“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Maybe he’s not that smart. Maybe he’s like a worker bee who only knows how to push buttons or something.”
Before I started writing Bored and Dangerous, I was pretty quick to dismiss Steven Spielberg. Sure, he’d directed the Indiana Jones trilogy which I grew up adoring. He’d produced things like Gremlins and the Back to the Future movies, which I loved even more than Indiana Jones. As an adult, I was a fan of things like Saving Private Ryan. And who doesn’t love Jaws? I always thought they were the kinds of crowd pleasing movies that would be good no matter who directed them. But the more of his movies I see and write about here, the more I’ve come to realise how versatile he is. Is there anyone else out there who could make Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List? A.I and Lincoln? Not to mention, possibly the most beloved family movie of the modern age, E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial.
In the woods just outside a depressing outer suburb, a group of aliens are taking plant samples when some shady G-men scare them away. As their ship takes off, one lone and sad alien is left behind. Later that night, balls deep in the depressing outer suburbs, 10ish year old Elliot (Henry Thomas) is scared by something strange hiding in his garden shed. His single mother (Dee Wallace) and teenaged brother, Michael (Robert MacNaughton) try to convince him he imagined it. Elliot is determined to prove them wrong, eventually finding the left behind alien and luring him into his bedroom.
With the help of Michael and their younger sister (Drew Barrymore as Gertie), they hide the little dude they start to call E.T in their house and help him build a machine to contact his race and get a lift home. But the G-men from the opening scene know he was left behind and are determined to find him. It’s also soon clear that E.T and Elliot’s connection is more than emotional. They share a physical link also.
One thing that this movie gets so right is the interaction between the kids. If E.T was made today, there’s no way Elliot and Michael would call each other “douche bag” or “penis breath”. But in the 80s, kid characters in kids’ movies were allowed to talk like real life kids. Not sanitised, movie kids. It’s one of the same reasons that The Goonies and Stand By Me work so well. When kids are talking to their kids, with no adult around, things get blue, things get offensive, things are said to get under one another’s skin. In E.T, I believe the three main siblings love each other, but I also believe they love each other like young siblings in the real world, where they piss each other off almost just as much.
I’m the perfect age to have grown up loving E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial. I was two when it came out, but had sisters six and nine. You’d think it would have been staple on video my entire childhood. But somehow, it passed me by. I knew it existed, I even had a couple of toys. I knew the iconic images of the kids riding their flying bikes and the constantly quoted line of, “phone home”. Yet for some reason, I was in my late teens in the late 90s before I ever actually watched the movie.
I think tonight’s viewing was the third since then, and my reaction has always been the same. I can appreciate E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial, I can understand why E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial is so beloved. But I can only enjoy E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial on a very surface, academic level. I wish I had seen it’s a youngin’, I wish I had grown up watching it over and over again. Because I want to love E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial. But I didn’t, so I guess I’ll just have to settle for appreciating, while accepting it’ll just never be one of those touchstones for me that is for so many other people my age.
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Gandhi)