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After Thirty Years, Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” Remains a Timeless Masterpiece

October 22, 2012

By John C.

It’s hard to believe that this past June marked the thirtieth anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s timeless masterpiece E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a milestone that was celebrated with a brand new Blu-ray edition from Universal Studios Home Entertainment just two weeks ago.

The film was originally released back in 1982, when it was met with unanimous critical acclaim and sat atop the box office for a record sixteen weeks, capturing the hearts and imaginations of moviegoers of all ages.  As the movie takes place around and memorably even on Halloween night itself, it only seems appropriate to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of E.T. during the month of October.

Right from the wordless opening scene when the Oscar-winning music of John Williams immediately becomes an integral part of the experience, it’s clear that the film is telling the story of two characters who beautifully come together within the first act.  The first is the story of a young alien who is on Earth looking for samples of plants and finds himself stranded after his ship leaves without him.  The second is that of Elliott (Henry Thomas), a boy who clearly feels lost in his own world, which is evident by the way that he is trying desperately to interact with his older brother Michael’s (Robert MacNaughton) friends the first time we see him on screen.

After waiting up, Elliott finds E.T. and leads him into the house with a trail of candy and immediately bonds with the alien.  Elliott introduces E.T. to his brother and their little sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and they become protectors of the alien and try to keep him hidden from their mother (Dee Wallace).  But he can only survive on Earth for so long before attracting the attention of the government that is already hot on his trail, and the three siblings have to help E.T. with his journey to get back home.  With a lot of the cinematography coming from a much lower eye level than that of an adult, the film is carried by the young characters and the performances of the child actors are nothing short of phenomenal.

What’s interesting is that Steven Spielberg shot the film in what was pretty much chronological order to help with their naturalistic performances, and it really adds to the genuine emotion that is felt throughout the film.  It’s hard to believe just how young Drew Barrymore really was when she made the film, and she still steals scenes as Elliott’s adorable younger sister, adding an extra layer of childlike innocence to the heartfelt friendship at the centre of the story.  Then there’s the irresistible title character of little E.T. himself.  Brought to life through a mix of puppeteering and practical special effects, he has an incredibly appealing screen presence and wins over the audience in the same way as he does the characters.

When E.T. was released on DVD for the first time in honour of the twentieth anniversary back in 2002, Steven Spielberg remastered the film, digitizing certain shots of the title character to add more emotion to his face.  He also famously replaced the guns originally shown in the hands of the police officers during the finale with walkie talkies, stating that upon revising the film he found it inappropriate to have people with weapons pursuing the young characters.  A deleted scene with E.T. in the bathtub, which wasn’t included in the original theatrical release because the puppet apparently looked too stiff, was also digitally remastered and added for the twentieth anniversary.

I must have been about nine years old when I saw E.T. for the first time, and even watching it at home on what was probably a Sunday afternoon, I was completely transported to the world of the film.  I’ve seen it numerous times since then and even as an adult I find it impossible not to be transfixed by every single scene.  There is a magical realism to how Steven Spielberg brings the story to life and something timeless about the way he deals with the themes of friendship and acceptance permeating every frame, that the film is able to transcend past the age of those who watch it for the first time and in many ways grows even more emotionally resonant with every viewing.

There are numerous movies that are watched every year around Halloween, and now more than ever E.T. deserves to be one of them.  This is one of those timeless films that has aged beautifully and holds up incredibly well to numerous repeated viewings.  After thirty years, E.T. is still an exciting and deeply moving masterpiece that plays as a testament the absolute magic of cinema.

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