E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982): An Emotionally Thrilling, High-Flying, Down to Earth Tale

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Last September, I made a promise to those who follow me on social media that I would do a Steven Spielberg Month! And with that promise comes a review of one of his most famous works, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” I mean, how can I not review this movie? Look at my last minute Photoshopped poster! I am committing to this movie no matter what! That said, “E.T.” is one of the films most people think of when they hear the words Steven Spielberg. It might shock you to know that despite this film coming out before I was born and having such longevity, this is my second time in my entire life watching this film. Is the rewatch worth it? Let’s find out.

“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” is directed by Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and stars Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, and Drew Barrymore. This film centers around a young boy who finds an alien life form. Despite the foreign nature of this being, the boy befriends and communicates with the alien all the while trying to send him back to his planet of origin.

When it comes to Steven Spielberg’s most influential works, there’s often a debate as to what that film might actually be. “Jaws” essentially invented the modern blockbuster. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” spawned an iconic franchise that other exploration and adventure stories often get compared to. “Jurassic Park” is not only often considered to be the best dinosaur movie, but paved the way for CGI heavy cinema as we know it. However, “E.T.” should also be in the conversation. Even though “E.T.” is a story that brings our world together with foreign territory, it is a film that works because of how tiny it feels. And that is despite the occasional scene where things happen away from home. That is despite an iconic moment where we see our heroes fly by the moon. That is despite the punch-packing score by John Williams. This movie is like being promised a small, delicious pizza, but getting a large at no extra charge.

Safe to say, I had a ridiculously fun time watching “E.T.,” and it is easy to see why people are still celebrating it forty years later.

Even if its video game adaptation is cringe.

I only saw “E.T.” once when I was younger, and while I remember various things about it, this viewing truly felt like an initial watch. Like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” I had the chance to watch “E.T.” at home on 4K Blu-ray. Speaking of similarities to “Close Encounters,” “E.T.” looks surprisingly practical, and that practicality adds a hint of charm to the film itself. If E.T. himself were CGIed, part of me would wonder how off-putting or pixelated that could come off. Thankfully, such an idea remains a mystery.

Speaking of practical, one of the most believable things in the movie is how they handled the connection between Eliott and E.T.. Whether you believe a kid like Eliott would actually take an alien into his home is one thing. As for how they handled the taking of an alien into Eliott’s home makes the journey worthwhile. Seeing their differences in communication provided for glimmers of entertainment. This also goes to show the magic of minimal dialogue, notably on E.T.’s part. E.T. has very few lines in the movie, but each one emits a particular positive emotion that stands out. This is perhaps the film’s biggest strength. The story is simple, but the way it is executed allowed for a great balance of happiness, sadness, and everything in between.

When I look back on my experience of watching “E.T.,” I anticipate to remember select moments where my eyes lit up, and others where my eyes almost watered. And this movie is not short on these. While “Blade Runner” may still be my favorite movie from 1982, I can confirm that “E.T.” is more effective when it comes to inducing character attachments and emotions for everything that is happening.

When it comes to Steven Spielberg’s science fiction slate, I think this is a better movie overall than “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The biggest strength of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is not the main character of Roy Neary, as likable as he is. Instead, that honor belongs to the curiosity of Barry, a three-year-old boy. Spielberg is consistent from one film to another in suggesting that children are likely to take steps to determine what strange happenings are going on outside. This consistency is effective because naturally, children are curious. Although for “E.T.,” the child of focus here, specifically Eliott, is the protagonist. His mother, Mary (Dee Wallace) plays a prominent role in the film. However, when it comes to “Close Encounters” comparisons, Mary emits more of the characteristics of Ronnie, who is noticeably less open-minded towards the ongoing alien plot.

If I had to give any problems to “E.T.,” it would have nothing to do with the story. In fact, it is as perfect as can be. I would barely change a single thing about it. That dishonor, instead, belongs to the technical aspects of the film. The film has its highlights from various night shots that look beautiful, a nicely edited action sequence towards the end, and of course, one of the best, not to mention catchiest, scores John Williams has ever done.

“E.T.” came out in 1982. Therefore, after the film’s release, many improvements have been made to how green screen is done. Although you cannot have the improvements seen in movies like “Avengers: Endgame” without the mistakes made in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” There are a couple flying sequences in this film. At times, they come off as beautiful. John Williams’s score accompanies both of these scenes and allow him to deliver the best music in the movie. However, the green screen, or blue screen in this case, looks obvious. It looks kind of fake. If anything, it makes the shark in “Jaws” look real. I was fully immersed in this flying sequence and nevertheless continue to reflect on it after the movie with positive thoughts. But seeing the landscape move around in the background the way it does is kind of distracting. That said, as far as I know, there is no such thing as a flying bike. Therefore I respect Spielberg and crew for trying to imagine how such a thing could look. The result, per my born in 1999 and viewing in 2022 eyes, is mostly positive.

If I had any other problems with the movie, it would be the first scene between Eliott and E.T. from either an editing or directorial perspective. When E.T. is revealed, we see Eliott react to the sight of the foreign creature. Obviously, he is terrified. I have no problem with the way this is written, but the way it was assembled was a bit jumpy. There are only so many cuts you can do of one person’s face screaming in fear. I think that was a bit overdone.

That said, these are small problems within a film of wonder. The cast is great, the characters are well-written, and the shots are some of the most gorgeous of 1980s cinema. As far as science fiction and alien-based films go, I think Spielberg stepped it up from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” As much as I enjoyed “Close Encounters,” I think I would rather watch “E.T.” again in the near future.

Also, I cannot go on without acknowledging this iconic moon shot. There are few instances in cinema that are as eye-popping as this. There is a reason why this became part of the Amblin logo.

In the end, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” is some of the most fun I have had watching a movie recently. They say that moviemaking is a business, which comes with a double-edged sword. The studios always try to follow the money, and therefore quality is sometimes neglected. Not with “E.T.,” because the movie is the highest-grossing project of 1982 by a long shot. It is one thing to be successful, but to be successful and career-defining is another. This film was a win for Steven Spielberg back in the 1980s, and it is a still a winner today. This is a great film for all ages, and I would not mind putting it on again sometime. I am going to give “E.T the Extra-Terrestrial.” an 8/10.

“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” is now available on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray. The film is also available to rent or buy digitally, and you can also stream it on Peacock.

Thanks for reading this review! If you want to see another review from this ongoing Steven Spielberg Month event, check out my thoughts on “Close Encounters of the Third Kind!”

My next review in the Steven Spielberg Month series is a 35 year jump in time! This is a film I have not seen yet, I am watching it for the first time for this review, “The Post.” I have heard decent things about this movie. In fact it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Here is hoping it is good! Also, be sure to stay tuned for my reviews for “Amsterdam,” “Smile,” and “Halloween Ends.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial?” What did you think about it? Or, this might be a dumb question, but it is about something stupid so it comes full circle. Have you ever had the chance to play “E.T.” on the Atari 2600? If so, tell me about your experience. I want to know everything. Scene Before is your click to the flicks.

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