Spielberg: ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

Does he look like an upside down vacuum cleaner? Almost definitely. But more-so, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial is the film of 1982. Setting the bar for all following family films, sci fi movies and every other genre that it can be dubbed a part of, it is no wonder that it was the most successful box office smash of it’s time, not to mention being named as the greatest sci fi film of all time. Spielberg had outdone himself.

If you don’t know the story of the film, and for some strange reason have not seen it, I suggest you stop reading now. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial to be enjoyed with every person you care for, to immerse yourself into for the entirety of its runtime, and to watch over and over again.

I myself have seen this masterpiece too many times to count, yet one moment in mind was one Christmas day quite a few years back – mid 90’s, when I first saw it, watching it at my grandparent’s house with cousins, aunts and uncles sitting around the room. Whether they were watching the film or not I can’t remember, but something struck me that day. We see both Elliot’s and ET’s longing for compassion and company in the film, so it only seemed fitting to watch it surrounded by family.

 We first encounter the alien in question in the opening scenes of the movie, with a horde of similar beings collecting plants. But as luck would have it, they are found out by some nearby adults (one to note is the man dangling a set of keys from his denim jeans), who remain faceless until the end of the film, and so the alien race have to make a quick getaway.

As a result, one gets left behind.

We then meet Elliot, who tries his best to fit in with his older brother (Michael), though this won’t be allowed by Michael or his pals. Elliot, desperate to be a part of the gang, goes outside to collect the pizza delivered to the door. When he does, he hears a sound form their nearby shed. Thinking it’s the family dog, Elliot throws in a baseball – only to have it tossed back to him. Elliot catches a glimpse of who returned the ball, drops the pizza and runs back inside screaming.

When everyone makes their way outside to see what the commotion was about, and not seeing a soul, the boys immediately begin to ridicule Elliot once more, as well as mock him for dropping their pizza.

Elliot refuses to give up, and spends nights outside waiting for his “goblin” to return. After a brief altercation in the corn field between Elliot and ET, the paranormal being eventually does return to Elliot’s chair one night, with Reese’s Pieces, hoping for some more.

Elliot seizes this opportunity to lead ET into his bedroom, where the two have an instant connection. The boy feigns sickness in order to be able to stay home with ET, teach him as much as he can. This leads to some absolutely hilarious scenes in a bathroom.

It is clear that Elliot is using this relationship as a means to mend the gap made when his father left. Also, Elliot uses his bond with ET to finally win over his brother. After multiple pinky-promise type exclamations from Michael, Elliot finally shows him the new house guest. Michael is speechless, however when their little sister enters the room, she does little other than scream, leaving ET to do the same.

After explaining to Gertie and Michael that he is harmless, they soon find out that their goblin is actually an alien. This is told to them by ET through the use of telekinesis, as he rotates small spheres in the air, making a version of a solar system.

 Elliot goes to school the next morning, where we see that his connection with ET has only grown stronger. We also see Michael show more respect towards his younger brother, by telling his friends to stop making fun of Elliot.

While at school, Elliot feels the effects of the cans of beer a now-drunk ET has consumed, as well as doing the alien’s beckoned call by releasing all the would-be dissected frogs back to the wild, as well as kissing a girl he likes in the same manner as what ET sees on the television back at Elliot’s house.

It is important to mention that, apart form Elliot’s mother, no adult faces are shown until the final act of the movie. This is used as a means of showing that the kids are more tolerant towards the idea of an alien, whereas we see later on how the adults feel about ET’s arrival.

ET tells Elliot that night that he wants to “phone home”, while agents appear, including the suspicious man bearing keys. The two brothers search for tools, which the alien turns into a make-shift communication device.

And so it is Halloween, and the kids decide that this is the best time to get ET out of the house without any notice. Dressed as Gertie would have, as a ghost, the boys manage to sneak him passed their mother and out into the neighbourhood to trick-or-treat. However, Elliot and the ridiculously-weightless ET set off on Elliot’s bike into the woods, to set up the communicator.

It is here that the scene of the movie takes place, probably one of (if not THE) most memorable moment in recent cinematic history. Without much notice, Elliot’s bike starts to climb the sky, out over the adjacent trees and into the night. The moment when the bike crosses the moon, I can only imagine, can only be described as breathtaking to see on the big screen.

As the two set up the communication device out in the forest, agents start to enter the Elliot’s house and begin their search, while Mary (Elliot’s mother, who has for much of the movie been oblivious to the fact that an alien has been residing in her home) is out searching for the missing Elliot.

Elliot, realising that the communication device works and that ET’s family could arrive at any moment, decides that he does not want his new friend to leave him. He can’t bear the thought of another loved one abandoning him, and asks him to stay.

 The next morning, Elliot awakes next to the device (which seems to have stopped working) and, to his horror; there is no alien in sight.

Elliot makes his way home, looking more than a little ill, and tells his brother to go find the missing alien. Michael, cycling around the forest, finds a very pale ET lying near a river, also looking very sick.

Mary is finally introduced to the alien house guest, to which Elliot says “We’re sick… We think we’re dying”. The connection between the two friends has reached a critical level. Mary grabs her kids, and runs downstairs amid fears of what the alien his, or is, doing to them.

It is at this point that a handful of agents, in radiation suits, enter the family home and set up a quarantine area and begin studying the two injured parties. “Keys” turns up, and explains to Elliot that he does not want ET to die either, as he has been waiting for this day “since I was ten years old”.

Tests show the remarkable connection between the two subjects, with brain activity absolutely in sync. However, this syncing begins to diminish as ET starts to break down and, eventually, die.

Elliot is dragged from the room as the being he had grown to love most in the world has perished before his eyes. His health has returned, though it did come at a cost.

 “Keys” allows Elliot to say goodbye to his friend before they freeze him for dissection. Given privacy, ET reanimates as his heart starts to glow bright red, indicating that his people are returning for his rescue.

Elliot alerts Michael, as they make a quick escape in the van containing ET’s freeze chamber, followed closely by Michael’s pals riding their bikes. After losing those who were chasing the van, the boys take to their bikes, with ET once again riding basket with Elliot.

The guys dodge almost instant capture numerous times, only to encounter a blockade. ET once more takes up the mantle, and sends all 5 bikes flying into the sky, and towards where ET’s spaceship is due to land.

Also on the scene are Mary and Gertie in the car, along with “Keys” who shows his compassion by allowing the alien to board his ship. ET says goodbye to each of the kids, and finally Elliot, in an emotional display, saying “I’ll be right here”.

 ET boards the spaceship, and is flown out of the atmosphere as a tearful Elliot looks on, already missing his best friend.

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial is, without a doubt, one of the most emotional family films you can witness. I recently re-watched it, and even having seen it countless times before hand, you can’t help but feel more than a little emotional throughout.

 We see how Elliot feels alienated from his family, and this emptiness can only be filled by an alien, who is also looking for a companion. This alien brought a broken family together, only to leave due to the intolerance of adults.

Spielberg has said that the idea for this film dates back to when his parents got divorced, some 20 years before ET: The Extra-Terrestrial was released. At this time, Spielberg imagined that he himself had an imaginary alien to help him through the tough period.

So, in my retrospective articles, I like to ask: Is this an important movie? With regards to ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, ask a stupid question…

 ET: The Extra-Terrestrial is nothing short of an amazing film. As with most Spielberg flicks, it is visually stunning, musically it is quietly brilliant, and the story itself is nothing but sublime. It’s important to note that the movie was filmed in chronological order – a clever ploy by Spielberg in order to get a more emotional response from his child actors.

Speaking of which, the child actors proved that they indeed had quite the acting muscles. Everyone down to the ridiculously young Drew Barrymore showed that they could teach most adult actors a thing or two.

But, of course, it was a little alien who stole the show. ET, bearing in mind that it as 1982 when the film hit cinemas, looked amazing. Technically, visually, to see him emit emotions that an experienced Steven Segal would only love to be able to accomplish is only fascinating.

This film, though not his first or last attempt at sci fi, is definitely Spielberg’s most important. Though his previous attempts at the box office did set his name into the directorial stratosphere, it was ET: The Extra-Terrestrial that made sure he would stay there forever.

“I’ll be right here.” Never was a truer phrase uttered.

Chris Droney

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