Summer of '82: E.T. -

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  • Starring: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore and Peter Coyote
  • Written by: Melissa Mathison
  • Directed by: Steven Spielberg
  • Studio: Universal Pictures
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 115 minutes
  • Series:

Summer of '82: E.T.

"I'll be right here..."

By Rob Vaux     June 11, 2012

 “That fucking movie,” Bruce Boxleitner said with a wink and a smile during the press conference for TRON: Legacy. He spoke with obvious affection, but the sentiment underscored a serious problem every movie had in 1982. As rich a bounty as they produced, all of them suffered for the cardinal sin of not being E.T. They all had their own thing to say, separate and distinct from Steven Spielberg’s celebrated fantasy. No one wanted to hear it then, even those that found their audience over time. None of them captured the zeitgeist of the moment – or remained so appealing to so many people – like the adorably ugly little alien perched at the top of the heap.

The film holds up in part because of its universal appeal. It speaks to many different people in many different walks of life. So as we grow away from Elliott (Henry Thomas), whose magical discovery of a stranded alien sets the film in motion, we move towards his brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) – forced to grow up too soon by his parents’ divorce – and their mother (Dee Wallace) holding it all together by the skin of her teeth. The movie never changes, but because Spielberg’s family dynamic is so truthful and the emotions they touch on so clear, we see new things in them every time we watch.

It also taps into the inner child, and no matter what our age, Elliot’s adventures remind us what it was like to be that age. Who among us didn’t dream of finding something wonderful and special in the woods behind our home, something no one else could see, but that needed our help to find its way to safety? Who among us didn’t see the world of grown-ups as scary and menacing, as much for what they had lost as the power they held over us? And who didn’t climb on top of their bicycles at age nine or ten and pretend they were flying as they zipped down the street? Spielberg found all of that (with a little help from his cast and crew), then conjured them before our disbelieving eyes in perfect clarity.

And in the early days of the Reagan era, it spoke to what we all thought we needed: stability in a changing world, an underdog facing tough odds, and enduring optimism even in the face of death. We’ve become too cynical to believe in that now, but thirty years ago, it felt just right. Spielberg drew upon deep wells of emotion, broadly articulated but heartfelt in ways no contemporary film could duplicate. That only further enhanced its status as a standard bearer for our formative years, as iconic in its own way as Walt Disney or A.A. Milne. And for such an innocent story, its hero ultimately gains a surprising level of maturity. Elliott ultimately stays on Earth after all – facing his responsibilities to his family – while Spielberg's earlier protagonist in Close Encounters ditches everyone to go cruising among the stars.

In a strange way, that contrast illustrates the distinction between Spielberg and his friend George Lucas. The latter may never be forgiven… not so much for the changes he made to Star Wars as his steadfast refusal to release the film in its unaltered state. Spielberg made a similar mistake with E.T. in 2002, but rather than dig in his heels, he copped to the error and returned the film to its original condition. Beyond the respect it showed for the fans, the gesture also acknowledged that E.T. belongs in the 1980s, where its heart and sensibilities feel the most at home. CG has no place within it, nor does the cynical marketing that sought to “improve” it by exploiting a trend.

With that in mind, does it hold up in the 21st century? Of course it does, all the more for its nostalgic qualities. I confess that I prefer a number of movies from that summer over it, and I suspect I’m not alone. Many of those movies were excoriated at the time thanks to this one, and found their audience only gradually. It’s perhaps fitting that they aged more gracefully and spoke to us in a more timeless fashion. But as brilliant as they are, none of them could match the special innocence of E.T.: the way it makes us believe in magic again even as grizzled, cynical adults. It works best as a time capsule, both of the era in which it was made and the age at which we saw it. We grow and change, but E.T. still speaks to us: an indelible connection to who we were and a promise to stay with us no matter how many years may pass.


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MaLarrya 6/11/2012 9:57:16 AM

 I remember seeing this the first weekend it opened at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. I was very amused how at the beginning the kids were all playing D&D (or some form thereof). It was a great movie and a great time to be a kid, but I think what made it more special was how you just knew this barrage of wondrous movies was something serioulsy special. You just didn't want this period to end. Curse you E.T. though for making The Thing a box office flop :)

DarthoftheDead 6/12/2012 8:04:00 AM

A little off subject perhaps, but one of the few great scenes in Phantom Menace is..........

SPOILER ALERT....................................SPOILER ALERT.................................................SPOILER ALERT



At the Senate you see a Delegation of E.T.'s

DarthoftheDead 6/13/2012 8:42:32 AM

What? No one likes E.T. around here, sheesh......must be a sign of the times, lol....

DarthoftheDead 6/13/2012 10:02:59 AM

Still no love for E.T. ..... for shame Doc.....

MaLarrya 6/13/2012 1:54:09 PM

I agree Darth! It's very strange no one wants to comment on this, maybe because it's a bit if a kiddish movie or a wannabe tear-jerker. I had a good time watching it when it came out and though it tried hard to be emotional, I mostly enjoyed how well it caputred the whole 80s kid's lifestyle. How could you not like a movie that takes place partially on Halloween?!? :)

wrrlykam 6/13/2012 2:27:46 PM

They are all waiting for thr R-rated directors cut.

shac2846 6/13/2012 3:14:14 PM

 I'm buying the bluray and I had the last anniversary dvd release that had both versions. The film is timeless no doubt. 

jppintar326 6/13/2012 4:14:53 PM

One of the greatest films of all time.  Still holds up.

ObiWannaJones 6/13/2012 5:17:09 PM

I was 15 going on 16 the Summer of 82; a SciiFi and comic book geek my entire life. E.T. was the greatest thing since Star Wars and Close Encounters.  It WAS a great movie at the time.  However . . .

Life changed, and I grew up. For all the Spielberg movies that followed, E.T. : the Extra Testicle  started what became his typical movie formula: incredibly disrespectful tweeners and teens with foul mouths, naive or just plain idiot parents or adults in general, and (of course) the evil American government officials.  I first noticed it when I bought the first VHS release of the flick. 

FYI: how come NOBODY pisses and moans about Spielberg changing his classic SciFi flicks?  How many times did he add and delete things from Close Encounters ?  And what about CGing out the guns carried by the evil American government agents for flashlights?   

DarthoftheDead 6/14/2012 10:30:34 AM

@ObiWannaJones - I would do that but then some dumbass(j/k), bitches that I'm being a TROLL, lol, but I agree with you 1000%

@wrrlykam - To funny, amigo!!!!!

@shac2846 - agreed,Sir!!!!

@MyLarrya - Yup, and Halloween is when I usually watch it, lol!!! Love it when E.T. see's the kid in the Yoda costume!!!

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