By Glenn Dunks
May 13, 2014
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. Hey, whatever. It fits!
Sometimes films are flash in the pan successes, forgotten by the masses that had embraced them just one year earlier. (What will happen to Frozen?) And then there are movies like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial; films that defy what Hollywood studios believe makes a successful family feature. The viewer isn’t bombarded with elaborate special effects, nor are they assaulted with rapid-fire editing and references designed to appear hip and cutting edge. Rather, Spielberg’s childhood classic is a success because of that most old-fashioned of filmmaking technique: it’s a good story well told.
Elliott (Henry Thomas) is a regular ten-year-old boy whose life takes a turn for the extraordinary when he discovers an alien in his backyard. Keeping the diminutive, odd-looking creature under wraps, his secret is quickly discovered by sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) who must keep the beer-drinking, John Wayne-watching, Reese’s Pieces-eating extra-terrestrial from being uncovered by their mother (Dee Wallace) and the government officials (led by Peter Coyote) getting closer and closer to unveiling the intruder in their midst.
While there is a fair helping of nostalgia that goes along with watching any picture from one’s childhood, this 1982 classic truly has stood the test of time. There’s more here than simply childhood memories. Rather, aside from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. remains Spielberg’s finest demonstration of his ability to merge the feelings of suburban dissatisfaction – alienation, if you will – that permeates a lot of his work, with a unique sense of childhood wonder and imagination, topped off with the mature, mainstream polish that has made his movies so popular across the generations.
That children – both the characters and the audience – aren’t treated as idiots by E.T. is one of its strongest assets. They are not handled with kid gloves to the realities of death, and the concept of friends leaving our lives is one that continues to resonate no matter the viewer’s age. The film looks beautiful, a remnant of another (some would say simpler) blockbuster era, and the performances are elegant and charming. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial continues to dazzle for young and old.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is available on Quickflix.