It’s been 20 years since Reese’s Pieces got a kick-start in sales and snuggable aliens have been giving us the finger. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is back on the big screen, hoping to draw in a few new generations of fans Disney-style, with the additional bait of “never-before-seen footage, state-of-the-art computer-generated enhancements and a digitally-remixed sound track” to crown its 20th anniversary.
The 10-year-old Elliot (Henry Thomas) gets no respect from his big brother (Robert MacNaughton) and little sister (Drew Barrymore), and is living in the lonely wake of his parents’ separation. Instead of him coming up with an imaginary friend for solace, one drops out of the skies and wanders into his back shed. At first, Elliot’s afraid of what he’s never seen before, but soon befriends the creature and becomes its companion, teacher and connection to this strange planet.
There’s no question what Spielberg intended this film to do. Many shots are from a low perspective and adults are faceless shadows (except for Dee Wallace Stone playing Elliot’s mom) throughout most of the film. E.T. is abandoned by his mothership and taken in like a stray puppy by Elliot, who protects him, feeds him and establishes total trust. The alien is 4 feet high, wobble-walks like a toddler, has an enormous heart, which periodically glows like a firefly, and huge compassionate eyes, whose design was influenced by the aging eyes of Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemmingway and Carl Sandburg. It’s a completely nonthreatening construction and, at his best, E.T.’s a crusty old lovable extra-terrestrial grandparent who can hardly get around anymore and whose world revolves around the grandkids; at his most frightening worst, he’s a baking mistake.
In E.T., bikes are mightier than cars, and children are the ones who think logically, know what’s best and keep secrets from their parents for their own good. The film both empowers children and breaks down the take-over-the-world alien stereotype of classic ’50s sci-fi films, replacing it with a benign “family pet” being from a distant star.
With this “enhanced” edition, Spielberg brushed out something he always regretted: guns carried by police and government agents while chasing the children, replacing them with walkie-talkies. But the new footage and computer enhancements are unnecessary and even distracting if you’ve seen the film before. So forget the hype and go see E.T. because it’s a film geared toward kids, without lowering its standards because of it.
Anita Schmaltz writes about the arts for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].