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.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind may have announced Steven Spielberg’s arrival as a cinematic genius, but E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial cemented his place as a legend. His career-defining film not only continuing the journey began by George Lucas 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 inspire hundreds of movies ranging from Flight of the Navigator to Explorers and Super 8.
However, no film since has been able to match Steven Spielberg’s 1982 picture for its sheer charm, power, and beauty. A movie that, in my humble opinion, remains one of the best films ever made. Its appeal transcending the year of its birth as it continues to enthral and inspire new generations. It’s magical, funny and emotional story of untainted childhood love and acceptance for a vulnerable alien from a distant star.
Coming just a year after the Spielberg and Lucas joint project, Raiders of the Lost Ark. E.T The Extra-Terrestrial owes much to the friendship between both directors. Particularly within the field of puppetry, visual effects and score. However, both Close Encounters and E.T. steer a very different path to Lucas in reflecting science fiction on the 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 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. The separation of his parents having had a defining effect on his sense of security at the age of 10. In E.T., Elliott is also grappling with parental separation, alongside a disconnect from his older Dungeon and Dragon’s loving brother. His younger sister not fully understanding the ramifications of a possible family breakdown. Meanwhile, 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 viewpoint of a child. With every camera angle reflecting Elliot’s perspective of the world around him. However, it is when an alien enters Elliott’s changing world that Melissa Mathison’s screenplay shines.
We all invent magical friends during childhood, especially during times of stress, when the world can appear scary and dark. These mystical 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 adult escapism in a way few other film characters have managed. Directly speaking to the inner child, we keep 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. The films final farewell 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 most beautiful films ever made. Its story, music and performances shining just as brightly as they did 38 years ago. Consequently providing us with a movie 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