Cast: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Robert MacNaughton, Peter Cyote and Dee Wallace
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Melissa Mathison
Back in 1981, E.T. may have perhaps been considered among Steven Spielberg’s crowning achievements. The director was thirty five at the time of its release, but already had an impressive back-catalogue containing ‘Jaws’, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and the first Indiana Jones film to boast. However, ‘E.T.’ showed for the first time a true understanding of childlike wonder which would later define much of Spielberg’s work. The doe-eyed expression displayed by Elliott throughout most of the film, as he gazes with a mix of wonder and fear at the possibility of a new friend who he’s discovered, but one that looks different enough to warrant a degree of uncertainty, is how so many of us would have seen the world at that age, and tenderly pulls the audience back towards their childhood, whether they were born in the eighties or any other era. That’s why, fourty years on, Spielberg’s filmmaking has the ability to draw in viewers with equal captivity, as they lose themselves in this fantastical tale once again.
Known for his striking visuals and symbolic compositions within films, Spielberg remains on top form throughout ‘E.T.’. Moments of uncertainty are quite literally shrouded in fog, whilst the threat of an unknown government agency, set to steal Elliott’s friend away from him appears as anonymous and sinister, as each shot with adults shown spends the entire scene ensuring that they’re hardly present. There’s a huge emphasis on a childlike perspective on events, and by telling a story through a symbolic approach to visuals, rather than simply just how they play out, the film develops an added layer of complexity to what could be a light-hearted and fairly simple tale, much like ‘The Goonies’ a few years later. (Not to say ‘The Goonies’ could ever be improved in any way, that film is perfect exactly as it comes.)
Although the edges around E.T.’s prosthetic complexion may now show up as a little more unbelievable than viewers might have taken the time to notice back in 1981, and the visual effects may leave a great deal to the imagination, it’s the motivation behind these moments which matter more than the actual visuals themselves. To see a gang of biker kids having their wheels lifted from the ground appears so exciting to the audience because they understand the joy that such a moment would have inspired in them at that age, rather than being brought down by any slightly dated effects.
‘E.T. the Extra Terrestrial’ was a massive hit upon its release in the early eighties, and has clearly had a great impact on popular culture, with TV shows like ‘Stranger Things’ in recent years taking so much inspiration from the film that Spielberg probably deserves a writing credit. Whilst a modern viewer might write it off simply as another dated nostalgia-fest, there’s a great deal more to enjoy about ‘E.T.’ than you may first think, and to go back to the cinema and see it all play out on the big screen is something absolutely worth enjoying.