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E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Entry updated 18 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1982). Universal. Directed and coproduced by Steven Spielberg. Written by Melissa Mathison. Cast includes Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Robert McNaughton, Henry Thomas and Dee Wallace. 115 minutes. Colour.

10-year-old Elliott (Thomas) meets an alien, "E.T.", who has been accidentally left outside Los Angeles when his spacecraft and its crew – which we infer includes his parents – is forced to depart rapidly to avoid a search party sent out by a human task force. Elliott and E.T., who demonstrates various Psi Powers, become friends. E.T. wants to "phone home", and builds a communications device out of household objects. But he soon begins to sicken in our fallen world, as does Elliott, now emotionally linked to E.T. As the task force finally targets the alien traces they are searching, and invades Elliott's home (where he lives with his two siblings and his mother: the father has left home for good), E.T. becomes terminally ill. After the apparent death of the alien child, Elliott recovers and discovers that, like Jesus, E.T. is not in fact dead (or is resurrected). With the help of Elliott and his friends, and proving in the nick of time that he can still levitate bicycles, E.T. escapes the adults, returns to the rendezvous, is reunited with his kind; and leaves. The novelization is E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, in His Adventure on Earth (1985) by William Kotzwinkle.

Almost certainly the most commercially successful film ever made, E.T. confidently alternates finely controlled sentiment and humour, the choreography of all this being almost flawless. But for some it is not a film that grows in the memory; for them the loneliness of the lizard-like but soft-eyed E.T., whose parents have left him, and of Elliott (another E ... T), remains merely sad in a curiously unreverberant way. Countering this response, however, is the luminosity of the film, and a sense that its presentation of the epiphanies of childhood is truly joyful. The careful structuring of emotional release can be seen in the handling of adult males. They are first seen (only from the waist down) as hulking and affectless, but turn out to be concerned and sympathetic as E.T. sickens drastically; and the most empathetic of them is clearly destined to marry the deserted mother. Elliott's elder brother undergoes a similar transformation earlier in the film. There are echoes throughout of J M Barrie's Peter Pan (1904), as envisioned in the Walt Disney film Peter Pan (1953); this was also to be the source of Spielberg's later Hook (1991). [JC]

see also: Cinema; History of SF; The Iron Giant.


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