#118) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
OR “Fly Me Near the Moon”
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Melissa Mathison
Class of 1994
The Plot: An alien (voiced by Pat Welsh) is stranded on Earth after government agents discover its species’ ship. The alien flees the scene and finds itself in the backyard of a suburban home. A boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas) befriends the alien and they form a special bond. With the help of his siblings (Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore), Elliott helps the alien (dubbed “E.T.”) with its mission to “phone home”.
Why It Matters: The NFR praises the film’s “masterful blending of hopeful innocence with excitement and humor”. There’s also a very loving essay by David Gibson, whose work for the Library of Congress includes preserving film as well as video games. This naturally leads to a shout-out to the infamous E.T. Atari game.
But Does It Really?: What am I, made of stone? “E.T.” is still as warm and as exciting a film as it was when it came out. Melissa Mathison’s screenplay is flawless, and Spielberg keeps the direction simple but powerful. “E.T.” works on every level and leaves you with hope every single time. I won’t try to break it down any further (Christian allegories be damned), but “E.T.” is about as perfect as filmmaking gets.
Everybody Gets One: Pretty much everyone involved except Spielberg and John Williams. Most notable are Drew Barrymore and ‘80s staple C. Thomas Howell.
Wow, That’s Dated: Polaroid cameras, ‘80s computers the size of a washer/dryer unit, casual references to terrorists, and of course, the classic Speak & Spell.
Take a Shot: No one says the full title, but as always the real drinking game with a Spielberg film is “Shots of People Looking Meaningfully at Something Off-Camera”.
Seriously, Oscars?: While “E.T.” did win four technical Oscars (Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Original Score, and Visual Effects), it lost Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay to “Gandhi”, a slight that was even acknowledged by “Gandhi” director Richard Attenborough. Spielberg held no grudges; casting Attenborough in “Jurassic Park” and “Gandhi” lead Ben Kingsley in “Schindler’s List”.
- While I was not alive for the original release of “E.T.”, my parents saw it at a drive-in with my newborn brother. Dad fell asleep during it, a tradition he continued every time he tried to watch the film.
- That alien ship is easily a cousin of the “Close Encounters” ship.
- Hmmm, ‘80s kids playing D&D? Oh my god, don’t go through the woods!
- I’m convinced that Elliott lives in the same neighborhood as the “Poltergeist” family. Don’t forget to move the bodies.
- Ah yes, the film that brought us the great insult “penis breath”.
- Aliens, absent fathers, a score by John Williams, the aforementioned looking off-camera…hey I just won Spielberg Bingo!
- E.T. runs like a ‘40s cartoon character; quickly and with doors swinging in its wake.
- That puppet work on E.T. is amazing. Shout-out to the whole team. No amount of CG can improve upon that.
- Elliott doesn’t seem to have any of the major “Star Wars” action figures. Did he never turn in his Kenner Early Bird certificate?
- One of the great things about this film is that the kids are allowed to be kids. They’re not adults trapped in kids bodies, they talk like kids talk. It keeps everything fresh.
- Hey, don’t throw your gender constructs on E.T., Elliott!
- Okay, Spielberg, enough with the “Vertigo” zoom effect. It’s giving me a headache.
- Between “The Quiet Man” and “This Island Earth”, is every channel TCM? (Side Note: This is the closest Tom & Jerry have gotten to being on the NFR so far.)
- Bonus Clip: Melissa Mathison’s then-husband Harrison Ford filmed a scene as Elliott’s principal that was eventually cut. It was made available only on the film’s laserdisc release.
- Oh Drew Barrymore, you are adorable. And to think one day you’ll grow up to briefly marry Tom Green.
- Good for E.T.; English is a tough second language to learn.
- At one point Mary reads “Peter Pan” to Gertie. Now don’t you get any ideas, Spielberg.
- Halloween in the movies: where no one goes as a copyrighted character unless it’s somewhere in the conglomerate (or you’re friends with George Lucas).
- That bike flying scene gave me all of the chills.
- Elliott is supposed to be dressed as a hunchback? That does not come across.
- It needs to be said that when government vans start showing up, your Neighborhood Watch program has failed you big time.
- Shout-out to Peter Coyote as “Keys”. He could have been the bad guy, but Coyote (as well as Mathison) make him human. And props to Dee Wallace as Mom. She adds a lot to a character that has surprisingly little to do.
- You’d think the aliens would invent a better ramp system. It takes E.T. a while to get up to the ship.
- “E.T.” was the hit of the year and spawned countless merchandise and pop culture opportunities. To name just a few:
- The short-lived knock-off craze of films where a kid befriends an alien. The go-to examples are “Los Nuevos Extraterrestres” (aka “Pod People”) and the incredibly awful “Mac and Me”.
- Reese’s Pieces saw their stock go up thanks to an appearance in this film, leading to many more product placements in film.
- The aforementioned Atari game that is so awful they buried unsold copies in a New Mexico landfill.
- A ride at Universal Studios, which is the closest we’re ever getting to a sequel.
- The logo for Spielberg’s production company Amblin.
- The long running TV spin-off
- And perhaps most interestingly, Neil Diamond was inspired by this film to write the song “Heartlight”. Try listening to these lyrics without thinking of E.T.
Further Viewing To Avoid At All Costs: I have some thoughts on the 20th anniversary version of “E.T.” You can read them here.