E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial
By Michael Bass – The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts) June 15, 1982
EVERY KID has an imaginary friend, a lovable somebody who lives in the closet and comes out to play whenever the child desires. But what if that playmate emerged from the mind and became real? What if the creature in the closet was really there? Wouldn’t a living, but seemingly imaginary playmate be wonderful?
Producer-director Steven Spiel-berg thinks so, and he’s right. In his newest movie, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” Spielberg presents an encounter of the closest possible kind, as a young boy befriends and takes care of a helpless and amiable alien who was mistakenly left on earth by his comrades.
Borrowing a little from all the best childhood fantasies, including “Peter Pan” and “The Wizard of Oz,” and drawing smidgeons from “Star Wars,” his own “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and Walt Disney, Spielberg has produced what may be the ultimate childhood fantasy.
“ET” is so enchanting, funny, and completely endearing that it is hard to imagine another film this summer surpassing its excellence; everyone, from the most fanciful child to the most somber adult, should see this movie.
The story, which originated in the mind of Spielberg and was wonderfully crafted into a screenplay by Melissa Mathison, begins under a starry night sky in the middle of a forest in Southern California. Creatures from another planet move quietly around their spaceship, gathering specimens presumably to bring back to their homeland.
Suddenly, a posse of vehicles floods the forest with headlights, and the creatures must hastily depart from the planet. Unfortunately, one in their company does not make it back in time, and they leave without him.
E.T., as he is later dubbed, takes refuge in a tool shed behind a house. Luckily for the alien, it is the house of 10-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas), who overcomes his initial fears to make a place for E.T. in his world. Elliott soon includes his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and each is fascinated by the creature.
E.T. amazes the kids with his special powers, and they enjoy feeding him and dressing him up, although his antics around the house create more than a few problems, especially for Elliott, whose perceptions and actions become linked to the mind of E.T. Elliott deals with most of the trouble that comes his way, though, with the practice of any adult.
When they must get E.T. — who is terribly homesick — out of the house so he can contact his people, the kids wait until Halloween and then march him out the front door in a costume. As he bobs down the street, E.T. comically eyes many a masked child who looks like he might be a friend.
Adults do not become a part of the fantasy, however. The children’s mother (Dee Wallace) is ignorant of E.T.’s presence, and the ultimate foul-up in the whole situation is produced by the snoopy government people — isn’t it always? — who have tracked the alien to Elliott’s house.
The final problem for Elliott and the other children is to save E.T.’s life, threatened by the government — which has the obvious final goal of dissection and investigation — and the polluted atmosphere.
The special effects in the movie are wonderful, from the bicycles which fly to E.T. himself, the spectacular creation of Carlo Rambaldi. The creature stands about three feet high, looks like a descendant of the alien beings in “Close Encounters,” and walks with a penguinesque waddle. He is eminently adorable.
The children’s performances are perfectly appealing and appropriate, just as all children in Spielberg films seem to be. Heather O’Rourke, the blond dolly in “Poltergeist,” which opened last week, immediately comes to mind.
This brings up an interesting comparison: That of “E.T.” to “Poltergeist.” It is rare that a major Hollywood figure such as Spiel-berg brings out two movies coincidently, especially two movies of such high quality, and comparisons are inevitable. There are some similarities — both are right out of almost every child’s imagination, for example.
However, there is also a major difference: Where “Poltergeist” is the wild and raging nightmare, “E.T.” is the enchanting fantasy-dream.
The film does have one semi-flaw. When the government people finally catch up with E.T., their plethora of undertakings drag on much too long. But within the scene, one realizes how much E.T. must remain a part of the children’s world only. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” should, however, be a part of everyone’s world.
Earthlings love the movie E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982): Friendship, childlike innocence feed desire for summer’s addiction
Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon) July 25, 1982
Each hot, sunny day, 12-year-olds Felipe Zea, Tamer Ayasli and Jeffrey Russo hustle passersby on a Manhattan sidewalk to support their summer addiction.
Their game is cold lemonade for cash. Their habit is a slimy creature with bulging eyes, webbed feet and an inhuman desire to phone home.
His name, as you probably know, unless you’ve been cut off from civilization a while, is “E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial.” And with his oversized, glowing heart, he’s been capturing the fancy of moviegoers since he touched down in earthbound theaters six weeks ago.
As soon as Felipe, Tamer and Jeffrey have filled their pockets with the day’s lemonade profits, they head up the block to spend it on tickets to E.T.; they’ve seen it a combined total of 19 times.
E.T.’s own summertime business is bringing in about $3 million a day, not including sales of buttons, T-shirts and other assorted E.T. paraphernalia.
Why is the ET movie so adored?
A MENNINGER Foundation psychiatrist in Topeka, Kansas, cites the timeless appeal of childhood innocence. A UFO expert in Clarksburg, West Virginia, says people like the idea of friendly aliens. The young lemonade peddlers call it a movie about love.
E.T. is the story of a lovable otherworldly botanist accidentally left behind by his fellow aliens during a nature walk on earth. Chronically homesick and pursued by adults who see his value in cold, scientific terms, E.T. follows a candy trail to the closet of Elliott Taylor, who offers him refuge and friendship.
There, in young Elliott’s suburban California home, E.T. goes trick-or-treating, gets soused on beer, learns to speak by watching Sesame Street, and devises a plan to “phone home” and be rescued after seeing a telephone commercial and a Buck Rogers comic strip.
Since the movie’s release, critics have been dusting off their supply of shiny phrases, comparing the film to such classics as “Peter Pan” and “The Wizard of Oz,” and delving into the childhood of director Steven Spielberg for clues to the source of all this summertime magic.
WATCH IT NOW: Stream it now, or buy this movie on disc
“The best Disney film Disney never made,” said Variety. “One of the funniest, sweetest love stories in movie history,” exulted The Washington Post. “An all-around great movie,” said lemonade salesman Jeffrey, after seeing it for the fourth time.
In the movie E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, Kids triumph
“ONE REASON the movie works so well is that children triumph over adults,” says Menninger Foundation psychiatrist Glen Gabbard, who studies movies and their magic.
“The idea that children are somehow superior to adults because they have not yet been corrupted by the value system of the adult world is a really popular theme.”
Gray Barker, 56, director of the Space and Unexplained Celestial Events Research Society, says the alien “is quite benign and lovable.”
“He’s good for those of us who are interested in these things because it gives people a better Opinion of what we may be exploring, where before we might have looked like crackpots.”
Says Jeffrey: “Adults didn’t understand ET the way Elliott did. To Elliott, E.T. meant friendship and love. Love was the theme of the movie.”
Love and money and candy
And money has been the outcome. E.T. has taken in more than $130 million, and now cruises along at more than $3 million a day as the movie climbs Hollywood’s list of all-time money-makers, shattering records as it goes.
Also cashing in on E.T.’s success is Hershey Foods Corp., whose Reese’s Pieces lured E.T. from the forest to Elliott’s bedroom. Sales of the candy in June were up 70 percent over May.
Millions made from E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial dolls, toys
THE E.T. STUFFED doll will hit the shelves any day, and retailers already have placed $16 million worth of orders with Kamar International, the toymaker licensed to create it. T-shirts and buttons are on sale in theater lobbies; E.T. bed sheets won’t be far behind.
Perhaps an even surer sign of a movie phenomenon are the new catch-phrases E.T. has ushered in, as the movie transcends the theater and finds its way into everyday life. For example, in one of many memorable scenes, Elliott returns home from school to find that E.T. has taught himself to talk — and has very definite ideas about what he wants to say.
Elliott: “Phone? He said phone? He said phone?”
E.T., pointing skyward: “Home.”
Elliott: “You’re right, that’s E.T.’s home.”
E.T.: “E.T. home phone.”
Elliott: “E.T. phone home? E.T. phone home? E.T. phone home!”
Like “The Force be with you” from “Star Wars,” “E.T. phone home” has jumped off the T-shirts and into real life.
In a Manhattan office building, an executive returned to her desk to find a strange message on her while-you-were-out pad: “E.T. Phone home.” Standing in a subway token line across town, two small boys loudly chanted the refrain.
Ugliness, beauty and millions
IT COST $1 million to create the odd mixture of ugliness and beauty that is ET, the visitor from outer space. That’s one-tenth the entire cost of the movie. But director Speilberg thinks the money was well spent.
“He’s fat and he’s not pretty,” Spielberg says. “The story is the beauty of his character.”
When Hershey’s Vice President Jack Dowd was sent off to Hollywood to make sure Reese’s Pieces were not keeping company with the wrong sort of alien, he returned smitten.
“I thought he (E.T.) was a strange-looking creature. But I told all the executives here, ‘You’re gonna love him.”‘
Like Elliott Taylor, Spielberg was a child of suburbia. He got his first movie camera when he was 12. “Walt Disney was my parental conscience, and my step-parent was the TV set,” he told Time magazine.
He’s just 34, but hardly a newcomer — his previous blockbusters include “Close Encounters” and “Jaws,” and this summer he has scored a hat-trick with “E.T.,” “Poltergeist” and a re-release of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Columbia passed on E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. was to have been a Columbia Pictures production, but the studio let it go. Until early May, Universal Studios, the lucky recipient, thought it might have a bomb on its hands, with only about 500 theaters agreeing to show it.
Then, a screening in Houston alerted the studio to the movie’s potential. It opened in 1,100 movie houses — and recovered its $10 million cost three days later.
Part of the reason is kids like Felipe, Tanner and Jeffrey, who live a half-block from one of the three Manhattan theaters where E.T. is now playing. But they still have a long way to go before E.T. surpasses “The Empire Strikes Back.” They saw that one 50 times.
E.T., THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL. A Universal Pictures production and release. Produced by Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy. Features entire cast. Directed by Spielberg; screenplay, Melissa Mathison; camera (Deluxe color), Allen Daviau (prints by Technicolor); editor, Carol Littleton; music, John Williams; production design, James D. Bis-sell; set decoration, Jackie Carr; assistant director, Katy Emde; E.T. created by Carlo Rambaldi; special visual effects produced at Industrial Light & Magic; supervisor, Dennis Muren; second unit director, Glenn Randall; production manager, Wallace Worsley; production supervisor, Frank Marshall; sound, Gene Catamessa; supervising sound editor, Charles L. Campbell. (MPAA Rating: PG). Running time: 115 minutes. (This movie is rated “PG” because of two or three words not generally accepted when coming from the mouths of babes.)
Mary: Dee Wallace
Elliot: Henry Thomas
Keys: Peter Coyote
Michael: Robert MacNaughton
Gertie: Drew Barrymore
Greg: K.C. Martel
Steve: Sean Frye
Tyler: Tom Howell
Pretty girl: Erika Eleniak
Schoolboy: David O’Dell
Science teacher: Richard Swingler
Policeman: Frank Toth
Ultra sound man: Robert Barton