E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
August 20, 2022 6:01 PM - Subscribe

A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape from Earth and return to his home planet. (Now in limited re-release for its 40th anniversary.)

Watching it as an adult, I'm struck how a simple re-score could turn the first half or so into a horror film. Spielberg relies heavily on horror-SF visual cues, and ET himself is, well, ambiguously-shaped. A movie whose depiction of American childhood will be recognizable to Zoomers only from TV (the kids are listening to the Jim Carroll Band's "People Who Died" and smoking while playing D&D in their first scene!). But, even through the often-intrusive John Williams score, the primal emotional jolts are real.
posted by praemunire (25 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Gotta disagree hard on your characterization of Williams' score. I'd class it as one of his best and most melodically affecting scores from the period. It's so married to the storytelling that I could never imagine anything else with those visuals. When Elliott is saying goodbye to E.T. (the first time, when he thinks he's dead), the performance is flawless, but it's John Williams' music that makes me cry every time.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:25 PM on August 20, 2022 [2 favorites]


I also want to point out that Dee Wallace's performance as the kids' mom is so real and grounded, especially her reaction to Elliott yelling "It wasn't like that Penis-Breath" at the beginning.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:27 PM on August 20, 2022 [8 favorites]


If you want a little headcanon fun, imagine that the suburban tract housing construction they chase through on their BMX bikes is the neighborhood from Poltergeist.

Like them or not, this movie is responsible for the popularity of Reese's Pieces candy.
They had been launched a few years earlier but weren't getting traction.
Spielberg originally wanted to lure E.T. into the house with a trail of M&Ms, but couldn't get a product placement deal. (He wouldn't let them read the script or see the creature model beforehand.)
So they went with Reese's Pieces instead and their sales doubled and stayed that way.
posted by bartleby at 6:56 PM on August 20, 2022


I'd class it as one of his best and most melodically affecting scores from the period.

The themes at the points of high emotion work very well, and that's what everyone, understandably, remembers. But much of the rest of the time I was begging him to tone it down a little. The music when the older brother first finds ET lying ill in the river is distractingly off.
posted by praemunire at 7:19 PM on August 20, 2022 [1 favorite]


Dee Wallace is a treasure. Have we ever posted The Howling? I've never seen that. Maybe I'll watch it and post it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:34 PM on August 20, 2022


Another notional crossover: E.T. looks like the baby from Eraserhead, grown up.

Compare/contrast with John Carpenter's Starman; again, the feds are chasing after the alien, but he's human-looking and a dead ringer for Karen Allen's dead husband, and she's pretty lonely, and, well.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:57 PM on August 20, 2022 [1 favorite]


In addition to all the other wonderful emotional and character-based things in this movie, Spielberg is such a phenomenal director of action by '82 that he can make the climax of this movie –– a 15 mph bike chase -- feel absolutely thrilling.
posted by reclusive_thousandaire at 9:08 PM on August 20, 2022 [1 favorite]


Great point about the horror flavor, praemunire. Parts of this movie scared the bejeezus outta me, and I'm not alone in that if my conversations with folks my age and younger are anything to go by. It's the type of tonal risk that filmmakers have largely stopped taking (including, arguably, Steven himself), at least when it comes to "major" motion pictures.

(It's only right that the Mac and Me FF thread got posted first, though)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:02 AM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]


I was ten when I saw E.T., and it's my first memory of feeling emotionally manipulated by a film. Spielberg is generally good at what he does, but he's rarely subtle, and when a young kid can see the puppet strings and feel affronted, maybe that says something. Partly I was a big NASA fan and was offended by making us hate people in space suits, but mainly the fake-out death of E.T. and then the rug-pull of "haha, not really dead after all" felt cheap. Of course, that's Spielberg using one of the oldest tricks in the book, but I wouldn't classify this among his better films.
posted by rikschell at 6:30 AM on August 21, 2022 [4 favorites]


The themes at the points of high emotion work very well, and that's what everyone, understandably, remembers. But much of the rest of the time I was begging him to tone it down a little.

This pretty much encapsulates my reaction to most of Williams’ scores. His scores so often just get in the way and seem to be competing with the actors for attention.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:00 AM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]


Related: "OK, kid, you got the job." Henry Thomas nails his audition.
posted by emelenjr at 7:37 AM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]


This one wasn't released on home video until 1988.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 7:37 AM on August 21, 2022


mainly the fake-out death of E.T. and then the rug-pull of "haha, not really dead after all" felt cheap

I remember feeling uncertain about this as a kid myself. Rewatching it yesterday, I noticed two things: (a) there's an extended sequence where we watch the mom reading the "I do believe in fairies!" section of Peter Pan to Gertie, which is unquestionably foreshadowing; and (b) it seems very likely that the actual reason ET recovered is the impending arrival of his people, as it's clear that he syncs biologically with people he feels emotionally close to. So it's better structured within the film than I remembered. But the whoo-hoo moments afterwards still feel a bit overdone.
posted by praemunire at 9:26 AM on August 21, 2022


But the whoo-hoo moments afterwards still feel a bit overdone.

I believe you mean it feels “Spielbergian”.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:17 AM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]


I was 6 when ET came out, and my dad took me to see it, even though he was Deaf and it wasn't captioned (they didn't have captioned showtimes or any of those devices back then). I remember the line stretching out of the mall and into the parking lot. I loved it then and my dad got me an ET stuffed animal and bed sheets for Christmas that year. We're a crying family, and I have many fond memories of us all crying together when re-watching it with my older siblings at home. I saw it again with my partner when it was at our local theater as one of those TMC events a couple of years ago. Of course, I cried. And I can't judge it objectively, given how wrapped up it is in all these family memories, but I was surprised at how well it help up. Dee Wallace is great, and I thought Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore were amazing given their ages.
posted by amarynth at 11:06 AM on August 21, 2022 [3 favorites]


Oh, and maybe it was re-released in theaters in the mid-80s? My partner was too young to have seen it when it was first released, but his mother tells a story about taking him and his older sister to see it in theaters. His older sister had already seen it, but was crying and saying "He's going to die!" Their mother tried to remind her that she knew he was going to be ok, but ended up having to take them both out of the theater.
posted by amarynth at 11:10 AM on August 21, 2022


It was re-released in '85, and again in 2002.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:14 PM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]


Parts of this movie scared the bejeezus outta me

The scene in the cornfield where Elliott first finds ET was terrifying to me as a kid. Also the scene where ET is hiding among the stuffed animals. But then I was also terrified by the scene in Harry and the Hendersons where after having strapped a presumably dead Harry to the roof of their car he wakes up and his head pops down in front of their windshield. Kid's movies were just scarier back then. Speaking of which when are we getting a Harry and the Hendersons fanfare thread?
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:36 PM on August 21, 2022


I was eleven when this movie came out but didn't get to see it until my midtwenties. It was also the last movie to make me cry. I was holding my shit together until the death scene - when Drew Barrymore started to cry that's when I lost it. Crying at movies is a good thing. Thanks Steven. Thanks Drew.
posted by hoodrich at 2:58 PM on August 21, 2022


I graduated high school in 1983, so I never saw E.T., probably because I was a junior in high school and thought it was just a kids' movie.

I took my (then-8) daughter to see it in our local theater in the Before Times, and it was awesome! I felt just like I did seeing awesome movies as a kid.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:13 PM on August 21, 2022


I was quite young when this came out—I am around the same age as Drew Barrymore—and it is the first movie my parents took my younger brother and me to see in the theatre. I remember being by turns fascinated and frightened, but ultimately enraptured. I can’t remember having seen the thing in its entirety again as an adult, so I can’t say how it holds up, but the experience of seeing it in the theatre is burned in my brain. As a first movie to see in the theatre, it was a good one.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:47 AM on August 22, 2022


This is the first movie I remember seeing in the theater. Agreed that there are horror elements, but I didn't know that at the time. I just remember feeling so present during the thing, like some kind of turbo reality going on.

When they re-released it in 2002 - after scrubbing the shotguns!!! - I took my daughter to see it, who was roughly the same age as I was when I first saw it. I held it together until the bikes start flying, then just bawled. She looked up at me and said, "It's okay daddy, it's just a movie." :, )
posted by rocketman at 5:06 AM on August 22, 2022 [4 favorites]


BTW, the shotguns are back in this release.
posted by praemunire at 7:28 AM on August 22, 2022 [3 favorites]


Make up your mind, Spielberg!!!!
posted by rocketman at 10:24 AM on August 22, 2022


I was moved by this as a kid but also repulsed. I was pretty little, so ET scared me, especially when his horrible head went up fast. Still, I didn't want him to die, and I felt all the feelings. I do have a strong memory of being in kindergarten and hearing that ET was going to come visit us. I begged to not meet him, and I didn't have to, but I do seem to remember seeing ET (somebody in a suit) in the meeting hall with some grownups. Surreal.

I think that ET has its flavor of horror because the idea in fact began as a horror script, based on the Hopkinsville encounter, which is really terrifying to read about when you're young (even if it was obviously owls).

Further trivia: in the sequel and the novelization, you find out ET's name. It's Zrek.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:50 PM on August 23, 2022


« Older Movie: Blade: Trinity...   |  Podcast: The Besties: Blessed ... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments

poster