So here’s the thing: E.T. never really appealed to me as a kid. It came out when I was nine, and it didn’t make a dent in my hardcore Star Wars fandom. I can’t even recall if I saw it in theatres.
Learn about my change of heart after the jump/Neil Diamond song.
Of course, things change. Thank God Spielberg is enough of a genius that even a kid’s film resonates with an aging Gen Xer. We picked up the 30th anniversary edition a few years ago and I suddenly saw the film from a whole new perspective: E.T.’s.
I couldn’t really empathize with Elliot. My parents were together, my life was more rural than the southern California mid-development suburbia he lived in, and I was the eldest brother, not squished in the middle of a (well spaced-out) set of siblings.
But watching it now? I can totally see things from E.T.’s perspective. First off? He’s terrified. He is stranded light years from home. He’s not an action hero. He’s a botanist. He’s got telekinesis and some empathic abilities, but he has no idea what the locals will do if they find an alien in their territory.
These are the sort of fears that’s a lot more acute these days, but back then I don’t think the average North American filmgoer would have been terribly aware of them.
Secondly, I’ve had to try to communicate with people I don’t share common language with. It’s tough. You see him slowly learn some of their language (you wonder if Elliot & his siblings would be able to pronounce any of E.T.’s language) and put together a plan and a device.
One thing I noticed on a recent viewing is that the investigation/First Contact operation seems to be entirely a NASA event; you’d expect it to be swarming with military types, but it’s only scientists and a few cops.
Much like Big Trouble in Little China, the actual hero of the film is not the main character (even though the film is titled E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, it’s very much Elliot’s film). Much like Jack Burton to Wang, Elliot is E.T.’s sidekick, although a much more relatable one to the standard moviegoer.
The childish bits are great: Halloween, flying on a bike, foiling the cops. But the relief E.T. feels when his ship returns to take him home and be with his people makes my heart sting. There are very few words as sweet as “where were you guys?”