After a year of reading Ryan’s Blind Spot Series I have decided to join in for 2013. first up E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is over thirty years old and is much loved by a generation, my generation, however I have never seen it. Many people reading this will know the film better than I do. In this situation, reviewing a film that came out when I was six but didn’t see until I was thirty-six would somehow miss the point. So rather than reviewing the movie I am just going to share a few thoughts including my relationship with the movie.
It is not a movie I have avoided or not wanted to see, it is just something that has never happened. As I have mentioned previously on this site, I didn’t go to the cinema very often as a kid, I was a child of the home video generation. Unlike now when a big movie seems to find its way to DVD as soon as it has finished its cinema run things were different back in the 80’s and years passed without ET making it to VHS. It finally made it to VHS in the late 80’s. By this time I was in my early teens and watching movies like The Terminator and Aliens and wasn’t interested in a “Kids Film”. Some time during this period between the cinema and video release my dad borrowed a copy of the video from a friend that obviously turned out to be a pirate copy. The quality was so poor we couldn’t tell what was going on and gave up after ten minutes (possibly less). The film was re-released for the 20th anniversary in 2002. I went along to the one night only screening at my local multiplex to find it sold out and went to see something different.
I hadn’t actually given up on seeing the movie, but didn’t go out of my way to see it. Then two things happened, I signed up for the Blind Spot Series, knowing that ET would have to be on my list as I had previously discussed it with Ryan. And to celebrate the 30th anniversary the movie was shown on TV with a documentary about it. I promptly set my STB to record it and have just watched it, so what did I think of it?
You all know the plot. A group of alien explorers and botanists are collecting samples of plant life from earth when they are disturbed, by the US government. They flea leaving one of their number behind. He is found by a young boy who forms a strong emotional bond with the alien that becomes symbiotic causing great danger for both parties.
Firstly, it isn’t the movie I expected. The subplot of Elliot’s parents separation looms large in the background and with it the subtext of the broken society that was creeping into 70’s and 80’s cinema after the optimism and hope of the 60’s. This dark tone is mirrored by the darkness of the film visually, with a lot of nigh time scenes. But it is in the harsh light of day and of florescent lighting that the movie is thematically at its darkest. In that way, it makes a good companion peace with Jaws that may (or may not depending on which film critic you ask) be about infidelity. The relationship between boy and alien is always doomed, by giving the ET what he wants, what he needs, to return him home, will result in their separation. But all this can be countered by the idea of making the aliens, the monsters, the creatures who are different, good, honest and benevolent. In the time before glasnost, Steven Spielberg was preaching acceptance and friendship. How ever you look at it, it is clearly a very personal film to its director, but I often get the feeling all his films are very personal to him.
Although it has its moments it is a lot less fun than I expected. The sentimentality is ramped up to eleven with the aid of John Williams’ score, but this isn’t a criticism, the movie achieves what it sets out in this regard. My only real criticism of the movie is that it doesn’t have that one moment you expect from Spielberg to grab hold of you like: Quint’s story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in Jaws, the “snowing” ash in Schindler’s List, the Omaha Beach landing in Saving Private Ryan or even the T-Rex footsteps in Jurassic Park. There are memorable moments in the movie but they just didn’t grab me.
Never held back by the schmaltz that is clearly present, as it is always balanced with great story telling and darker themes. A supremely well made movie that I enjoyed watching but saw far too late in life to fall in love with the way many people before me have.