Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen




For, Friday, July 24, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Steven Spielberg blockbuster was, for awhile, the biggest moneymaker of all time, surpassing ‘Star Wars’ and his own ‘Jaws.’ Back then that kind of hitmaking was surprising; these days, it’s an annual competition. The nice thing is that, despite some dated trappings, it holds up marvelously and will still give you a sense of wonder, a chuckle here and there, and a tear to your eye by the finale. It’s currently playing, with pandemic distancing regulations applied, at various Megaplex multiplexes. This review was published in the Deseret News on June 11, 1982.

As far as I’m concerned, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” is the best film Steven Spielberg has come up with to date.

This picture has more heart, more soul and more entertainment value than most movies ever hope for. There are touches of — or perhaps homages to — other artists and other films, from “Peter Pan” to “The Wizard of Oz,” from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to his own “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

And yet “E.T.” is unique.

One of the nice things that seems to permeate all of Spielberg’s films is a strong sense of hope, and it has never been so fulfilling as it is here.

The story is difficult to describe, since it’s impossible to convey the sense of wonder and delight that Spielberg and his screenwriter, Melissa Mathison, manage to conjure up on the screen.

Basically, a crew of extra-terrestrial beings lands its ship in Southern California and sets out to collect plant specimens, when a sense of danger fills the air. A group of mysterious men, shown only from the waist down as threatening images, comes into the area, frightening the beings away.

But the alien crew is forced to take off before one member can make it back, and he is left behind to fend for himself.


Seven-year-old Drew Barrymore kisses E.T. goodbye near the end of “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)

Cold and hungry, he is soon befriended by young Elliott (Henry Thomas), a 10-year-old boy whose father has just abandoned the family (his mother, played by Dee Wallace; older brother, Robert MacNaughton; and younger sister, Drew Barrymore).

Elliott becomes the creature’s protector, takes him up to his bedroom and begins treating him like a pet. Soon, however, a mutual respect and understanding develops, and both provide necessary elements of growth for each other.

Elliott dubs his new friend “E.T.,” and tries to help him find a way back home.

In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, “E.T.” could have become a truly idiotic or silly film, but Spielberg, who also outlined the basic storyline, understands every character, including, or perhaps especially, “E.T.”

The little creature looks like an overgrown frog that has been stepped on; short, squat and less than attractive, it also has the huge eyes that genuinely qualify it as a bug-eyed monster.

Though not a Muppet — “E.T.” is more mechanical than that — the most obvious comparison is Yoda, from “The Empire Strikes Back.” You may recall that Yoda, after a short time, took on human qualities that belied its rubber origins. So it is with “E.T.,” which, after a very short while, is a most sympathetic character. It’s hard to believe that a face so expressive and eyes so endearing could have been created from metal and plastic.


   An iconic image from ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’ (1980).

Though adults of all ages will love this film, “E.T.” is also very much a family film. Young children can learn a lot from Spielberg’s vision and there are some elements here that could make for some wonderful parent-child discussion.

But the emphasis is on entertainment, and that is without question Spielberg’s strong suit.

There are so many vignettes that will alternately make you laugh, move you to tears, thrill you and even frighten you, that it’s a strong temptation to describe some of them — but I won’t.

Much of the joy of this film is in the discovery.

There is also a thoroughly satisfying John Williams score (my personal favorite so far) and the children are more like real children here than in any movie I can think of in some years (with the possible exception of “Shoot the Moon”).

Young Henry Thomas is on screen throughout most of the movie and he never falters in his interpretation of a youngster who must take on paternal qualities. Young Robert MacNaughton is also very natural, as an older brother who ridicules Thomas at first, then decides to help him. And little Drew Barrymore is delightfully precocious as the youngest of the clan.

Rated PG for just a few strong words, “E.T.” is a rare movie experience you won’t want to miss.