E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

E.T. - The Extra Terrestial will be screened at EIFF 2016 with a live score.
"This is a beautiful-looking movie, as well as supremely well-made."

Twenty years on, how's the squashy fella looking? They didn't have computer generated tools in those days, only imagination and a little guy in a funny suit.

Bringing E.T. back to the big screen after decades of TV exposure may be a marketing decision, but it's worth it, because whatever you think of Spielberg's emotional manipulation during the death and resurrection scenes, this is a beautiful-looking movie, as well as supremely well-made. Elliot's house and back-yard, with the field of corn coming right up beside it looks like a set, wonderfully lit and elegantly photographed.

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On one level, it is the story of a lonely boy's friendship with a strange creature. On a deeper level, it reflects the damage done by divorce in middle-class suburban California. Elliot (Henry Thomas) must be 10, or 11. His elder brother, Michael (Robert MacNaughton), is much older and their little sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore), only four. Dad left six months earlier and mom (Dee Wallace) hasn't quite got used to it. She tends to snap at the kids.

Michael treats Elliot like a squirt and is reluctant to let him join his gang of pedal bikers. When E.T. is discovered in the coal shed, it's the start of something that belongs only to the boy. When the others are brought into the secret - not mom, of course - E.T and Elliot are a unit.

Grown-ups are seen as threatening. After the spaceship leaves, the forest is filled with the angry lights from big torches, searching for the alien that was left behind. These guys, as well as the cops, wear heavy boots and bunches of keys in their belts. You don't see their faces, but, by the way they move, you know this is a reactionary force which will not hesitate to eliminate anything that does not comply to regulations.

Spielberg's sympathy for the children is at the heart of the plot. It's not so much about a space refugee who wants to phone home. It's about Elliot's fight to save his friend and, in doing so, discover a place for himself in what might easily become a dysfunctional family.

E.T is awkward and ugly. That was a risk that paid off, because everyone knows what he looks like now and love him for it. A few additional scenes have been retrieved from the cutting room floor for this birthday print and they don't help. One of the good things about the original was that you didn't see E.T for ages and so when Elliot found him in the shed, the shock value was tremendous. Now you are introduced early, while the searchers are spreading out across the forest, an odd wobbly thing in the undergrowth, or staring over the city at night from a vantage point in the hills. The element of surprise is lost.

Thomas's performance reflects Spielberg's genius with young actors. It is so central and so perfect that, without it, you feel the film might have been lost in the novelty bin. This is Elliot's story, after all, and Thomas lives and breathes it with absolute conviction. Barrymore is irresistible and there are moments when you ask yourself, has she ever done anything as good as this since? Of course, she must have, but you need to think deep and hard to discover what.

Reviewed on: 27 Mar 2002
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Spielberg's beloved classic about a stranded and lonely alien.
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Scott Macdonald *****

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

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