Essential Pick of the Week: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

This article is dedicated to the creative genius of Allen Daviau who passed away in April aged 77 from COVED 19. Allen was a cinematographer whose work continues to inspire. From E.T. The Extra Terrestrial to Empire of the Sun and the Colour Purple. He leaves a legacy of excellence, creativity, innovation and beauty.

In 1968, Allen and I started our careers side by side with the short film AMBLIN’. Allen was a wonderful artist, but his warmth and humanity were as powerful as his lens. He was a singular talent and a beautiful human being.

Steven Spielberg

If Close Encounters of the Third Kind announced the arrival of Steven Spielberg as a cinematic genius, in the same year that Star Wars did the same for George Lucas. Then E.T. The Extra Terrestrial cemented his place as a legend of modern cinema. Not only continuing the journey began in 1977 to reinvent science fiction for the big screen. But also enabling science fiction to coexist in the same world as family entertainment, fantasy and magic. In turn, creating a whole new sub-genre of science fiction. One that would go on to inspire hundreds of movies ranging from Flight of the Navigator to Explorers and Super 8.

However, no film since has been able to match the shear charm, power and beauty of Steven Spielberg’s 1982 picture. A movie that in my humble opinion, remains one of the best films ever made. Its appeal transcending the year of it birth as it continues to enthral and inspire new generations. With its magical, funny and emotional story of untainted childhood love and acceptance for a vulnerable alien from a distant star.

Coming a year after the success of Spielberg and Lucas’ first joint project Raiders of the Lost Ark. E.T The Extra Terrestrial owes much to the friendship that had developed between both directors. Particularly within the field of puppetry, visual effects and a powerful musical score from John Williams. However, both Close Encounters and E.T. equally steer a very different path to Lucas in reflecting science fiction on screen. Replacing the space opera with a far more nuanced and human experience of possible alien life. Weaving in themes of difference, alienation and wonder, while equally dismissing the notion that aliens would carry guns or malicious intent. In turn subverting the very science fiction films Spielberg watched as a child in the 1950s. Where alien invasions were tied to the apocalyptic fear of a growing cold war.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial was born from Steven Spielberg’s own childhood experiences of parental divorce. With the separation of his parents having had a defining effect on his sense of security at the age of 10. Something we find Elliott also grappling with, alongside a disconnect from his older Dungeon and Dragon’s loving brother. And his younger sister who doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of a possible family breakdown. While his mother desperately tries to keep the family unit protected and secure despite her own pain. These human emotions and fears surround the narrative of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial while equally finding themselves explored from the view point of a child. With every camera angle reflecting a child’s perspective of the world around them.

However, it is in the introduction of an alien into Elliott’s changing world that Melissa Mathison’s screenplay shines. During childhood we all invent magical friends, especially during times of stress, when the world can appear scary and dark. These magical and often secret friends can take the form of soft toys, figures or even new worlds we create in our mind. Providing security away from the reality of the world surrounding us, while in turn offering us something or someone to share our most hidden fears with. And even as we enter adulthood, we may find ourselves wishing on a star, or looking to the heavens for an answer.

E.T. is the physical embodiment of those childhood dreams and creations, alongside the adult wishes we look to the stars to resolve. Ultimately creating a character that links our childhood dreams and adulthood escapism in a way few other film characters have managed. Speaking to both children of the present and the children of the past locked away in our adult minds.

But beyond this, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial also reminds us all of the innocence and acceptance of youth. Including the ability to see past the physical differences and cultural barriers that separate us all in creating a global home. A home where everyone is welcome, valued and cherished. Providing us with a message from 1982 that has never been more important in a modern world of segregation and nationalism. While E.T. also speaks directly to our fear of loss, whether that be friends, parents or grandparents. Reminding us that the journey we take with others remains forever in our hearts. With the films goodbye between E.T. and Elliott echoing to the statement “I’ll be right here” as E.T. points his finger towards Elliott’s chest.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is undoubtedly one of the finest films ever made. Its story, music and performances shining just as brightly as they did 38 years ago. Consequently providing us with a film that transcends time, as it momentarily sets free the inner child in every adult. While also continuing to embed itself into the heart of every new child who finds its magic. Reflecting the dreams and fears of us all no matter of our differences in a bubble of pure wonder, fantasy and imagination.

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton


Steven Spielberg also appears in Coming of Age: The Essential Collection, Horror: The Essential Collection and Raiders of the Lost Ark