Brad’s April Escape - Part 9
April 15 - E.T.
Each weekday this month, I’ll screen a film from The Bearded Trio Cinematic Universe and list 10 random scenes, characters, musical cues or performances that I particularly enjoy and look forward to upon every viewing. I’d love to hear similar little things you enjoy about these films, and hope you join me in this escape from the present-day world.
Next up is the film that knocked Star Wars out of the top spot on the U.S. box office list, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial
E.T. - An Introduction
For someone of my age, the years between 1977 and 1984 were years we were spoiled with cinematic treasures. Falling right in the middle of that was E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982). Coming after Raiders of the Lost Ark and before Return of the Jedi, E.T. seemed to be a movie ready-made for huge success. Steven Spielberg was back behind the camera after the triumph of Raiders. John Williams was handling the score, and advance hype for the film promised another turn towards outer space.
But as happens with so many of Spielberg's projects, a movie about space aliens had fairly little to do with space aliens. It is a film that tugs on the heart strings, is firmly entrenched in the 1980s, and had a profound effect on its own filmmaker. Spielberg has famously said he didn't consider a family of his own until working with his E.T. family. That bond, thanks to some inspired direction and wonderful performances by the actors, translates perfectly into that suburban American family in the early 1980s.
10 Things I Like - E.T.
1. The first jump-scare of the film. And it's our first really good look at E.T. But it's also a clever move by Spielberg, showing the alien, but showing it so quickly, and in such a frightening moment, that audiences don't really have a chance to embed his face into their minds until later, when E.T. is in Elliott's bedroom.
2. Admit it - you tried this trick of faking being sick.
3. I don't know where Spielberg studied up on the contents of a 9-year-old boy's bedroom in 1982, but he didn't miss a detail. Aside from Boba Fett, pictured here, there were Star Wars playsets, an NFL superstars poster, toy cars, a book on the solar system, all things I had in my room too. Even the fake-spill Coke can was something my uncle had in his room with video games and a pinball machine.
Like so many of these films from the 1977-84 era, I felt like they were aimed squarely at me. I was 9 in 1982, so Elliott, his toys, and his curiosity about the world around him felt like an extension of myself. However, Elliott is not the child I most identified with...
4. The one I identified with most with was Michael, the oldest of the three. I was the oldest of my generation of cousins in my Metro Detroit extended family, so Michael was the one I feel like I could connect to, even if he was a few years older than me.
What I love about Michael's character is how naturally and effectively he evolved through the film. He blew Elliott off at any opportunity, as any older brother would. But starting with his "OK, OK I swear" scene, he became fully invested in E.T. and Elliott. A shot I love is on the bus, when the kids are throwing paper wads at one another and Michael is sitting there, a serious, contemplative expression on his face. A day earlier, he's probably in on the hijinx on the bus. But he has bigger issues on his mind now, and it's a perfect encapsulation of his character.
5. Another staple of early 1980s homes with children of my age was the Speak and Spell. It was an engaging item in that is was simply made, but highly responsive relative to other devices of the era. So you can imagine my frustration when I failed in my attempts to get my Speak and Spell to speak the E.T. language.
6. The inclusion of the Yoda costume was a surprise Spielberg had for his friend George Lucas. George had no idea this scene would play out as it did until the film was screened for him and other Lucasfilm employees. If you listen closely to the soundtrack in this scene, you'll hear John Williams play a hint of Yoda's theme, albeit at a higher pace and pitch.
7. This was, and still is, a horrifying image from this film. A discolored E.T. at the bottom of a river basin, prone, helpless. It's hard to watch, and hard to write about. Another masterstroke by Spielberg and writer Melissa Matheson.
8. I love the character of "Keys" played so skillfully by Peter Coyote. He's the most underrated Spielberg character of this era.
Early in the film, as is commonly known, Spielberg filmed all of the adults - except for mom - from the waist down, to establish the visual point of view of E.T. and the kids. After the government agents take over the house, we finally pan the camera up to get this great shot of Keys, whom we are led to believe is evil and antithesis to everything the nature-loving alien represents. Be mindful also of the quick shot of the active muffler in the forest at the beginning of the film.
However, very quickly, Coyote shows he is not one of them. He has compassion and respect for Elliott, a most pleasant surprise for the audience, who was led to expect the exact opposite.
"I've been dreaming of this since I was 10 years old."
"I'm glad he found you first."
"You did the best job anybody could have done."
These lines are perfectly written and perfectly executed.
9. Look at Elliott, getting all meta on us!
10. I can't think of a single person who gets through the end scene with dry eyes. We say goodbye to such a simple, intelligent, lovable creature, who we experience abandonment, discovery, death, life, escape and reunion with.
This ending convinced my family that a sequel was inevitable. Elliott had to be reunited with E.T. at some point. There was no way a film of this caliber, with characters we fell in love with, wouldn't have a follow-up. Everyone seemed to want it except for Steven Spielberg.
"I think a sequel to E.T. would rob it of its virginity," Spielberg said. "People only remember the latest episode, while the pilot tarnishes." One can argue the historical accuracy of that statement (Empire Strikes Back, anyone?). But I respect the filmmaker's intentions and desire to do with what he wishes of his characters.
By the way, that sequel was to be called E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears, penned by Spielberg and Mathison.
Brad’s Escapism Moment in E.T.
I first saw this film in the drive-in during the summer of 1982. Earlier in that summer, my best friend from childhood had moved away, leaving Metro Detroit for Minnesota. My family thought it would be a good idea to help relieve me of my sadness at my best friend moving away by taking me to see...E.T. of all movies! A film about a boy who forms a best friendship, only to see that friend leave at the end of the film. Hey, my family only had the best of intentions!
One of my favorite secondary characters in this film is Tyler, played by C. Thomas Howell. He became better known as Ponyboy in The Outsiders (1983) and has gone on to dozens of roles in television since then, one of them known as The Reaper in Criminal Minds (2005-20). In the scene where the boys are in the kitchen and race out to the shed to check out "the goblin," Tyler is the first one to grab a knife. So is it any surprise that 27 years later, he becomes a fearsome serial killer?
E.T. had an impact across all corners of popular culture. Neil Diamond had a top-10 hit with his song "Turn on Your Heartlight," inspired by the film's wayward alien. Michael Jackson starred on a storybook album that told the tale of the film. Stars didn't get any bigger than 1982 Michael Jackson. And Steven Spielberg had now directed two films that became all-time moneymakers before the age of 37. Although a movie enveloped in the early 1980s, it's one of those classics that also stands as timeless.
Coming next: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.