E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

(Second viewing, on TV, October 2016) I practically never went to the movie theatre as a kid (I didn’t miss it much, and from my parents’ perspective, I can now understand that it was too far, too expensive and too complicated), but I did see E.T. The Extra Terrestrial in theatres and still remember bits and pieces of it. (Most notably Elliott’s initial encounter with E.T.) Later on, the movie became an object of semi-fascination given the time it took to make it to home video, the green VHS cassette and so on. Still, I hadn’t revisited the film in thirty-four years (!) and watching it now kid send me back into a mild trance of nostalgia. I know that some of it is enhanced—the version of the film I watched this time around is the 20th anniversary “walkie-talkie” edition, meaning that whatever spectacular special effects that seem to hold up so well were likely sweetened with CGI. Still, never mind the personal history or the alternate versions: Much of the core of the film is just as good today as it was in 1982, and much of the details seem even better today. E.T., much like Poltergeist, has become a time capsule of kid-centric eighties suburbia and Steven Spielberg’s skills as a director remains obvious in the way the scenes are meticulously built. The story itself is basic to an extent that allows Spielberg to focus on execution rather than plotting. The seams often show in weirdly atonal shifts (the drunk school sequence, the horrifying intrusion of white suits in an ordinary home) but they’re usually quickly patched up by finely observed details and charming performances. As an older viewer, it’s hard to miss the religious symbolism toward the end of the film, or bemoan the simplicity of the story. But those don’t quite capture the magic of the film’s execution, which gets away with flaws that would doom less gifted directors. It’s well worth a look today as one of the most Spielbergian movies in Spielberg’s filmography.

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