Feels Like Home: E.T The Extra Terrestrial at 40
Well, I never thought I would be ticking things off my bucket list already. Never gave my bucket list much thought, nor do I have any great urgency to do so - rest those racing minds, I read back over that opening line and suddenly found my phrasing a little too Jack Nicholson sky-diving with Morgan Freeman.
To be honest, I haven't really accumulated one at all, not properly. Just the slapdash comment here and there about seeing this or doing that, with half-hearted intent. Snagging a chance to see E.T on the big screen doesn't seem like such a goliath task, I'm plenty aware that bougie picturehouses do reruns of eighties classics all the time. Still, I had yet to find one. Until I noticed that the 40th Anniversary screenings had begun at my local. Of course I had to book it and went rather feral in the process. It may just be the most excited I have been to go to the cinema in months.
I saw it with mother and sister, the former who experienced it 40 years ago on original release and was smitten. We all are by that goofy, thoughtful, squat guy. It's one of my favourite movies of all time. The list is long, sure, but E.T is an unbudge-able - we're talking top three tier, cannot be usurped, half of what makes me me now is due to that film, my perception of suburban America and coming-of-age cinema and space is all through this. I'm not naturally scared of aliens, ugly things are always cute, I own a red hoodie for this film alone and would wrap my dog up in various blankets over his fifteen years (wish I had the upper body strength to get a thick-boned spaniel into a bike basket), I'm adopting it as my yearly Halloween viewing - this is my vocabulary. Whatever I may think of Steven Spielberg's output of the last ten years, my heart is still nursed and cradled in his filmmaking.
But it's not just nostalgia or blind adoration that has me irrationally obsessed with this classic feature. No, it's because it simply is so good decades later. And damn was Spielberg a pioneer - can I just note that motivated pan with the lamp when Elliot fakes his sick day; chef's kiss. The cast as well, the performances he gets from those kids are so believable and natural. The script and the quotability; Where's Mexico?, E.T Phone Home, It was nothing like that, penis breath...
If anything, seeing E.T was one of those beautiful reminders that come along at just the right time. A how to fall in love with cinema moment; a film that was the beginning of a lifelong love with storytelling, messy and riddled with anxiety though that relationship has been. E.T was like coming home. I was missing something I hadn't realised I had been.
All sorts of ages have been attending the screenings I have ben able to note; the perfect example of a family film; a term I have struggled to apply accurately beyond the works of Ghibli and Disney for the longest of times. There was a time where these films were rich, bold. I imagined what it would have been like, to experience it for the first time, to have seen the effects and those iconic moments before they had become ingrained in film literacy. Before the homages and spoofs, before filmmakers borrowed and nibbled and tried as they could to capture the magic, there was this, the boy on the bike across the moon. And it was still enchanting. I felt like I was there as the moment was made.
I was reminded of what traditional Hollywood storytelling can achieve. Its formula doesn't have to be exhausted; what one finds in E.T is a soul. A thoughtful, film that became deeply personal to the director, the cast and crew and eventually it's audience too. To see the opening scene both unsettling but captivating, the looming presence of the government investigators as the foraging aliens go about their space horticulture. Spielberg's tight pacing, utilising his six minutes establishes the extra-terrestrials harmless natures and curiosity, the bonds amongst their kind. And then he's left behind. Every time he is left behind, devastating with the aid of Spielberg and John Williams heart-rending score. Every time, I feel that ache. Ouch...
Nothing looks like E.T. Nothing feels like E.T. Even E.T himself feels so real. Dated though a few of the effects are, it's still looks brilliant; he's organic and cute and weird and breathing and pulsing - you can see the veins twitch beneath his skin). The night sky, the Californian suburbs stacked and familiar, those scorching sunsets. The soundtrack is simply breath-taking. E.T is a simple story on a proportion I can only compare to cinema; a cinematic scale.
One of the most significant things in my childhood was the melody, so much so that I would have to avoid hearing it for fear of sobbing, Williams powerful work is so full of wonder and scope. Now I can listen, and dab at my eyes, and be certain I will not become hysterical. Yet, as a child it felt astronomical. In the cinema, I was that child again. It pierced by heart, right through the rusty armour that this decrepit aging shit had formed, and I was once again in sync with this film. Holding my breath, my lip trembling, smothering my sniffs - imagine the floodgates shattering when they said goodbye, the finger glowing bright, the doors sealing one last time, and the devastation that ensued during the end credits. Williams works that motif.
It's got layers, what can I say. My Ogre of a film. Funny after so long and exploring a multitude of dynamics with the broken family, Elliot's lonely childhood, empathy and compassion (maybe it's also why I'm a vegetarian...), I couldn't get over how much I kept mining from the story. Mum kept uttering as we walked home in the euphoric daze of good cinema, an approaching storm over the see sparking ominous flashes on the steady tides, "There are so many messages, so much to take from it, it teaches so much." She's right too. I feel like the handbook to the human heart can be found in E.T.
Before it never crossed my mind. I didn't make any connection before until I was sitting in the front row that night. The thing that struck me most of all, what I fed my mind from for all these years, was how significant it was for me growing up to see stories of the real world being changed by something magical. Despite being a total escapist, losing myself in Middle Earth and Fantasia and wishing to whisked away from the stifling everyday, I delighted in the magic finding it's way home.
Stuff like Edward Scissorhands (my other favourite) and E.T were a comfort to me. That this boring reality had a chance to be turned upside down. That magic could be found somewhere. And Maria came into their lives an saved the Von Trapp family, Paddington Bear polite-ed his way through London, the Hogwarts letter popped through the letter box, even Pokémon was wholly plausible, maybe I had found a Pidgey.
It was little things, and they changed everything. And they were no longer lonely, their lives changed forever. The journey's were bittersweet, as is life, but it was for the better even when things didn't always work out how we wanted them to. He and Elliot would never forget, that their friendship could survive galaxies apart. There is magic, even in that, just around the corner, hiding in the garden shed. E.T still reminds me of that.
Well, I think I just wanted to say that. That I love E.T, and after seeing it in cinema (twice by the time I finally finish this article) and it's still one of the greatest films ever made. No matter how high-brow or pretentious, avant-garde or broad my cinematic interests get, this is where story is. This is where my heart lies. It returns to the soil, ready to be foraged again by the croaky lil alien. He'll be right there.