After an alien being is stranded on Earth, it befriends a boy, Elliot (Henry Thomas), and his family.
Released in 1982 and directed by Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws), E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial is simply an amazing film. Lovingly crafted with a warm heart, Spielberg proved that he is not just a master of horror (Jaws) and science fiction (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) but he is also the master of a family drama, this one, of course, featuring an alien being stranded on Earth.
When a group of alien botanists lands on Earth to collect samples of the flora, they are interrupted by man. Fleeing the planet, they leave one of their own behind. After the alien creature meets Elliot, Elliot ‘adopts’ the creature. The two form a mental, emotional, and physical bond. In an attempt to contact E. T.’s ship, they both become sick. The government then comes in to try to save the alien’s life and the life of Elliot. Or is the government just there to take the alien?
What you wouldn’t gather from the descriptions above is that this film is a family drama more than a science fiction tale. The story of a broken home. Mary (Dee Wallace) is a single mother trying to raise three children on her own. The father, who is only mentioned in the film, has run off to Mexico and left the children with Mary. The separation is still new, and she is clearly trying to put on a brave face for her children. She is focused and completely oblivious to the presence of an alien in her home. She has too much on her mind. Juggling work and three young children and still trying to deal with the emotional loss of her husband, Mary is a sympathetic character who you feel sorry for and wish things could be better for her.
While she does the best she can, Elliot is still alone. His sister Gert (Drew Barrymore) is younger than he, 5 years old. His brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) is 16 and in high school and a football player. They have little time for Elliot who doesn’t seem to have many friends. When he befriends E. T., the bond they form is more than friendship. The alien is someone he can communicate with and teach. A surrogate sibling. A best friend. At times he is a pet. The alien is never a father figure, though. The father is gone and is not coming back; not even in a surrogate fashion. E. T. is never portrayed as anything other than a gentle soul with whom Elliot forms a bond of friendship.
As I re-watched this film on Blu-Ray, it finally struck me how odd the character of E. T. looks. From the initial appearance of the creature, you would never guess that he is a sympathetic character. He is not a soft, cuddly alien. He is hairless, wrinkled, with big eyes and stretchy neck. When he gets scared or excited, his chest glows red and you can see his internal organs. Despite his outward appearance, though, he is a healer. Not just an emotional healer for this broken family, but a physical healer as well. I think that is the whole point of the alien. To heal this family that desperately needs it. A family that needed a miracle to pull them all back together; to me that is what E. T. symbolizes. The healing of a broken family.
When I originally saw this film in the theater, I was maybe 6 years old. I remember nothing other than seeing it. I saw it again during the re-release in the theaters a 10 years or so back. I never loved the film as much as other people I talked to did. It just seemed kind of boring when I was younger. When I re-watched it, I finally saw the brilliance in the film. I finally saw the human element involved with the story. And I cried like a baby. Twice, actually. Even though I knew what was coming, the film deftly tugged on my heart strings and reduced me to a sobbing mess. What greater praise for a film can I give than that? It moved me emotionally to the point that my eyes leaked profusely.
Spielberg has crafted a masterpiece in E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial. It is a brilliant, hear-warming story of a family on the ropes and the alien that brings them closer together. Funny and tender, it is a film that the whole family can enjoy. I cannot recommend it more highly. Of particular note is the score by John Williams. Without the music, I’m not sure how the film would hold up. It is a rousing, endearing score that will be remembered for ages to come. Do yourself a favor and see this film. But don’t just watch it, listen to it. It will move you.
*NOTE* You may be wondering why this film is showing up in my Halloween Horror Celebration. It is very simple. It takes place on Halloween. E. T. goes out dressed as a ghost with Michael and Elliot to contact his ship. There is the reason. Not everything has to be horror related. If it’s not horror related, it needs to have a Halloween theme.
**** out of ****
- Exclusive: Dee Wallace Discusses the Enduring Legacy of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and More (dreadcentral.com)