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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Director: Steven Speilberg

Cast: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore

"E.T. phone home."

"You could be happy here, I could take care of you. I wouldn't let anybody hurt you. We could grow up together, E.T."

"I'll be right here."

E.T. came out in 1982 when I was six years old. I saw it twice in the theater with my parents. I remember that vividly. It was my first memory in a movie theater and going to see something twice is something that never happened with my parents again. Believe it or not after that is when my relationship with the movie gets murky. I know that Speilberg waited years to release E.T. on home video. I can recall going to the video store to rent it and it not being available. When he did finally release it we had a copy at my home. It was in the big clam shell packaging like Disney used for so many years. I believe I was thirteen and I watched it a few times over the next year. I loved it but then simply put it to the side. I knew all the references in the years that followed. Phone home, Reese's Pieces, and flying bikes are all things that you don't even have to have seen the film to recognize where they came from. I never had a desire to see it again though. I felt like I knew it and it was apart of my childhood but probably wasn't going to be something that appealed to me in my adult life.

My desire to watch it again grew in the past few months after watching Close Encounters for the first time. I really enjoyed most of that film but it fell apart for me in the final third in a way that I didn't remember E.T. doing. I compare the films not only because they are from Speilberg but because I think they have a very similar arc. Sure enough the tone through the first two thirds of E.T. was just as I remembered. Nobody does Americana like Speilberg. His families are perfect, in that they are not perfect, which makes them perfect. It is not just that however. The feeling of time and place in E.T. is unparalleled. There are so many little touches that add to the tone it would be hard to do them justice by naming just a few but I will anyway. D&D, Space Invaders T-Shirt, whole hamburger on a fork, speak and spell, Star Wars action figures, and every single scene that takes place in this suburb neighborhood that could be in any state in America. The way he writes his characters also gives them such a realistic feel. The whole family is wonderful but I especially love the relationship of Elliot and Michael. The way they interact gives us such a true sense of who these brothers are. Michael is older and at times gives Elliot a hard time as is to be expected but at the same time you know that these brothers are having the same experiences and would step in front of a bus for each other. A great example of this is before Michael is even introduced to E.T. He comes home from school knowing Elliot was faking being sick. He gives Elliot a hard time for a split second but then immediately switches gears and begins to tell him about the day and a friend's high score in a video game. Another character moment that demonstrates the genius of Speilberg's small touches comes when the mother is frustrated that the kids are not yet back from trick or treating. She storms to her car frustrated that she is being put out and mutters under her breath the word Mexico. This is a very simple call back to when Elliot informs his mom that their dad is going to Mexico with his new girlfriend. No one had mentioned it sense but it was there the whole time. It is a very small thing, something you could easily miss if you blink. It speaks volumes about the care that was put into these characters and why they feel so real. It is why we feel so much affection for them in the short time we spend with them. It is why they live forever in our pop culture zeitgeist.

I have droned on quite a bit without even mentioning the star of the show, E.T. He is a wonderful creation. There are many things in this film that have not aged all that well but thankfully E.T. himself is not one of them. He is still an amazing looking puppet. Full of character and humor. We could have certainly had a compelling story without it but I love the way that they decided to connect E.T. and Elliot. It adds emotional depth that maybe would not have been quite as heart wrenching otherwise. It also allows them to give us one of the better scenes in the movie. I can't imagine anyone not smiling during the frog dissection sequence. Gertie's interactions with E.T. are also sweet and funny. Her teaching him to speak, giving him the flowers, and calling him the man on from the moon are all a big part of what makes this movie special. Gertie is a pretty small character but once again one that seems authentic and essential to the film. I was really interested in this viewing to see how the third act played out for me. As I mentioned it all but ruined my experience with Close Encounters and I was desperately hoping for a different result here. E.T. and Elliot did not disappoint. From the moment E.T. pops out of the incubator and declares “E.T. phone home” I remembered why I love the ending of this movie so much. The bike race is still one of the best chase sequences ever put to film and then we get the goodbye. I am not ashamed to say I tear up right along with Elliot. “I'll be right here” is one of the great last lines for a movie.

Needless to say I am so happy I decided to return to this astounding film. I am sorry it took me this long to remember why it was one of my favorites. After watching it again it is firmly back where it should be among the movies I love.