THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I was 14 in 1982, and that summer I had one thing on my mind - E.T.The Extra-Terrestrial. Steven Spielberg's story of a boy and his alien grabbed me in the same way it grabbed millions of other moviegoers. The picture became the highest-grossing movie in history to that point, as people went to see it time and time again. I remember seeing it twice in the theater, several more times on home video. It has been twenty years since E.T. first hit theaters and Universal Pictures has now rereleased it in an upgraded edition for a whole new generation of fans to discover.

For its 20th anniversary, Universal Pictures has rereleased Steven Spielberg's classic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. is, of course, the story of a small, wrinkly alien botanist who is accidentally left behind by his fellow aliens. The creature hides in a shed, where he is found by young Elliott (Henry Thomas). With the help of brother Michael (Robert McNaughton) and sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), Elliott hides the alien from his mother Mary (Dee Wallace). After figuring out that he has been left behind, the boy helps E.T. build a communication device so he can phone home. Then some shadowy government types show up to cause trouble, and only one of them, agent Keys(Peter Coyote), is sympathetic. In the end, Elliott puts his new friend back on a space ship and watches him begin the return voyage to his own planet.

The new rerelease boasts a couple of extras. Most notable is the addition of about two minutes of new footage. There's nothing earth-shattering here, but it's fun to get a little extra taste of the lovable title character. The special effects have also been touched up a bit. You can see this most in E.T.'s more expressive facial features. Finally, the memorable John Williams score has been digitally remastered, making it sound better than ever. None of these extras were needed - the film is just perfect as it is - although they certainly offer yet another selling point.

In 1982, I was moved by E.T. on two levels: an emotional level and an entertainment level. The screenplay (beautifully written by Melissa Matheson) is filled with moments that tug your heartstrings, as the boy and the alien overcome barriers to become friends. When E.T. leaves for home, it's a powerful moment because we know what he means to Elliott and vice versa. Spielberg took a solid script and effortlessly moved the tone from eerie to fantastic to joyous to sad to heartwarming. In that famous last shot of Elliott tearfully watching the ship take off, most people in the audience also found themselves welling up with tears.

And of course, the movie is entertaining in a big way. Who can forget the bicycle flying across the moon? Or the scene were Gertie plays dress-up with E.T.? Or the exciting escape Elliott makes when the government guys have the alien hooked up to monitors? Every second of this picture is packed with fun.

Seeing E.T. again in 2002 was a more intellectual experience. I realized just what a brilliant piece of filmmaking it is. Spielberg uses all his tools to create a film that encompasses every emotion. Most impressively, he glides between them masterfully. For example, consider the shocking scene when the kids' mother enters the bathroom and finds the sickly alien on the floor, being tended to by the children. It's a heartbreaking moment as she pulls them away from the dying visitor. As she runs through the house, she suddenly encounters men in space suits bursting through every opening in her home. We - the audience - don't yet know who these people are or what they want either. The tone has moved from sad to scary. E.T. is filled with moments like that where Spielberg finds just the right touch for the material.

The director's trademark sense of wonder is also evident. Although some criticize Spielberg's very commercial sense of filmmaking, you can't deny that he has a special gift. There's not an ounce of cynicism in this story. He keeps the relationship between Elliott and E.T. pure. He makes you want to believe that a young boy could befriend a creature from outer space. I think Spielberg understands what it means to be a kid and to dream of other worlds. His portrayal of childhood is very authentic. Look at the scene in which Elliott shows E.T. all the toys in his bedroom. Kids do that - they have a sense of pride in showing others their possessions that is borne out of imagination. (I love the little touch in which Elliott puts on a little play with his Star Wars activity I spent many hours engaging in as a child.) The wonder and awe Spielberg has transfers into the audience.

I knew this was a great film, but seeing it again makes me realize just why it's a great film. And here's one more piece of evidence. I had not seen this movie since I was in college, so it's been about 11 or 12 years. Despite this, I remembered every scene, nearly every line of dialogue. When a picture lives in your mind like that, it deserves to be called a classic.

( out of four)

E.T.: The Extraterrestrial is rated PG for language and mild thematic elements. The running time is 2 hours.

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