E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Dee WallaceHenry ThomasPeter Coyote Robert MacNaughton Drew Barrymore C. Thomas Howell

I’ve just came out of a screening of E.T. with live music played the Philhamonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall and all I want to do right now is talk and write about it.

My son and I watch this film pretty much every year and every time it’s the usual storm of emotions as we were watching it for the first time. And that’s one of the many powers of this absolute masterpiece. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it: you’ll still laugh, you’ll still be thrilled… and you’ll still cry.

Watching it (probably for the 100th time as fast as I am concerned) with the clinical eyes of the nerdy film-maker I can only marvel at what Spielberg was able to achieve.

To me this is ‘pure cinema’. It’s most likely one of the main reasons why I feel in love with films and if today I’m the person I am and do the work I do, I have ET to thank.

This is Spielberg at his very best, with his unique ability to tell visual stories. His camera is always in the right place, at the right time: for this film, he brings it down to children’s level (or ET’s level) cutting off the faces of all the grown-ups, as if to enhance the power that children have and to get closer and closer to them. It’s incredible how for three quarter of the film we never see the face of an adult (except for the mother, who’s the only one ‘allowed’ in the children’s real). And yet, we never even wonder about it, because we are so invested in the story that we don’t even notice it. It’s a technique often imitated, but never quite matched.

Watching it tonight, with a live orchestra, I was reminded of how many sequences rely on just music and no dialogue (the whole beginning for example). If this isn’t the purest form of cinema as visual storytelling, I don’t know what is.

Some people call the film (and Spielberg) too sentimental, but actually the ability to manipulate people’s emotions so effortlessly, as if it was the easiest thing in the world, is a skill set that very few directors have.

The film is packed with great moments: of course the iconic shot of ET and Elliot flying across the moon, possibly one of the most enduring image in the history of cinema, but also great scenes like ET speaking (“ET phone home”), ET dying or the last goodbye, as well as dozens of little tiny moments, which go mostly unnoticed, but are so beautifully handled that should be studied in every film school: the sequence with the men from the government entering the house for the first time, all played through a series imagines with lights and shadows moving across the toys in the bedroom, or the beautiful cross cutting between ET at home and Elliot in school culminating with “a quiet man” played on TV and Elliot kissing the blond girl.

I adore the very odd blocking of the moment with Elliot facing a spotlight as ET’s hand lands on his shoulder, a scene which seen from the outside might look unnatural and awkward, but somehow in the hands of Spielberg, through his lens seems absolutely natural. I have a particular soft spot for the quietest moments too:

the scene where Elliot shows his toys to ET… or the two of them listening to the mother telling stories to the little sister (how spectacular Drew Barrymore was, y the way!

And then of course, last but certainly not least, the powerful Oscar-winning score by John Williams, which in the screening tonight took center stage, just as soaring and warm and you might remember, though interestingly I also noticed how crucial a good audio mix is. The music tonight played mostly all on the same level, making me very aware of it throughout and possibly undermining the moments where you really want it loud. I loved the experience of a live orchestra playing during the film, but if you watch ET for the first time, it’s probably better to see it as it was originally intended.

The screening tonight in the packed auditorium served as a little reminder of the kind of crowd pleaser this film is… Not that I need to be reminder anyway.

The audience’s reactions were a statement how powerful and magical this film still is.

Family entertainment has hardly been better than this. Children (and adults) across the world have been blessed with ET for 40 years (it is indeed it anniversary) and I urge you to find any excuse to watch it again whenever you get a chance.

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