Kayla's Pick: E.T.
Does college make you yearn for the days when things were simpler? Do you believe in aliens and the magic of childhood? Do you need a fanciful distraction from college life? (The only correct answer to any of these questions is yes, by the way.) Here’s a classic for you: “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).”
Elliot, a young boy, discovers in the family tool shed an alien who has accidentally been abandoned. He shows his brother and sister the alien, and they help Elliot hide it from his mom in his closet. Eventually, Elliot and the alien develop a specific bond: Elliot can feel its feelings and can speak for the alien when needed. And as E.T. learns to communicate with humans, he gradually reveals that he is trying to “phone home” and return to his planet. All the while, government agents are searching for E.T. to figure out what he is and why he's made his visit to Earth. Cue a race against the clock and one heck of a coming-of-age story.
Why ET Matters:
“E.T.” has 51 wins and 33 award nominations worldwide, and the film was given a Guinness World Record Award for “most Oscars won for visual effects.” In 1983, ET pushed past “Star Wars” as the highest grossing film of all time, and kept that slot from 1983 to 1993. It took “Jurassic Park” to eventually end “E.T.”s decade-long streak. Currently, it is #6 on the list of highest grossing films, a list that's been adjusted for inflation.
Satyajit Ray, a Bengali director, accused “E.T.” director Steven Spielberg of plagiarizing from his script, “The Alien,” which was in development until the late 1960s when production was cancelled. “The Alien” was about an alien called Mr. Ang who connected with a young boy named Haba through dreams. Ray argued, “‘E.T.’ would not have been possible without my script of ‘The Alien’ being available throughout the United States in mimeographed copies.” Surprisingly, Spielberg’s friend, director Martin Scorsese, supported Ray's claims. When Ray tried to sue, Spielberg said, “It's the people you've never heard of who crawl out of the woodwork like cockroaches to sue you.” Ray died in 1992, but the jury is still out on whether Spielberg actually copied the script.
This film was created during a time when space exploration was beginning to take off. Up until that point, there were only single-man missions, probes and satellites launched into space. The Kennedy Space Center had begun to focus on creating space shuttles, and NASA launched its first shuttle, “Columbia,” on April 12, 1981. This was the first re-usable space craft created.
Spielberg wanted the performances to be as organic and natural as possible, so the film was shot in chronological order (which is not commonly practiced) to heighten the actors’ emotions throughout filming. For the first time in his career, Spielberg did not use a shot list (a log of the different shots and camera angles one plans on using, designed to take guess work out of shooting) so the actors could be spontaneous in their actions.
The Good + the Bad
Going into this film, I was worried that nostalgia twisted my memory and that the film may not be as good as I remembered it, but this was not the case. I laughed at E.T. and Elliot’s psychic connection (which leads to a hilarious situation while Elliot is in school). I cried when Elliot said a painful goodbye to his alien friend. I think that watching this film again as an adult was a rewarding experience since a lot of jokes and plot points made more sense. I also think that this is a timeless story; even though technology has advanced, “E.T.” will remain a feel-good classic for years to come.
I think Henry Thomas (Elliot) gave a compelling, beautiful performance as a nine-year-old. For his audition, Spielberg asked him to improvise a scene where a government worker told him that he would have to take E.T. away to question him. Thomas gave such a moving performance that Spielberg cried and instantly gave him the part. I watched the audition tape (which is available on YouTube) and also cried. Let me tell you: if you're ever feeling emotional, this is definitely the video to watch.
The kids in the film do curse periodically, so be aware if that's something that makes you uncomfortable. There's also a scene where certain characters are drunk (not going to give any spoilers) that might make a few viewers uncomfortable as well. Other than those things, this is a family-friendly film that's likely to be enjoyed by both the young and old.
The Fun Facts
A good portion of the film is based directly on Steven Spielberg’s experiences as a child. His parents divorced when he was a youngster, so to comfort himself, he created an imaginary alien friend to play with who became “a friend who could be the brother I never had and a father that I didn't feel I had anymore.”
Product placement was born from “E.T.” Reese’s Pieces were used to lure ET, causing a skyrocket in sales. Due to the good business, other companies requested that their products be featured in films.
The voice of E.T. is Pat Walsh, a woman from California who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Ben Burtt, the sound effects creator, liked the sound of her voice and paid her $380 to spend over nine hours recording lines for ET.
The project was filmed under a false name (“A Boy’s Life”) to avoid others from discovering the plot and plagiarizing his film. Security was tight; the actors had to read the scripts in private places and anyone that was on set was required to wear an ID card.
In the first half of the film, we only see adults from the waist down (with the exception of Elliot’s mother) as a tribute to Tex Avery, who helped create Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and many other Looney Tunes characters (Any film folks remember History of Animation?)