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After 20 years, E.T. is still a classic

Steven Spielberg has a talent for embedding his movies into the popular culture of today’s society. From Jaws to A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg is known for stunning visuals ripe with meaning and human relationships that seem too real to be true.

In 1982, Spielberg honed his blend of visuals and relationships with a science fiction movie that was believed to be mostly for kids. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial explored every child’s fantasy – what if an alien landed in your backyard, and you became friends with it? First captivating audiences a generation ago, E.T. is now enjoying a 20th anniversary re-release, complete with digital enhancements, CGI-aided graphics and a polished score. However, none of the technological advancements can touch Spielberg’s original vision for the movie, the friendship between a child and an alien.

The beauty of E.T. isn’t in the visuals, although there are many, and they are stunning. The crux of the movie relies in the relationship between Elliot, an intelligent 10 year old, and E.T., an extra-terrestrial accidentally left behind by his spaceship.

Throughout their first encounter, Elliot and E.T. are at once fascinated and terrified of one another. The scene is filled with tension that is portrayed through both characters’ large, round eyes. However, as only a child can, Elliot accepts E.T. as a friend, and takes on the role of his protector. Elliot and E.T. quickly establish a bond that no one seems to understand, but that is so real, it affects their thoughts, their feelings and even their lives.

It is this symbiotic relationship that gives the movie its heart, and the believability with which Henry Thomas portrays Elliot that gives the movie its credibility. The movie would have fallen flat if Thomas had not been able to combine the innocence, wonder and curiosity of a 10-year-old boy, and the charm and caring of someone more mature. Elliot does not fear E.T., he only wants to learn from him.

Elliot’s openness is contrasted sharply by the antagonists in the movie, adults, who track down E.T. and invade Elliot’s home. Spielberg is known for making his villains faceless, for dehumanizing them so the split between good and evil is easily identifiable. In E.T., all the people who chase Elliot are masked in some way, or only shot from the waist down. The only adults in the movie whose faces are recognizable are Elliot’s mother, and a scientist who listens to Elliot and validates his special friendship with E.T. Both possess compassion for Elliot and E.T., while the others are portrayed as emotionless. The divide highlights the friendship at the center of the movie and also conveys a sense of empowerment to its audience of children.

E.T. is known for many things including direction, music, acting and visual effects. It is remembered for its story and its heart. “E.T. phone home” isn’t only a catch phrase, it’s a way of recognizing an unbelievable friendship.


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