One of the most memorable films of my youth, E.T. is easily a vehicle that carried the career of Spielberg and the 1980s. It is a well orchestrated, completely sentimental piece that was one of those definitive 1980s theatrical experiences. Buttressed by a cast that convincingly props up our little foam rubber protagonist, E.T. “works as a delightful adventure that appeals to the child in all of us, also delivering enough sentimental moments to have the hardest viewer reduced to a blubbering mess before the end credits” (Schneider’s book). Rife with 80s cinematic cliches, the film can easily hold its ground as being one of the first to make them happen, and that is where the magic certainly never gets old.
E.T. I remember it. I remember the stuffed animal I had, the little plastic E.T. guy with the little thumb thing on the back that made his neck elongate and his head go up, and who could forget the portrait of him with Michael Jackson, right?
My perspective of not having seen it since a child has apparently clouded my nostalgia as an adult. I honestly looked back at this viewing and my past with the film. Aside from enjoying the time spent with my child being able to experience the film over again vicariously through him, I watched it with a little more of a critical eye and noticed that I have no idea what was actually happening. Like, it really doesn’t make sense in a lot of ways, and it really seems to me like a story that was being made up as it went along, carried by a puppet and the strange and fuzzy-bordered mythology that goes along with it.
There is one aspect that I actually gleaned from the special features I watched following the film, and that is that Spielberg said he modeled the story and the mythology as a means to process his parents’ divorce. In hindsight, the crumbling foundation of one’s world crashing down around you and being unsure of anything but wanting to have something secret, stable, and reliable… Something to care for and something to have control over and to love you…this is something that really hits home for me, and it is almost with that explanation that the meaning and the metamorphosis of what the film is as an allegory makes so much more sense to me.
Do I think it is a great movie? I am not sure – prior to revisiting it as an adult I would have said yes because of my memory of it. But the piece itself is a testament to the power of imagination in adults and what it can accomplish for children on the screen. This is a movie of discovery and childhood wonder, but as a writer myself in 2016, I found too many loose ends and ‘why that’ sort of things happening. If the backbone is in those divorce statements that Spielberg made, however, how beautiful to process these emotions in this manner so early on. If anything, as an adult, that is the part that I attach to the most with this movie.
Finally, there is really something to be said about using real models and real puppets and old-school special effects in movies. I watched the re-release of the original film today without the digital enhancements (and “walkie talkies were a mistake”) and it still holds up. More theatrical, three-dimensional, textural, and beautiful than a lot of the CGI that is a centerpiece of films of today. That is a good thing.