Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: June 11, 1982
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Allen Daviau
WRITER: Melissa Mathison
MUSIC: John Williams
Growing up in the late 1980s and early ‘90s meant that there was no way I was going to avoid the wonder that is “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”. I was always a big fan of the movie when I was a kid, but it was a movie that I hadn’t seen in well over 20 years. I think this was mostly due to the fact that it was so overplayed when I was a kid that at certain points in my life, I actively avoided it.
Well, now that I’ve finally revisited the film, all I can say is that the magic is still there. The moment the movie started, all the memories began to flood back, from the scene where Elliot lures E.T. with a bag of Reese’s Pieces to the horrifying moment when E.T. was found dying. Then, of course, there is the emotional ending and unless you have a heart of freaking stone, you’d be hard pressed not to shed at least one tear.
I was impressed most during this viewing with just how well the practical-effects have held up after all this time. E.T. is still a living, breathing character as you watch the movie and this is one puppet that still knows how to generate the emotions. On the flip side, my only real problem with the movie is that some of the film’s effects later in the movie, like the kids flying through the air on their bikes, has noticeably aged but honestly, this is to be expected.
One thing that director Steven Spielberg has always been able to do is generate brilliant performances from his child actors. This film is no exception and a special shout out is deserved for the three main leads. Henry Thomas is fantastic as Elliot as he develops his friendship with E.T. and also has the heavier emotional investment.
Beyond Thomas, there is also a young Drew Barrymore as Gertie and Robert McNaughton as Michael who both turn in solid supporting performances. The adults that are actually seen in the movie, especially Dee Wallace as Elliot’s mother Mary, turn in powerful and emotional turns as well. This includes scenes where Wallace has to effortlessly move around the house in such a way that she won’t see E.T. with classic comedic timing.
Another element that the movie can’t live without is another epic score from the master himself, John Williams. Spielberg’s films are already good to a certain point, but they are absolutely NOTHING without Williams’ amazing music. Like E.T., the music brings out the appropriate emotions when necessary and the score also invokes a mysterious tone as we discover more about E.T. as the film progresses.
Of course, this movie doesn’t work at all without Spielberg’s brilliant direction. Spielberg is a man who looks at each script and develops a unique way to tell the story on the big screen. In this case, he tells the story completely from the kids’ perspectives and this why beyond the mother, you don’t see too many of the adult faces throughout the film.
Spielberg also wanted to tell a story of separation as the kids are dealing with the separation of their parents. Elliot is in need of a friend at just the right time when E.T. enters his life. The movie is a fantastic example of tackling the tough subject of kids going through their parents’ divorce and finding unexpected friendships to make it through a tough time.
That’s where Spielberg’s films manage to succeed the most. Sure, they’re massive box-office earners, but they also tend to have a lot of heart and feature universal themes that resonate throughout generations. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” is a genuine classic that shows off the best of what Spielberg can do as a director and as a visual storyteller.