In 1982 E.T., or having seen E.T. was a status symbol for a 12-year-old. I hadn’t seen the movie. I had watched the John Williams video on Top of the Pops just to get a very small glimpse of the little alien. E.T. made very fleeting appearances in the music video. It was just a teaser.
The well-off kids at school had the pirated video. A common playground taunt was “how many times have you seen E.T.? The boastful replies were 20 times, 30 times, etc. Coming from a single parent family we didn’t have a video recorder, let alone the movie – i still hadn’t seen the film – I replied zero times.
Then, one Saturday afternoon I found myself in Solihull with all of my weeks pocket-money from my Mother and Grandparents. As I walked past the Cinema on Solihull High Street emblazoned across the Now Showing sign was “E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial”.
Without really thinking I just went in, paid the money and sat down – on my own. I’d never been to the cinema on my own – but this was E.T. I was on auto-pilot.
The cinema filled, and filled more, until it was Sold-Out. There was not a spare seat in the whole house. As I said, this was E.T. In 1982 it was a phenomenon in a way that not many movies are now.
I was sat, due to my relatively early entrance, smack in the middle of the cinema. This meant strangers were either side of me. If I’d have thought about it I would have sat on the end of a row for comfort and space, but like I said – I was on autopilot.
When the movie started it felt a bit slow. As a 12-year-old your attention span isn’t trained for a full movie – maybe this is just me. Quickly though the movie had all the right references. High scores on Asteriods are mentioned. Space Invaders T-Shirts are worn. Boba Fett gets an early nod. Simon (the computer game) and Speak & Spell are present. The movie may be slightly dated now, but, in 1982 it acknowledged things kids were actually interested in. Spielberg was on the money – it tapped all the right buttons.
The masterstroke link was the heavy feature of the BMX bicycle. Elliott may be portrayed as quite bland initially, but he had one hell of a BMX. Being the same age as the lead character in 1982 and having had a BMX the previous Xmas a powerful link is forged.
As the movie rolls a relationship between Elliott and E.T. emerges from vulnerability, trust, need and hope. Authority is felt to be an enemy. Spielberg, although easy to knock, is at his closest to Hitchcock by portraying those hunting for E.T. by shooting them all for a long period only from the waist down. Shots of key rings are used to enforce the hunt.
As Elliott helps E.T. you sense him grow. The frog-freeing scene is, to me, a veiled rebellion. It’s daft – but it works. As E.T. is endeared to the Cinema audience you feel the pull of the movie in quite a deep way.
Then a scene of iconic near perfection. When Elliott and E.T. go to the forest at night and the pedals are overridden – the BMX takes off… The John Williams soundtrack works so effectively for this scene.
As I got caught up watching this unfold in the cinema I was not prepared for the “E.T. almost dead on the riverbank” scene. I’d never felt such emotion at the Cinema. All of a sudden the strangers either side of me seemed intimidating. In reality they were just sitting watching the movie – and I – was just trying not to cry. I bit my bottom lip so hard that I’m surprised it didn’t go through.
The film abates for a while. E.T. is dying – I’m beginning to deal with it – it’ll be okay – it’s just a movie. E.T. dies, it’s sad, but I’m coping. As I begin to think more logically about how the film will end, etc – out of the blue – the flower that represents life springs back up. Elliott sees it, at this point you are Elliott. E.T. springs back to life and delivers the tear inducing line “E.T. Phone Home”.
That was it. Despite an inbuilt male stubbornness believing crying in public is wrong. I wailed tears of sheer joy. I did not fight the feeling. It felt good. I blubbed like a baby. I was glad to see, when I came around from this assault on my senses, that the whole Cinema was in floods of tears. even the adults – the wimps!
Okay. The joy outta the way. Now we’ve got to get E.T. home. Cut to the BMX kids out-fooling those damn authority alien catchers. Now we get the BMX gang escaping with E.T. They cycle. They bunny-hop. They outfox. Then… they’re trapped. Again the BMX’s take off. Skyborn. Show me a 12-year-old male kid that didn’t want to ride away from authority by cycling an airborne BMX with an alien on the front-handlebars and i’ll show you a kid that’s lying through his teeth.
Escape over and E.T. goes home. You want him to stay, but it makes sense. The very simple exchange between Elliott and E.T. “I’ll be right here” and it’s over. You’ve learned something. I’m not sure what, but as a 12 year old it was powerful stuff. If E.T. had been made today I feel they would have wrought out the ending more, a pointless twist maybe. The simplicity is a masterstroke.
Back into the daylight of Solihull and I’d seen the best film of my short life. In honesty, in 2011 I can say I’ve only seen 2 films better than E.T. now. I shouldn’t admit that…