Original release: June 11th, 1982
Running time: 120 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Melissa Mathison
Composer: John Williams
Cast: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Robert MacNaughton, C. Thomas Howell, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote
Whenever we look back on the films we grew up with it’s usually with a sense of nostalgia and reverence, but in the case of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial those feelings are somehow much, much stronger. Although I wasn’t even four years old when it was first released, I remember the excitement I felt as I settled down in my seat at the cinema to watch it with my family.
Who can forget John Williams’ rousing score at the beginning which faded into the tense and eerie sounds as we saw the strange craft hovering over the forest? We watched eagerly as the little creatures collected samples to take back to their home planet and we felt that creeping anxiety as one, so enthralled by Earth’s majestic trees and woodland creatures, wanders off to explore and ends up being left behind. Its first eight minutes is like an interlude with no dialogue spoken at all, yet it sets the mood perfectly before taking us to meet the human characters of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
After escaping detection by the U.S. government, the alien scatters off to a suburban town, not far from the woods where he was left behind, and hides in a family’s tool shed. Inside the house is where we meet 10-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas), his big brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton), their little sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and their mom Mary (Dee Wallace). Michael’s at the dinner table with a few of his friends playing Dungeons and Dragons and Elliot wants to play but is told he first has to go outside and wait for the pizza delivery guy.
On his way back in he hears a noise coming from the tool shed and sees a light emitting from it, curious, Elliot goes to take a look and discovers something hiding in there. Running back inside the house he tries to warn everyone but no one believes him, or just thinks it’s some sort of wild animal. Elliot thinks it’s not a wild animal and later that night he sneaks back out for another look but it flees into the forest prompting the boy to go on a long search the next day. Leaving a trail of Reese’s Pieces, Elliot manages to lure the alien back to his bedroom and that’s where the real fun begins.
Pretending to be ill so he doesn’t have to go to school, Elliot spends the day teaching the alien lots of important things like playing with toys, drinking Coke and where hot and cold water comes from. When Michael and Gertie come home from school and discover the creature Elliot makes them promise not to tell anyone about him. While Gertie’s at first afraid, and then sarcastic towards the alien, she soon develops a bond with him, but it’s Elliot he forms a strong psychic connection with, leading to a couple of the film’s funniest scenes. With Elliot at school and the alien alone at home, he drinks a can of beer and quickly becomes drunk, which Elliot also experiences while in class. Then as the alien watches John Wayne kiss Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man, Elliot feels compelled to kiss a girl he likes.
Later on we see Gertie watching Sesame Street and sounding letters and words, and by repeating what she’s saying the creature learns to talk. When Elliot comes home and discovers this, he’s then given the name “E.T.” and E.T. shows him a Buck Rogers comic strip where the character calls for help by building a makeshift communication device. They realise E.T. wants to do the same and Elliot helps him build something similar to “phone home”.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial isn’t all just fun and games though. The film has a serious side as we see the government searching for the alien and determined to find him. Together with E.T.’s declining health, which also results in Elliot’s, the later half of the film contains some distressing and tearful moments that still choke me up even after all these years. Elliot tries to help E.T. call home by taking him back to the forest, but after spending the night there with him as he tries to get a connection, he wakes up sick and finds the alien gone. It’s Michael who then finds E.T. dying and the by the time Mary learns of his existence and that Elliot too is dying, government agents descends on the house and take them both away.
One of the wonderful things about E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is watching how these sad and tense moments are turned around. How can we not shed a tear or two as E.T. appears to die while Elliott recovers? And how can we not feel happy when we see the see him coming back to life? Spielberg knows which buttons to push to make us feel these moments and even as we watch the government chase the kids who escape with E.T. on bicycles, just when we think our hearts can’t soar any further he takes us up in the air for one of the most magical moments ever captured on screen. Yet at the heart of the film is a story that’s not so much alien as it is human – and embodied in the figure of a lost child.
With the arrival of E.T., Elliot can finally arrive at some answers to questions like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I?’ In this way, E.T. isn’t really an extra-terrestrial but the extra unconscious personality in Elliot’s mind, manifested as a signifier of his psychological distress. I’m also glad to see I wasn’t the only one who noticed the linked between the boy’s name and the alien’s.
Though it’s been three decades now since its original release, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a film which continues to give me a great sense of joy whenever I’ve watched it. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, whether it’s at the cinema, at the drive-in, on television or even at my computer, I always see something in it I never noticed before, it’s as if year after year another layer is revealed the older I get. Ask me about it again in ten years and I’m sure there’ll be more to tell.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .