If we had to pick the filmmaker who had the biggest influence on world-wide audiences in the last 25 years, no doubt Steven Spielberg would be the one. Is there another director who made as much box-office smashes and critical successes, often both at the same time? “Jaws” (1975) might have been the first summer blockbuster, “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind” is one of the most revered sci-fi flicks ever made, the “Indiana Jones” trilogy thrilled countless kids of all ages, and “Jurassic Park” and its sequel grossed nearly a billion dollars. And then there’s the 93 Oscar nominations his films received, from “The Color Purple” and “Empire of the Sun” to “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”. Which leads us to “E.T.”, no less than the fourth highest-grossing film of all time, and arguably the most beloved family film since “The Wizard of Oz”.
I can’t imagine that there’s anyone who doesn’t know this film by heart already, but I’ll still summarise the plot for the possible weirdo who spent the last 20 years in a bomb shelter. Elliott is just a kid, but he still has to deal with bad stretches. School ain’t always easy, and life at home has became kinda depressing since his parents divorced and Daddy bailed to Mexico with his bimbo. So Mom’s down, little sister Gertie can be bugging and big brother Michael has a short fuse. Yet Elliott’s life is about to change forever with the arrival of E.T, a very odd little dude from outer-space who was left behind by mistake by his peers on a field-trip to Earth. Elliott is the one who will discover the alien and take him into his house, and they will become the best of friends. The film is about that very special bond, about how Elliott and his siblings teach E.T. about suburban America everyday life and about how E.T. shares his super-powers with them in return…
Where can I start in telling you what makes this film so wonderful? In short, this is one of these movies that just make you feel so good… Even though I spent half of it in tears! It’s filled with good humour, innocence and hope, and it’s highly original and inventive. Of course, this is Spielberg so this ain’t the most daring of films, but as far as mainstream Hollywood movies go, it doesn’t get much better than this. There are plenty of unforgettable moments, from little touches like E.T.’s taste for Reese’s pieces, to amazing sights like Elliot riding his bike across a full moon, a scene which gives me goose bumps to this day. Spielberg’s direction is technically flawless, John Williams’ iconic score is very effective and the special FX are astonishing. The E.T. creature is so expressive that you forget that it’s just a piece of rubber. I also love the way the film is told through the kids’ point of view. A lot is left unsaid, and adults like the scientists are often just menacing, anonymous beings. And the young actors are so good! Henry Thomas makes Elliott a full-blown, three-dimensional and very human character with his impressive yet natural performance, and Drew Barrymore is even better as his little sister. She’s so darn cute, and she’s funny and touching, too!
Now, about this new version… Personally, I think it’s stupid to tinker with your old movies, especially when they’re fine to begin with. Do we really need to see these few extra minutes of footage? And are we so jaded by modern digital wizardry that we can’t appreciate more old fashioned movie magic? As mentioned above, I like the old rubber E.T. just fine, no fixing up was necessary. Spielberg has also erased the guns from the cops’ hands, and he’s changed an off-hand reference to “terrorists” to a less touchy “hippie” put-down. Again, why 1984 the past? Can’t these directors just let go of their old movies and accept that there’s always gonna be little things they could have done differently? That said, it’s a joy to see “E.T.” on the big screen, with premium sound and image. It remains a timeless classic: it blew my mind when I saw it as a kid, and watching it again 20 years later, I still adored it.