Steven Spielberg. I’m having an odd sense of deja vu in reading about him and his themes in relation to his sixth theatrical release, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Of course, I should expect to become a Spielberg scholar by the end of this little project considering he has FIVE films on the list; more then any other director. With a career so vast and spanning such a long time (almost 40 years now), it makes sense his films would be largely included on the list. E.T. is a shining example of Spielberg’s major themes and proof that sometimes you should leave good things alone. Trust me, I’ll explain that last bit later.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial begins with a spaceship somewhere in a California forest. The little creatures are exploring the plant life when they decided it’s time to leave. One of the group has wandered a little too far and becomes scared when a group of human adults come upon him. As it runs to his ship, all the while being chased, the other aliens are forced to leave and thus leaving “E.T.” behind. As it wanders into suburbia, it comes across a young boy named Elliott. Along with his older brother, Michael, and his younger sister, Gertie, they bring the creature into their home and proceed to try and help it home all the while hiding it from their mother. Unbeknownst to them, the men from the beginning of the film are government officials who have been tracking the creature since it left the forest. After spending a night in the forest trying to contact it’s ship, the creature is captured by the government. It is up to Elliott and his siblings to try and save it so it can meet up with its ship and ultimately get home.
Much of the film focuses around the character of Elliott (played by Henry Thomas) and how his life changes as a result of E.T. entering his life. A middle child living with his mother, he feels isolated and forgotten. With older brother Michael being a tormentor and younger sister Gertie being the annoying baby sister, it isn’t until meeting E.T. that he feels more of a connection and even grows closer to his siblings. With a majority of the cast made up of child actors (including a young Drew Barrymore), the emotional honesty of the film is what seems to stick with people. Spielberg even tried to shoot most of the film from a kids point of view so as to put the audience on the same level as them; so they experienced the movie with them, not looking down on them.
What is always remembered is the creature itself. The unique design of it’s body and face are recognizable. Even to most children, myself included, it wasn’t scary. It had it’s moments (like when it screams at Gertie) that were off-putting, but on the whole it wasn’t a frighting design. Spielberg did this on purpose, wanting it to be a film that kids connected with. The design was that of Carlo Rambaldi, an Italian special effects artist. He modeled the face after Albert Einstein, Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, and a pug dog. A variety of puppets and animatronics were created and used within the film as it called for it. I know that some people found the creature frightening, but what truly scared me when I was younger were the adults. The moment where they come over the horizon as the the orange sky backlights them used to send me in a tizzy. I don’t think I even watched past the point in the film for a long time. Spielberg was successful in making the adults what we should fear.
Now, I can’t talk about this film without bringing up the “20 Year Anniversary Release”. With most films now, reissues or releases might include deleted scenes that the director would have left in had they the final say. However, with E.T. Spielberg not only added material, but went back and changed scenes as well. I can understand the technology not being there when he first made the film and therefore was forced to cut some of the E.T. scenes, however adding a C.G.I. alien has really bothered me. I think it is mostly due to the fact he adds it to almost EVERY scene E.T. is in. I can see sprucing up the forest scenes or any of the scenes in which E.T. needed more “movement”, but even to change the scene where he first meets Gertie? I think it takes away from the movie in a lot of ways. This could also be due to the fact I remember seeing the movie WITHOUT the effects. It should also be noted I was not a fan of the Star Wars changes.
Now, I will say I respect Spielberg and his choice to change the film in this way. However, I do not care for the “deletion of guns” in the film. When being chased by “the Government”, in the original film they carried guns, a totally realistic thing. When they are about to fly over the barricade, the men are holding shot guns. Again, in this situation, I would EXPECT them to have weapons. Yet, Spielberg felt the need to digitally remove the guns and put walkie talkies. I know it’s a very small detail in the grand scheme of the film and I know he did it because he felt it was a lot more of a “violent image” then he wanted in the film. Yet, they never shot the guns or even aim them at the kids? I imagine you might say, well then why does the change bother you? Because I think it lowers the tension of the moment. I’d fear the man in the suit holding a gun more then a man welding a walkie talkie.
Despite my issues with the rereleased version, I do enjoy this film and it always gets me teary at the end. Who hasn’t had that moment of saying goodbye to someone? It brings it’s viewers back to those moments in their own lives. Spielberg is a genius is putting his audience in the shoes of the characters. Mostly, this is due to his use of themes that almost anyone can identify with. While my parents never got divorced, I can speak to the feeling of being disconnected as a child from things around me. His films are universal and it makes sense why so many of them are on the top 100 list: everyone can find something in them to connect to.