Originally beginning life as a darker science fiction thriller called Night Skies, which was set to boast a script from John Sayles and creature effects from Rick Baker, Steven Spielberg’s plan for a more vicious type of alien visitation thriller eventually morphed into a more family friendly film that became the biggest hit of 1982, one of the most successful films of all time and also one of the most beloved.
ET has never disappeared. Except for when he wondered off from his family at the start of the movie. I’m sure they were very concerned.
Their worry was the joy of millions, and Elliot and his family, as Spielberg’s blockbuster, based on a gorgeous script from the late Melissa Matheson, took a simple set up for a family friendly movie and turned it into one of the most charming and emotionally superb films of all time, a perennial favourite that has stood and transcended the test of time.
It was also technically responsible for giving the world the walking product placement that was Mac and Me, which in turn gave us the greatest running American late night chat show joke ever, so it’s all good.
The film (ET that is, not Mac and Me) is still, to this day, frequently shown on television, parts of it are still referenced in other movies and television shows, from The Naked Gun 2 1/2 to Last Action Hero, and its single, most iconic image has become the logo of its director’s production company and has become the symbol of a plethora of similarly magical family movies, from The Goonies, to Gremlins, Back to the Future and, most recently, Super 8.
There is a magic quality to that visual of Elliot and ET flying past the moon that sums up Steven Spielberg and the phrases “A Steven Spielberg Film” or “Steven Spielberg Presents” so perfectly that there is almost no point in trying to describe why it is so damn magical, all you have to do is look at it and feel just how magically cinematic a moment it is.
The film has passed into pop culture lore in a way that only a film from Spielberg can and whilst some may argue that maybe his other blockbusters are better, like, Jaws or Close Encounters or even Jurassic Park, there is an intimacy to ET that gives it a heart and soul beyond those movies, which are undeniably brilliant too, hence the reason why they have also appeared in the Movie Bucket List.
Whereas many of his other blockbusters tend to be epic and expansive, taking place on the sea, or a dinosaur populated island, and do feature a wealth of heart and emotion, ET’s setting of a California suburb and scenes set within the confines of Elliot’s house grant this tale of alien visitation a much more intimate, personal feel than Close Encounters, which this movie actually makes a good double bill with alongside Elliot’s adventure with the charming space critter.
From John Williams score, his best outside of the Star Wars series, to the performances, some of which are the best from child actors to ever appear on film, so special mention has to be given to Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore and Robert McNaughton, to Carlo Rambaldi’s design of the titular character, who walks the fine line of being both ugly and cute, to the sweeping emotional mastery of its story telling, ET must surely join the ranks of The Godfather (I and II), The Shawshank Redemption, Alien or The Terminator as a perfect film.
For a family movie, Spielberg isn’t afraid to go dark when the need arises. The turn into the movie’s last act sees the film deliver some amazingly intense scenes, some of which resolve themselves in a way that push the film into more spiritual themes, before erupting into a final set piece that is exhilarating in a manner that only the combination of Spielberg directing and a John Williams score could pull off.
Then it makes you cry and the tears never stop. Perfection indeed. ET may leave for the stars at the end, but like he says, he’ll be right here, in a movie you will simply never forget.
COMING SOON: “I’d like to report a truck driver who’s been endangering my life.“