Cast: Henry Thomas, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote
Oscar Wins: Best Sound (Robert Knudson, Robert Glass, Don Digirolamo, Gene S. Cantamessa), Best Effects, Visual Effects (Carlo Rambaldi, Dennis Muren, Kenneth Smith), Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing (Charles L. Campbell, Ben Burtt), Best Music, Original Score (John Williams)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Melissa Mathison), Best Cinematography (Allen Daviau), Best Film Editing (Carol Littleton)
SUMMARY: One night in a California forest, a group of aliens land their ship and begin collecting samples. However, they are quickly discovered by a group of human investigators, and must leave in a hurry. Unfortunately, one of them is left behind. This single alien makes his way into the suburbs, and hides in a tool shed in the backyard of a family home. Inside the home, ten-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas) is watching his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) play a game with his friends when they send him outside to get pizza. During this time, Elliott realizes that there is something in the tool shed, but he is unable to find out exactly what it is. He sneaks out of the house and leaves a trail of Reese’s Pieces from the forest to his bedroom, which the creature follows. Elliott shuts the alien in his closet, and fakes sick the next day. He spends the day with the alien, trying to communicate with him. When Michael returns home, Elliott introduces him to the creature; their five-year-old sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) also bursts in, and learns the secret. All three children agree to keep the alien a secret from their mother, but begin spending a lot of time in Elliott’s room. There, they get their first glimpse of the alien’s powers: when asked where he came from, he levitates several balls in the air, representing the solar system; he also brings a dead plant back to life. The next day, Elliott returns to school, leaving the alien at home alone. As the alien begins to explore the house, Elliott realizes that he has a psychic connection with it: when the alien drinks beer, Elliott belches and acts drunk; when the alien watches a kiss scene on TV, Elliott suddenly kisses a girl in his class. Elliott is sent to the principal’s office, and his mother is called to the school. Gertie is left home with the alien, where she realizes that he is capable of speaking (she teaches him to say, “Be good”, among other things).
Elliott and Michael are stunned to learn that the alien can talk, and Elliott subsequently names him “E.T.” Meanwhile, E.T. has found a comic strip where a character builds a satellite communication device, and begins to make his own with toys and spare parts he finds around the house. Elliott helps him do this, but it is Michael who notices that E.T. does not look as healthy as he once did. They decide that they must try to help him make contact with the other aliens, so on Halloween they sneak him out of the house and take him to the forest. There, E.T. sets up the device he has created, and begins sending messages into space. Elliott falls asleep in the forest, and when he wakes up in the morning, E.T. is gone. He goes back home, where his mother is in a panic over his disappearance, and manages to communicate to Michael what has happened. Michael returns to the forest, where he finds E.T. collapsed and nearly dead by a stream. He takes the alien back to the house, where Elliott’s symptoms mirror E.T.’s. The children’s mother finally learns of the alien’s presence, and views it as a threat. Just then, government agents invade the house and set up a makeshift hospital, where they examine both Elliott and E.T. For a time, they are both in danger, but then Elliott begins to improve as E.T. worsens. Eventually, E.T. dies, and Elliott makes a full recovery. Elliott is allowed to privately say goodbye to E.T., but notices that a flower nearby suddenly comes back to life. E.T. himself then comes back to life, and announces that the other aliens are returning. Elliott recruits Michael’s help in getting E.T. back to the forest and away from the scientists in the house. They steal a van, and alert Michael’s friends to the predicament; later, Elliott (with E.T. in the basket), Michael and Michael’s friends take off on their bikes, evading the police on their way to the forest. When they run into a police roadblock, E.T. levitates the entire group into the air, and they ride this way until they reach the forest. There, the alien spaceship returns, and E.T. says goodbye to the children, including an emotional Elliott, telling him that he will still be with him. He then walks into the spaceship, which takes off into space, leaving a rainbow behind.
MY TAKE: This is pretty much a universally-liked movie (it is a Spielberg movie, after all), but it’s taken several viewings for me to really warm to it. Perhaps this is because this is the first time I’ve watched it as an adult, and thus the first time I’ve really understood a lot of the events. As a kid, it’s an interesting movie because there’s an alien, but I don’t think a lot of the emotional stuff really registered. There’s also a fair amount of dialogue that kids will find either uninteresting or indecipherable. I’m actually kind of surprised that nearly everybody likes this movie, because it’s not an action movie or an epic, like Star Wars or Titanic. In fact, it’s almost sappy at times (in a good way). It’s heartwarming. The movie gave birth to several iconic phrases, and also to Drew Barrymore’s movie career (and addiction issues). She’s incredibly cute in the film, and steals most of the scenes she’s in. I also loved Elliott’s mom’s reaction early on in the film, when Elliott calls Michael “penis-breath”. She has that reaction where you want to reprimand your child for saying something not nice, but you’re laughing at the same time. Basically, as a parent you’re upset, but as an adult you’re amused. The whole movie has become a cultural icon, and I would be shocked to learn that there are people out there, particularly those over the age of thirty, that have not seen it.
RATING: Deserves its reputation.