Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter: Melissa Mathison
Cast: Henry Thomas, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote
Nominations: Picture, Director – Steven Spielberg, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Score (original), Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Visual Effects
Wins: Score (original), Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Visual Effects
It has nothing to do with the actual film, but one of my earliest memories of E.T. is the green guard panel on the VHS tape. The green served no functional purpose for the tape, of course, yet more than 30 years later I still remember knowing that when my mom grabbed the tape with green that we were in for a good time: we were going to watch E.T. And still, 30 years later, I’m just as caught up in the film’s enchanting fantasy and charm as I was back then.
Above all, even though it definitely is a product of the early 1980s, E.T. is incredibly timeless. The story as is could have easily taken place in 2020 or 1950 and very little—if anything—would seem out of place or severely anachronistic. Kids have ridden and still ride their bikes, siblings have picked on and still pick on siblings, parents have gotten and still get divorced, and people working for unnamed government organizations have had and still should have their motives questioned. And most importantly, friendships can transcend any and all kinds of differences, even those of the intergalactic variety. There’s so much relatability throughout the film that its universal critical acclaim and audience love comes as no surprise.
I think one reason the film has had a long-lasting emotional impact across three generations is grounded in E.T. himself (Spielberg has said that E.T. is genderless, but because everyone in film calls E.T. he/him/his I’m going with those identifiers). For all intents and purposes, E.T. is real. He was physically in his scenes, interacting with others, looking at and touching objects, waddling about, and so on. Watching the film, it becomes difficult to see E.T. as a prop or special effect: it’s because of that that we care about him. The man responsible for creating E.T., Carlo Rambaldi, summed up the power of having the alien be a tangible creation:
If Spielberg were to film E.T. today using the latest technology I’m not sure it would be a hit because the techniques they’re using at the moment couldn’t reproduce the tender expression of E.T.’s eyes, for example. The secret of creating what technology is unable to express lies in the work of the artisan, who is able to develop characteristics that touch our deepest emotions.Carlo Rambaldi
For evidence of what Rambaldi means just look at the CG E.T. added to the 20th anniversary extended version of the film and try to muster the slightest bit of interest in it. (I strongly recommend not to watch that version, but that might not be an issue considering the DVD is no longer in circulation.)
Digging deeper into the film’s themes, the religious metaphors and symbolism are impossible to ignore—especially regarding Jesus and Christianity. E.T. is sent to Earth, performs miracles, gains disciples, dies, is resurrected, and ascends to the heavens, leaving a lasting impact on the lives he encountered. On top of that, he is the ultimate epitome of goodness, tenderness, and understanding. Some folks have a “What would Jesus do?” bumper sticker; I’d be more inclined to slap on a “What would E.T. do?” sticker.
Overall, though, what I love most about E.T. is its magic. Whether it’s making clay balls spin like planets or healing Elliot’s cut with his glowing finger, everything about E.T. is spellbinding. His large, kind and welcoming eyes draw us in to the power of accepting the unknown and strange; he’s just as interested in us as we are in him. And honestly, who among us didn’t imagine being the one E.T. came to? To help with his machine? To fly on your bike with him in the basket? The film’s wholesomeness induces wonderful nostalgia and longing to be a child again, because as a child, anything is possible—even making friends with a squat, brown, and loving alien creature.