One of the earliest movie memories I have is of watching E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. It’s also the first movie I ever owned. It reminds me so much of my childhood and I credit it with sparking in me a love for movies that has never waned. The movie is simply one of a kind. It’s filled with hope, innocence, humour and excitement. As Roger Ebert aptly wrote, it is “a movie that you can grow up with and grow old with, and it won’t let you down.” He’s right. I grew up watching the film over and over again, and whenever I watch it now as an adult, it resurrects those same childhood feelings it evoked when I first saw it because it stands the test of time.
E.T. is an extra-terrestrial. One night E.T.’s spaceship lands in a forest around a big suburban neighbourhood. E.T. and his fellow creatures scuttle out of the ship and snuff about in the night. U.S. government agents arrive and close in on the spaceship, forcing it to take off hastily leaving E.T. behind on Earth. E.T. takes refuge in a tool shed in the backyard of a little boy named Elliott. Elliott just knows that there is something living in his backyard and sits up all night trying to coax the creature out of hiding. His bait? Reese’s Pieces.
Elliott secretly moves E.T. into his house and so begins the most magical part of the film: the relationship between a little boy and a creature from outer space who becomes his best friend. I still laugh out loud at this section of the film which centers on E.T.’s exposure to televisions, telephones, refrigerators, beer and Elliott’s sister Gertie. We also learn that E.T. possesses telepathic and telekinetic powers and communicates with Elliott through a psychic connection with him. Elliott begins to feel what E.T. feels. It’s how he knows that E.T. wants to go home. The creature gets ill and starts dying and the illness also manifests itself in Elliott.
The film’s final section is full of action, tension and a very sad sequence that begins when Elliott’s mother discovers her son’s illness and the dying alien and a group of government officials and scientists invade their home. Fortunately, Elliott and E.T. both recover, but not before a heart-wrenching scene where E.T. is believed to be dead. What reanimates E.T. is the knowledge that his spaceship is returning, and Elliott evades the federal space agency people occupying his home by escaping with E.T. back to the forest to meet E.T.’s spaceship.
The chase scene that ensues after Elliott and E.T. escape has become one of the most iconic scenes in film history. The image of Elliott and E.T. on a flying bicycle is one that has become synonymous with many a childhood. So, too, is the film’s goodbye scene between them which had my adolescent self weeping uncontrollably and still makes my adult self weep whenever I re-watch the film. When they meet up with the spaceship, E.T. tells Elliott before entering the ship, “I’ll be right here,” and with a glowing finger, points to Elliott’s heart.
I think it takes seeing E.T. again after many years to fully appreciate the cinematic marvel the film is and to recognize the impact the film made on me when I was a kid. It’s a film filled with such imagination and ingenuity. It’s full of surprises and wonder, of scary and hilarious moments and of unimagined sadness. The story is truly about something and it’s told in a brilliant narrative that develops the personalities of the characters and touches on some very real things like science, communication, friendship, love and loss. Among the film’s great achievements is that of E.T. itself. The animatronic alien is a brilliant creative construction with its odd walk, surprised squeals, imitations of human speech and unique and unforgettable physical features.
Director Steven Spielberg created a creature so convincing in E.T. that it’s impossible not to feel a fondness for E.T. like Elliott feels and it’s impossible not to feel the same intense sadness when E.T. says goodbye. It’s a magical film, one whose magic continues to enchant and endure no matter my age because it simply makes my heart happy.