E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

Re-watching this movie as an adult (and making the most of £3 cinema ticket Saturday), I wondered what I’d remember or how I’d find it. The answer it turns out — not a lot, (I found it quite scary in the 1980s as an 8 or 9 year old), apart from the toy closet and the spacemen emulating biohazards team. But not too scary to have an ET doll! As an adult watcher, it’s magical and still holds up forty years on!

I didn’t remember the first bit at all, where all the ETs are wandering around, gently collecting plant samples and enjoying a night-time botany field trip to Planet Earth. Enraptured by the night-time lights of San Fernando Valley, ET ignores the call to get in the mothership real quick and is unfortunately left behind. I’d forgotten his speaking at all — the snorts, squeaks and screams were unexpected. The cinematography is wonderful — shot from low to mid points, ET or child height; we’re really in the action with him. Some locals with torches have seen the spaceship leave and soon the scorch marks are being investigated, X-File style, because the truth is out there…

In this case, the truth is in your yard, probably rootling for food in your outhouse and being mistaken for a coyote. Remarkably, the movie features a lone parent family and family break-up, and all the emotions and tensions around it — their Mum is also a paid working parent juggling lots of commitments and responsibilities, and doing the very best she can to raise her family. Notably the 1984 teens indulge in smoking when Mum’s away; using the landline(!) to make phone calls, and with no mobile phones or screens, there are lots of BMX bike adventures, unsupervised by any adults. It’s quite refreshing — all the running around and screaming, and not seeing a glowing screen in sight!

Elliot Taylor encounters something strange in the neighbourhood, but rather than Ghostbusting, this is a case for the candy trail lure. ET is lured into the family home by sweet snacks and then introduced to a whistlestop educational tour of all things Planet Earth and human by Elliot. Hidden in the walk-in toy closet, ET is then introduced to Elliot’s older brother Michael and younger sister Gertie; experiencing dress up, and the joys and perils of beer, potato salad and daytime TV along the way. Somehow, ET is able to heal by touch (cue the glowing finger) and has emotionally linked himself with Elliot. Home alone ET, having drunk too much beer, watched continuous day time TV and wolfed too many snacks, emotionally links so that Elliot experiences the sensations of ET’s activities. The grand finale is when Elliot proceeds to free the classroom frogs from a biology experiment. I approve — free the frogs! Not sure about all the girls standing on chairs screaming about the frogs everywhere!

Gertie teaches ET to speak English — then they start on the science project of a lifetime to enable ET to phone home using (Blue Peter/A-Team style) things you find lying around — including a Speak and Spell toy! In a funny moment, ET is disguised as a ghost (being Gertie) during a neighbourhood Trick and Treat, and distractedly guided to the forest to phone home. He meets Yoda! Magically ET, bundled on the front of a bike, is able to make the bike ‘fly’, soaring infront of the Moon and over the trees in gasp out loud moments.

Exposed to Earth’s atmosphere, forest and urban microclimates, children, a varied unhealthy diet, beer, potato salad, rubbish bins and dogs, ET starts to sicken and die — as does Elliot. X-Files style, the government are listening in and have located the Taylor family home as the source of UFO activity. When their Mum leaves the house, in go the experts to test for aliens! Deeply unwell, Elliot sends his older brother to find ET, who is located, collapsed and distressingly unwell too — the family house is sealed off as one giant biohazard, and Elliot and ET placed into monitored mobile hospital units. You have to watch the pot plant here — some flowers that ET has revived earlier on match his rising and falling health patterns. ET seems to die, but the glowing heart light gives him away when he’s placed in a sealed unit — he’s alive!

The family and local friends join together to free ET and one of the scientists is a true believer in UFOs and aliens, so gives a helping hand. There’s a funny moment when Michael freaks out at driving the van — he has to drive forward — he’s only reversed the family car before! Off they go to the forest, with two scientists still attached in a plastic biotunnel skittering behind — until Elliot pulls the plugs. Pursued by the local authorities, the BMX-ing friends also experience flying — this time across the setting sun.

The other ETs return to collect their missing friend, and there is a hugely emotional moment as ET bids everyone farewell before heading back into space.

Watching 40 years on, the strong story telling is impressive — the emotional punches (scary, moving, tearful, funny) are huge and most of the flying effects still stand up. Magical. Much of the story is told visually, cutting across language barriers and it is very funny as ET navigates his new American world, (and Gertie’s questions). The styling of the scenes is great — I love ET impersonating a staring, large eyed soft toy in the closet when the Mum investigates a noise upstairs. The cast are excellent — just like regular children rather than ‘child actors’. Best of all is John Williams score which makes the film even more emotional.

Regretting sending my ET doll to the dump now!!!

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Susan Tailby

Susan Tailby

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By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....