Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sean Kelly

Revisiting 1982 - E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

1982 is considered a somewhat landmark year in genre cinema.  Many films were released this year, which are now considered classics.  1982 was also the year I was born.  As such, to coincide with the 30th anniversary of these films (and my 30th birthday), I will pick one 1982 film a month to discuss.  Some of these films I'll be seeing for the first time, while others I'll be seeing for the umpteenth time.

For my first film, I decided to choose what is probably my favourite 1982 film - Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  As is the case with all my "Revisiting" posts, I might go into SPOILER territory in my discussion.

Let's begin.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
I suppose I'll begin with the version of the film I re-watched.  In 2002, Spielberg released a 20th anniversary special edition of the film, which featured new scenes and CGI touch-ups.  This version is the basis for the DVD release of the film, however Spielberg also had the sense to include the original theatrical cut.  It was that version of the film I decided to re-watch, so I can authentically revisit how the film was in 1982.

E.T. is a film which is told from a child's point of view.  The central character is Elliott, who was played by a 10 year old Henry Thomas (whose only notable role for me since then was in 2002's Gangs of New York).  He is joined by his teenage brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister Gertie (a very cute 7 year old Drew Barrymore).  The only adults central to the plot are Dee Wallace as Elliott's mother Mary and Peter Coyote as the nameless Government agent nicknamed "Keys" (for the constant sound of jingling keys that accompanies him).  In fact, with the exception of Mary, none of the adult character's faces are seen until the third act of the film.

Much of the plot is built around the psychic connection between E.T. and Elliott.  This is used to comic effect early in the film in a scene where E.T. gets himself drunk on beer, which results in Elliott also becoming intoxicated.  This results in one of my favourite scenes, in which Elliott decides to save all the frogs his class are preparing for dissection.  Of course, the connection between E.T. and Elliott becomes dangerous in the third act when E.T. gets sick and endangers both their lives.

I should talk a bit about the character of E.T.  He is played for the most part by an animatronic puppet (though I believe some of the full body shots were a little person in a suit).  I personally thought that the E.T. puppet work was pretty well done.  Sure, some of the lip-syncing was stiff, but E.T. still seemed like a real being.  Of course, since Spielberg is friends with Georges Lucas, the 2002 Special Edition saw E.T. "cleaned up" with CGI, which does make him look a little more cartoonish than he does in the theatrical cut.

Speaking of George Lucas, I noticed that there are many references to Star Wars scattered throughout the film.  For instance, when Elliott is first getting to know E.T., he shows him his Star Wars action figures.  A later scene has Michael speaking in a Yoda voice and, most memorable, during a Halloween scene, E.T. sees a kid dressed up as Yoda and chases after him, thinking him to be a fellow Extra Terrestrial.

Another scene that Spielberg insisted on changing for the special edition happens in the climax of the film:  Elliott and his friends are racing to return E.T. to his spaceship and they are blocked by a pair of police officers holding rifles.  Apparently the inclusion of this scene was one of Spielberg's greatest regrets and for the Special Edition, he digital changed the scene so the officers are now holding walkie talkies.  It's not in my place to say that Spielberg was right or wrong in the making the change, however I'm pretty sure that the police had the rifles for the alien and not the kids.

The film received nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and won four: Best Visual Effects, Best Score (the film features one of John Williams' most classic scores), Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing.  After re-watching the film, I was almost wishing that the Academy nominated kids for acting awards.  In fact, I thought that Henry Thomas was especially deserving of a nomination.  Also, I am not to certain if a fantasy/sci-fi film like E.T. would get nominated if it was released today.  It seems the Academy has since moved away from giving Best Picture nominations to genre films (BTW, I'll be talking about the film that actually won Best Picture that year in a later post).

This ends my revisit of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Next month, I will be moving on to a darker science fiction film as I revisit John Carpenter's The Thing.

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).