I found this showing of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial to be overwhelmingly affective (and, I suppose, effective). It’s stirring the way screenwriter Melissa Mathison highlights separation immediately after E.T. is left behind by his alien family as they flee from government agents tracking their visit. By chance, he wanders into Elliott’s garden shed in a nearby suburban development, where he’s discovered but treated with kindness by the boy (Henry Thomas, Doctor Sleep), that understands the need to be comforted. Still reeling from the recent separation of his parents, the youngster is too old to play with his younger sister but too young to fit in with the friends his older brother hangs out with. The mismatched pair find each other by fate but perhaps it was meant to be. Their symbiotic relationship goes more profound, and I appreciate their invisible link more with each viewing.
Instead of Mathison and Spielberg wasting time on fish-out-of-water antics, the focus remains singularly on Elliott. He takes it upon himself to help E.T. back to his family and make him whole again with the help of his brother Michael (Robert McNaughton) and sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore, Blended). Aside from a brief diversion to a school-day biology class that takes a stand against frog dissection, the movie never leaves the small world that Elliott knows. It also rarely shows the faces of any adult other than his mother, Mary (Dee Wallace, The Frighteners), keeping the movie’s perspective at a child’s level. When you’re a kid watching the movie, you don’t notice these subtle ways the filmmakers have engineered the film to speak to children by, in a way, taking a knee and looking them in the eye.
As an adult critic reviewing E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, I can only give this the highest of marks. The movie is truly a gift, and that it has held up for forty years with its lovely emotions intact, without ever feeling sappy or sentimental, is a testament to the care Spielberg and co. made it. The performances, especially the kids, mostly Barrymore, and unequivocally Thomas, are outstanding, and knowing that the Academy could have given out a special Oscar to Thomas for his work and didn’t is a real shame. Had this been released today, the kind of realistically heart-tugging acting Thomas is doing would have almost certainly landed him in the Best Actor conversation.
Reviewing this as a long-time fan, I urge you to make the time to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in IMAX and bring your family and friends as well. It’s a tough movie for kids, I’m not going to lie, and I remember being emotionally distraught when I saw it originally. However, my parents used it as a way to talk to me about my feelings and encouraged me not to be afraid to show them. Waiting “until your kids are ready” is the choice of every parent, but this is one exceptional film your children will remember forever. After listening to and understanding their point of view, talking about it with them is imperative to open dialogue moving forward.