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On May 26, 1982, Steven Spielberg unveiled E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial at the Cannes film festival. The sci-fi classic would become a summer smash en route to four Oscar wins at the 55th Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
As director and co-producer (with Kathleen Kennedy), Spielberg has crafted with warmth and humor a simple fantasy that works so superbly on so many levels that it will surely attract masses of moviegoers from all demographics. At the heart of the story line, E.T. is really My Favorite Martian, with a bizarre-looking but disarmingly lovable alien (designed by Carlo Rambaldi, who designed the creature in Close Encounters).
However, the film goes past the myth of a marooned spaceman trying to figure out a way back home. While E.T. is being befriended, hidden and protected (from the adults) by his Earth buddies, the picture conveys a relationship story, an adventure, a mystery, and ultimately, the time-worn but always timely message that no matter how different God’s creatures may be, there’s a common bond between the thinking ones — because they’re also capable of love. Sometimes, kids are always the ones to recognize this on a more immediate level than adults.
Sound sappy? Yes. But Spielberg’s magic as a director is to take these themes and weave them into a straight-forward tale so delicately that you are never sledge-hammered and come to perceive screenwriter Melissa Mathison’s intent through the exquisite subtlety of this beguiling fairy tale.
Amid the wonder, excitement and joy that virtually every frame of this picture elicits — swept along by John Williams’ playful and uplifting score — one really does fall in love with the delightful little alien, and indeed, finds oneself reaching for the handkerchief (and realizing but not minding upon later reflection) right on cue. Never mind that certain plot leaps of faith are necessary to advance this fantasy along, the characters (mostly kids) are so compelling and endearing that you’re easily pulled in.
When young Elliot (Henry Thomas) discovers E.T. out in his backyard one night, at first no one believes him. But after he stakes out his turf the following evening on a lawn recliner; armed with a flashlight, the somewhat shy alien makes a gentle peace offering of M&Ms. The bond is instantaneous. Elliott hides his space buddy in the house, and through a few subsequent poignant scenes, the two come to understand one another. Elliott introduces his brother (Robert Macnaughton) and sister (Drew Barrymore) into the newly formed fraternity, which excludes adults: “Only kids can see him,” they pretend.
But as E.T.’s earthbound education develops, and he puts together a makeshift transmitter, it becomes apparent that he longs for home. Though the charming trio of siblings evades detection of E.T. by their mother (Dee Wallace), scientists are apparently spying on their every action and lie in wait to move in.
Ultimately, their intentions come through as benign, as their leader (Peter Coyote) tells Elliott he’s glad that it was the young boy who first encountered the alien. Nevertheless, the scientists intend to study E.T., and that would interfere with the little creature’s plans. The kids, however, smitten as they are with their new friend, are determined that if he wants out — he’s getting out. What ensues is one of the most delightful chase and escape scenes in recent memory.
Brilliant cinematography, production design and editing not withstanding, with all the special effects of getting E.T. to appear so lifelike, creating a dazzling spacecraft a la Close Encounters and breathtaking aerial excursions (credit Industrial Light & Magic), perhaps the greatest wonder involved in E.T. is that it was reportedly brought in for around $10.3 million. Judging by what’s already been released, and what’s poised to come forth this summer, E.T., to be released June 11, will make its money back many, many times over. — Martin Kent, originally published on May 25, 1982.
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