Sunday, April 9, 2017

Chris' #87: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)

Starring: Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Melissa Mathison
Release Date: June 11, 1982 (U.S.)

Streaming on Netflix

First Time
I don't remember the first time I saw this, but my earliest memory of it occurred sometime in the early 90s. During the summers around that time, my dad, mom, brothers and I would camp in Westport, NY with our friends, the Nelson family. The Nelsons owned one of those GMC camper vans that had a built-in television and VHS player. It looked something like this (if my memory serves me right), but it was gray and purple:

I remember being really impressed that we could watch movies in a vehicle; it was my first bit of exposure to that concept. We probably watched many movies in that van over the years, but the only one I can actually remember is E.T. 

Why it's on the List
As Brandon admitted in his write-up, the film is scary the first time or two. I'm trying to recall what scared me the most, and it was probably the night scene when Elliott discovers E.T. for the first time. There are other moments that might be too intense for children, but as an adult, it's funny to think back on this as something that got me to hide under a blanket. Granted, it's not as if the movie scares many kids beyond the ages of eight or nine.

But there is something creepy about Carlo Rambaldi's design of the eponymous character. When Gertie dresses E.T. up like a girl, it kinda disturbed me when I was younger. There is another instance on my list of an ugly creature being dressed up as a woman, causing my younger self some discomfort, and that movie is coming up soon. Now I can think back on all of that and smile. E.T. is actually a funny and lovable little guy. His voice, his Ewok-like grunts, his little waddle. It's easy to feel a connection with him.

Elliott's need for E.T. provides the film with a nice emotional punch. We never see Elliott interact with his own friends, and he's clearly the kid who's the most impacted by his father's absence - Mike is too old, Gertie too young. Henry Thomas is great in this; when he begs E.T. to stay at different points in the second and third acts, his sincerity and despondence are palpable.

As is the case with The Goonies, the film also harkens back to a time when preadolescents were independent and oft-unsupervised. I like the moment when Mike and Elliott order and pay for pizza without their mother knowing it, even with her in the house. And even though I didn't spend much of my childhood riding around town on a bike, this movie certainly makes the act of riding a bike very cinematic and cool. (The E.T. ride at Universal Studios was also a lot of fun, I recall.)

Another annoying nostalgia moment I'll cover is when Elliott uses the lamp in his room to heat up the thermometer, allowing him to trick his mom into letting him stay home from school. I never used a lamp when I would do that; instead I would hold my breath as long as I could to get my temperature up. Maybe the human body doesn't necessarily work that way, but I can remember a time when that actually worked and I successfully tricked my parents into letting me stay home sick.

I like the use of Peter Coyote in the film. The character referred to as "Keys" is not shown until the last half hour of the film. The score, combined with the jingling of his keys on his belt clip, make him out to be the villain for most of the movie. But when Keys is finally revealed, he's actually very kind and understanding. I appreciate the moment when he tells Elliott that he's waited his entire life to encounter an extra-terrestrial being; it adds some nice depth to the character and when Coyote delivers the line, I believe him.

Dee Wallace is very maternal and familiar. If she doesn't remind me of my own mom at times, she definitely reminds of the mom of one of my childhood friends. The kids are all great in this, minus Mike's hammy friends. Henry Thomas was asked to do a lot, and he handles it all very well. Drew Barrymore is very cute and funny. And really, hats off to Robert MacNaughton as Mike. He plays the big brother role so well - he's a jerk at times, but he also loves Elliott and is willing to risk a lot to help him.

As Brandon also notes, John Williams' score deserves a lot of credit for the emotional impact. It really epitomizes the feel of a childhood adventure. At times it also reminds me of something that might be used in a Hitchcock thriller.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • Only one Spielberg movie left. I'm interested to see if it really is my favorite of the three on this list.
  • This is it for all of the main cast members, but Dee Wallace and Henry Thomas are in some contemporary horror movies that I enjoy: The House of the Devil (Wallace) and Ouija: Origin of Evil (Thomas). Drew Barrymore is in another movie that I really like, one that I also feel is a bit underrated, but it's on my 200-101 list. I'll save it for next year when we go through those lists ;)
  • Unless I am forgetting something, this is our first repeat. I'm interested to see what other movies will appear on multiple lists. Jeff has already covered a few movies that are much higher on my list.


  1. I enjoyed reading this. Esp the part about unsupervised children. I also tried the thermometer trick and my mom's response was "do I look stupid to you?" I think it was like 110.

  2. Good write-up. This one isn't on my list, but I like it.

    "There is another instance on my list of an ugly creature being dressed up as a woman, causing my younger self some discomfort, and that movie is coming up soon"

    Tootsie? Mrs. Doubtfire? Big Momma's House? Probably all three on your list.