|E.T. 20th Anniversary
by Stephen Notley
In 1982, I was a hardcore E.T. junkie. I saw the movie 10 times in the theatre, popping E.T. like speedballs, going back again and again for the sadness, the happiness, the feelings, feelings, feelings. I knew every beat of that movie, every shot matched to every surge of music. Sure, it's manipulative, but hell, that's the whole point. When you're 12, emotions that strong are their own validation.
Now it's 2002, and E.T. is back. He's been tarted up a bit with computer graphics, they've added a new scene, and all the guns are digi-gone. But yes, it's still the same movie.
Steven Spielberg seems to have caught a touch of George Lucas's revisionist flu, but unlike Lucas, Spielberg doesn't feel the need to crap all over the excellent work of the special effects guys who made E.T. so magical back in the day. Yes, they've computered his face up a bit, but unless you're an E.T. superfreak (if there even is such a thing), you probably won't notice. It's still that incredible Carlo Rambaldi puppet doing most of the acting, and those shots where E.T. was a midget flappin' around in a rubber suit, he's still a midget flappin' around in a rubber suit.
There's only one significant new scene in E.T. 2002, where Elliot and E.T. hang out in the bathroom squirting toothpaste and such, a pretty charming scene. It would have been more charming if it hadn't slipped out of focus as per usual at Eaton Centre Cineplex Odeon, but that's hardly Spielberg's fault.
Going back to the movie 20 years later proves that Spielberg knew what he was doing. All the old gags still get laughs, like when E.T. hides from Elliot's mom by posing as a stuffed toy, or when E.T. spots a kid in a Yoda costume and hobbles towards him warbling "Home, home."
But more than that, Spielberg could trace an emotional arc like nobody's business, using keys and metaphors like the flower to show E.T.'s rise and decline and death and resurrection. And he knew how to cast well. Drew Barrymore was an obvious star even when she was six years old. Robert MacNaughton (Elliot's older brother) turns in a lively, fun performance I didn't properly appreciate when I was 12. And Henry Thomas, as Elliot... well, just watch the control, the solemnity of his eulogy to E.T., it's freakin' heartbreaking.
And let's not forget that E.T. has one of the classic film scores of
all time, John Williams in his prime. And those indelible images: the plastic
tube, the silhouetted figures of authority advancing over the hill, the
bike in front of the moon... Yep, there's a reason E.T.'s a classic, and
it's still a classic, even in our hurly-burly 21st century world. A theatre
full of modern-day hyperactive children still laughs and cheers at all
the right places. Take the kids, remember why Spielberg was a god, and
wipe away a tear or two when it's done.