E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, by Albert W. Vogt III

If you pay attention to production companies that are displayed at the beginning of movies, then you have probably been exposed to something related to today’s movie, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982).  This is because Steven Spielberg made it, and he decided to name his enterprise Amblin Entertainment and use as its logo a memorable moment from the film.  It is remarkable he chose this rather than arguably his more famous work, the Indiana Jones franchise.  I cannot blame him.  Growing up in the 1980s, for years after its release, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial was something in which kids my age kept an interest.  This is part of the reason why it is number twenty-four on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 100 Greatest American Films of All Time.  Indeed, it is somewhat surprising that this has not gotten a reboot or reimagining or whatever “re” word Hollywood is using these days.

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial should be shown to little kids in order to remind them why we have the buddy system on class field trips.  Our title alien (voiced by Pat Welsh, Steven Spielberg, and Kayden Green) gets left behind when his spaceship is forced to take off, owing to the presence of humans near their landing zone.  E.T. then goes down into the suburban neighborhood in the valley below where authorities are searching for him.  He ends up in the garden shed of the Taylor family, and is found by their young son Elliott (Henry Thomas).  Both are frightened by this first contact, if you will, and no one will believe that Elliott saw a “goblin” outside.  That night he goes looking for E.T. and has a similar encounter. The next day he tracks it into the forest.  When he does not immediately find E.T., he leaves a trail of Reese’s Pieces back to his house ala Hansel and Gretel.  He then stays up that night until E.T. returns.  Once they get over their fear of one another, Elliott leads the alien into the house.  He decided he needs to stay home from school to look after his visitor, about whom he is keeping a secret from his mother, Mary (Dee Wallace).  Thus, he feigns an illness in the morning to begin trying to communicate with the visitor from another planet.  Elliott cannot keep E.T. a secret forever, though, and when his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) returns from school, Elliott has another confidant.  This is extended shortly thereafter when their kid sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) enters Elliott’s room and sees E.T.  They promise each other not to tell, and meanwhile Elliott continues to form a bond with E.T.  Since no kid can stay out of school forever, Elliott is subsequently forced to leave E.T. at home by himself.  While there, he gets into the refrigerator and, looking like Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill) in his plaid bathroom, E.T. proceeds to put down a couple of beers.  Because of the psychic link that has unwittingly developed between the two, Elliott experiences the intoxication while at school.  It causes him to stage a break out of the live frogs his class had been about to dissect.  At home, E.T. continues the Married . . . with Children (1987-1997) routine by turning on the television.  Between that and a comic strip, he gets the idea of building a communication device to get a message to his people.  Not bad for a half-drunk alien.  This is where we get the cinematic expression, “E.T. phone home,” and he starts accumulating the necessary material to do so.  Remember those people that had scared E.T.’s brethren into taking off without him?  Well, they are still out there and zeroing in on the Taylor home.  By Halloween (it had been days away when this all began), they have figured out that it is their house that is harboring an off-world fugitive.  The holiday is also the night when Elliott has decided to take E.T. back to the forest so that the signal can be sent into the cosmos.  Yet, it ends up taking longer than expected, and this is when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) decides to move in on the Taylor residence.  Elliott and E.T. are gone when this happens, having spent the night outside.  They also get separated, with Elliott going home and Michael having to retrieve E.T.  When they all return to the house, NASA has turned it into a lab to examine Elliott and E.T.  In charge of the operation is a man simply credited as “Keys” (Peter Coyote).  It sounds much more ominous than what he is, and he actually shows sympathy for Elliott and E.T.  Because of their link, Elliott is experiencing everything E.T. is, and what the alien is experiencing is a slow fade into death, symbolized by a pot of flowers gradually wilting.  Elliott is pleading with E.T. to hang on, and Elliott’s vital signs stabilize as a result.  E.T., though, further declines and passes away the next morning.  Elliott is given a moment to be with his friend, telling E.T. that he loves him.  At that moment, E.T.’s heart begins to glow and pump once more, saying in a muffled voice through the body bag that he wants to phone home.  To help his friend, Elliott convinces Gertie to create a distraction while he and Michael steal the van transporting E.T.’s supposed corpse.  They eventually exchange this for bikes and are joined by a few of their other friends.  In order to make it to their alien rendezvous, E.T. uses some of his other abilities to levitate their transports, which is where you get the Amblin logo.  With this assistance, they make it in time for E.T.’s ship to land and the Taylor kids to say their tearful goodbyes, Elliott being the last, of course.

People loved, and still do, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, the movie and the people in it.  Never mind the cute alien, Drew Barrymore was seven when the film came out and is adorable.  It is also a feel-good movie, with a figurative and literal heart.  These kinds of films, in my experience, are the ones that will be timeless rather than the cynical cash grabs that opt for cheap thrills.  As soon as their kind appear, they are usually gone from the scene just as quickly.  One theme I noticed, speaking of matters of the heart, is the woundedness on display in all the characters, particularly the Taylor family.  You might have noticed that I did not mention a dad in the synopsis?  That is because it seems that Mary is divorced, and her ex-husband is in Mexico with his new girlfriend.  To quote what Elliott says about a cut, and which E.T. subsequently repeats, “Ouch.”  As a spiritual director, and somebody who has prayed over my share of people, that kind of event leaves indelible marks upon us.  I can say this because I, too, have interior wounds.  One of the many goals of faith is to bring these wounds, or whatever you want to call them, to Jesus to be healed.  While therapy and spiritual direction can help, and are encouraged in Catholicism, only God can deal with that which no earthly doctor can mend.  The role of spiritual direction is to guide a person by reflecting back what they hear God saying through a person’s words.  Put simply, a spiritual director does not heal.  That is up to God, and the directee’s relationship with God.  I bring this up because Elliott continues to act out in light of what happened with his father.  Forgive me for saying so, and I hope I am wrong, but I doubt this character grows up and decides to go to a spiritual director.  But, who knows?  Stranger things have happened.

There is no denying E.T. the Extra Terrestrial is an iconic film.  In the introduction, I mentioned my surprise that they have not, as yet, rebooted the movie.  Actually, I would imagine that they have tried it, but the franchise appears to be owned by two different people.  Either way, it is worth seeing with the whole family.


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