E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial

*****

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

E.T. - The Extra Terrestial will be screened at EIFF 2016 with a live score.
"It showcases Spielberg's gifts for light comedy, spectacle, and fairy tale celuloid sorcery."

This is one of the most magical films of all time - a masterwork of tone and effect, and Steven Spielberg's greatest achievement. It warms the heart and takes us on an unforgettable journey with a frightened alien and his human companions.

During filming of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Francois Truffaut noted Spielberg's skill in directing Cary Guffey, the boy whom the aliens whisk away in the film's terrifying showpiece of special effects. Truffaut shrieked: "Kids, you must make a film with kids!" And so, over a gestation period of two movies, Spielberg and Melissa Mathison crafted E.T.'s story. Columbia Pictures sold the concept and story back to Spielberg, who made the picture inexpensively with Universal and it went on to break box office everywhere.

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The central conceit of the film is simple. Everyone needs friends. Spielberg's storytelling is engrossing, he keeps things straightforward, precise and universal. Allen Daviau's rich cinematography forces the camera to remain at a child's eye-level, keeping our focus on the kids. Spielberg sticks closely to this principle, and this means we concentrate on the characters and ignore all else. The adults remain overpowering and tall. As E.T. becomes more integrated with the children's lives, and as we invest ourselves in the characters, the more the camera frees itself. Spielberg shows his intimate genius as filmmaker throughout - he knows cinema like Beethoven knew music.

The children are wonderful - never overly sentimental or disgustingly precocious. Watch Michael, the big brother, particularly how he treats Elliot early on. Elliot's discovery of E.T. is the catalyst for the children's union against the harsh, all-powerful adults. Henry Thomas delivers the most astonishing child performance; he is brave, natural, and compassionate, every decent quality we'd like our kids to have emotionally. Watching E.T. and Elliot bind carefully is another high point in a film so full of them it nearly hurts. And Drew Barrymore does a lovely star-in-the-making turn.

E.T. himself works masterfully. Carlo Rambaldi's faultlessly realised puppet gives great physical presence through intimate performance, and creative means of giving life to a short squashy brown little creature with wise eyes. Watch the movie again, and be stunned by the creativity of the design of this little creature, the slight mannerisms and lifelike subtleties - just try to avoid the 2002 CGI effort, the in-camera version looks much better.

The film boasts John Williams' most famous score besides Star Wars, and deservedly so. The gloriously free-form, melodic Flying theme inspires the most vivid feelings of freedom and transcendence. The iconic image of E.T. and Elliot soaring over the moon completes the joyous piece. Watch how carefully timed each short movement of the music works with the action. The climactic 15-minute piece is a showcase, with many little accents reacting to the tight cut film. Williams had mathematically timed against each of these beats, and for the life of him, he could not hit all these markers with the film.

Spielberg suggested Williams not look at the film while conducting the orchestra, and work as though he would a regular piece of music. It worked beautifully, and this is the piece used in the film, with Spielberg recutting the film to suit. It's blatant emotional manipulation, but it's so masterfully done, and we're involved in these characters by this time, that we surrender and sigh with complete awe.

The film rides so many states of emotion, and invests us so much in them that I can't help going with it as the story reaches it's head. It showcases Spielberg's gifts for light comedy, spectacle, and fairy tale celluloid sorcery. A film such as The Wizard of Oz, which remains as splendid the first time you saw it as a child, than the movie buff of today's time. It's reassuring, gentle, and transcends boundaries, livelihoods, and will never fall out of favour.

Reviewed on: 09 May 2005
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Spielberg's beloved classic about his stranded and lonely alien.
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Read more E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Melissa Mathison

Starring: Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, K. C. Martel, Sean Frye, Tom Howell, Erika Eleniak, David M. O'Dell, Richard Swingler, Frank Toth

Year: 1982

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

Festivals:

EIFF 2011
EIFF 2016

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If you like this, try:

The Wizard Of Oz