Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Cutting Edge: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

It is difficult to categorize Steven Spielberg's 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' (1982) into a specific film genre. Not only is E.T. a heartwarming family film, it is also a sci-fi, fantasy, action, adventure, horror and comedy all rolled into one. Like Spielberg's 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977), E.T. does not feature bloodthirsty aliens wreaking havoc on earth. Instead, it follows the story of a young boy on a quest to help his friend return home.

Fig. 1 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' (1982)
This young boy, Elliot (Henry Thomas), recruits his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) to keep their alien friend a secret from their mother, Mary (Dee Wallacec). The family resides in California, living dysfunctionally after Mary recently separated from the children's father who is physically absent during the film. Often, the adults in this film (excluding Mary) are faceless, we never see Elliot's teacher, father or any of the authorities (until the end of the film). The entire film is meant to focus on the little alien called E.T. and the three young children who befriend it.

Considering Elliot is 10, Gertie is 5 and Michael is 15 in the film, it is easy to assume that the children who performed these roles were near the same age. Even if they were slightly older than their characters, their performances were impressive to say the least. This is crucial for the film as it seems to revolve around childhood innocence. Since Elliot especially has an important role in the story, it is important that he seems genuine and kind while still being a believable child with flaws such as selfishness. This comes across nearly perfectly in Henry Thomas' performance, "He doesn't come across as an over-coached professional kid, he's natural, defiant, easily touched, cunning, brave and childlike," (Ebert, 2002).

It's effortless to see the resemblance between E.T. and Close Encounters as similar themes and characters run through the films. "In countless ways - its suburban setting, the similarities between Elliot and Roy Neary, the encroaching presence of the secret state, aliens - E.T. is a piece with Close Encounters," (Harris, 2000). Both take place in America, focusing on the relatable every-day life of an average family living in the suburbs. Just like Close Encounters, this draws the viewer in and makes them feel like the same events could happen to them.

Elliot and Roy both have dysfunctional families,  they're both trying to cope with struggles that many people face, such as the aftermath of divorce. However, they are both randomly 'chosen' and are thrown into a crazy, surreal adventure involving beings from outer space.  It is clear that Spielberg has a soft spot for family and often expresses it in his films, however in E.T. it feels much more sentimental. This could be because in Close Encounters the main character leaves his family to continue his adventure in (Spielberg later admitted he felt this was a mistake).

Fig. 2 Family Dinner.
Another similarity between Close Encounters and E.T. is that government/authorities are the bad guys, but in E.T. they seem to be more clueless than intentionally bad. It is unclear what actually causes the little alien to become sick and start to die. Elliot constantly screams that the scientists were killing him but this seems unlikely as E.T. is seen becoming ill before the authorities seized them. Michael even mentioned that the creature wasn't looking so good as they were finding materials to build a communication device. While it was clear in Close Encounters that some authorities were intentionally abusing their power over others, in E.T. it seems more subjective to Elliot's point of view. Admittedly, they were running tests on E.T. but they also attempted to revive him when he was dying. While the adults in E.T. may have been causing more harm then good and ignored Elliot's pleas, it would be wrong to say that they were pure evil. Spielberg does not spare us from the truth, in reality if there was an alien in the possession of the government, it would most likely be experimented on.

That truthfulness is another aspect that is admirable about Spielberg's films that involve aliens visiting our planet. He makes it seem as though it could happen in real life. Not only do the characters feel authentic in their ordinary lives, but the reactions of the characters and the government to the events that unfold feel as though they would happen in real life. It is likely that if a creature from another planet was in the possession of the government, tests and experiments would be conducted on it to learn more about it. If an alien was discovered on our planet, people would feel awe and amazement. However, it is highly likely people would also feel fear due to the unknown, even if it presents not threat to us.

E.T. like Close Encounters shows the very real reaction people would have to these situations. However, in both films Spielberg chooses not to include intergalactic warfare and death. Instead, he chooses to show that not everything that is strange or different is bad. "With E.T. - and his Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Spielberg redefined popular sci-fi. Extra-terrestrials no longer had to be a laser-blazing threat to humanity: the universe, he was saying, is also full of awe and wonder," (Lee, 2010).

Fig. 3 E.T.'s Ship

Canby, V. (1982) E T The Extra Terrestrial (1982) At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C0DEFDB143BF932A25755C0A964948260 Accessed on: 1/3/2016
Ebert, R. (2002) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/et-the-extra-terrestrial-2002 Accessed on: 3/1/2016
Harris, J. (2000) Empire Essay: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Review At: http://www.empireonline.com/movies/empire-essay-et-extra-terrestrial-2/review/ Accessed on: 1/3/2016
Lee, M. (2014) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, review: 'redefined popular sci-fi' At: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/11310774/Must-have-movie-ET-The-Extra-Terrestrial-1982.html Accessed on: 1/3/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial [Poster] At: http://centerforcreativemedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/E.T..jpg Accessed on: 1/3/2016
Figure 2. Family Dinner [Film Still] At: http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/5000000/E-T-The-Extra-Terrestrial-et-the-extra-terrestrial-5075634-852-480.jpg Accessed on: 1/3/2016
Figure 3. E.T.'s Ship [Film Still] At: http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/5000000/E-T-The-Extra-Terrestrial-et-the-extra-terrestrial-5079717-852-480.jpg Accessed on: 1/3/2016


  1. I wish I could have shared this big screen experience with you lot! What a treat! A thoughtful review, Dee :)

  2. As always, a great review, Dee :)