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“We Could Grow Up Together, E.T.”: 40 Years of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial

5 min read

I have read only one film review that made me cry, and writing them often that's quite surprising. Roger Ebert's 10-year review of 's masterpiece E.T the Extra Terrestrial, written as a letter to his grandchildren as he watches it with them for their first time had me sobbing. It's a sweet piece that hits the nail on the head of why E.T is still so memorable and prevalent even now, a whole 40 years later; it's just something you need to show people, especially children. It holds up so beautifully, and with each rewatch I fall in love with it all over again like the first time my mum sat me down to share with me her favourite film from childhood.

E.T, in case you are one of the few who haven't had the joy of watching the previously highest-grossing film of all time yet, is about an alien who is accidentally left on earth, and is discovered by a young boy, Elliott (Henry Thomas). E.T and Elliott form a heart-warming bond, with Elliott feeling E.T's emotions and trying tirelessly to help E.T phone home as he isn't suited to life on Earth. The selflessness and love that Elliott and his siblings Michael and Gertie, played by Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore respectively, show to this clueless little alien who would be a bit scary looking if he didn't act like a confused puppy is just so endearing. Much like Elliott and E.T quickly form extreme empathy, the audience feels like one of the kids trying to help, and the scenes when E.T is sick are just heart wrenching.

This is one of the things E.T does best, it keeps you on a level with the kids and their extra-terrestrial friend. It never condescends the viewer or the main characters but takes you along on the emotional journey as an equal and lifts you up with them too, despite the camera sometimes only being a few feet off the ground with E.T. Every time I watch it again, I'm taken back to being shown it as an awestruck eight-year-old, bouncing between elated giggles, to sobbing alongside a young Drew Barrymore, with E.T acting as a surrogate for me being initiated into this fun family, and Elliott an imaginative kid fantasising about life outwith the suburbs, all inspiring my own fantastical ideas. This is what Spielberg does best, using movies to create a sense of magic and wonder, and it is something this film fosters in viewers of any age. Apparently, Spielberg made sure the animatronic for E.T. was running at all times in case Drew Barrymore wanted to talk to or play with E.T. while filming, and the love and admiration her and Henry Thomas show towards the animatronic is touching throughout and is largely the result of this dedication to the kids while filming.

Of course, this wouldn't have been possible without the absolutely fantastic animatronic itself. The $1.5million dollar puppet was made over three months by Carlo Rambaldi, who had previously designed the aliens for Close Encounters of the Third Kind with Spielberg. One aspect which made E.T. so realistic and loveable was the impressive attention to detail given to his eyes, with producer Kathleen Kennedy hiring workers from the Jules Stein Eye Institute to create those crazy puppy-dog eyes we all know and love. Of course, the final design is not particularly cute at first glance with his wrinkled, greyish skin and gangly limbs and neck, but the level of characterisation in this puppet is impressive. E.T. was not only an animatronic, but also a costume donned by three actors; Tamara De Treaux, Pat Bilon, and Matthew DeMeritt, explaining how so many of his movements are far from mechanical and aid the audience, especially the children, empathise with this strange alien. Between E.T. and the infamous flying bicycle scene, the merits of practical effects can truly be appreciated throughout this wonderful film, as is the case with so many of Spielberg's fantastical films.

What adds to this sense throughout is the iconic score which is immediately recognisable to most. Nothing will add to the sense of magic like the rousing keys and strings John Williams expertly composed for the film, which also helps children feel empathetic and in awe of this ugly little creature. The main theme and chase theme are especially memorable, and one of those scores where the scene pops into your head as soon as you hear it, or for some the universal studios ride of E.T. Taking home the Oscar and Grammy for soundtrack in 1982, it had to be impressive.

What needs to be remembered, but equally what keeps the film so memorable, is that this is a kid's movie. Despite the magic of the score, story, acting, and alien it is a film for children more than adults, and of course you can tell. This gives so many of us a nostalgic lens to look at it through, or listen to the soundtrack through, but also makes it almost strange to rewatch and probably a little less endearing if watching for the first time as an adult. As is the case with most children's favourites, the adults never listen and threaten destroying the innocent E.T and shattering the protagonists and viewers hearts at the time. The innocence of the children and E.T is a large part of the charm of the movie and what needs protected from stubborn and close-minded adults. For an adult alien story, Spielberg gave us Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but from a young Spielberg's imagination was his friend E.T, who helped him through his parent's divorce and is held so closely in the hearts of so many today. Perhaps the fact the character was conceived by a child is key to the films charm and heart-warming nature. The danger of adults is real, but E.T is there to selflessly heal those around him.