The highest-grossing film in 1982 was a sci-fi flick about a tiny alien stranded on earth, and the three children who help him return home.
Henry Thomas plays Elliot, a young boy who, with his mother and siblings, is grinding through the aftermath of paternal abandonment. But when he discovers an alien near his home, he develops an unexpected friendship with the extra-terrestrial.
The goal here is to reunite E.T. with his family, and help Elliot’s family come to terms with their own upheaval.
It’s a touching, sentimental story as seen from the perspective of a young boy. At one point, however, a strange Mind Meld happens between Elliot and E.T., one that causes Elliot to feel what the alien is experiencing, and this has always made us (yours truly) feel uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, Time is of the Essence. The children must help the alien contact his family before government officials find his whereabouts.
You see, government scientists want to experiment on the little alien, be he alive or dead.
E.T. was a cultural phenomenon in 1982. Although everything about the film was profitable (including a 300 per cent increase in Reece’s Pieces candy sales), it’s a thoughtful, well-crafted movie.
Look at striking imagery, such as Elliot and E.T. on a bicycle flying in front of the moon, or government officials in hazmat suits storming Elliot’s home.
It’s not only a visual film; it’s an audible experience as well. The sound is, at times, torqued to a surreal level. Listen to the sounds of E.T. fumbling his way through the (very noisy) cornfield behind Elliot’s house, or the loud, almost jarring sound the Reese’s Pieces make as Thomas places them as bait on the floor.
The alien himself makes the soft noises of an infant, which, despite his strange appearance, is endearing.
E.T. was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won four, and two of them were Best Sound and Sound Effects Editing. It also won Best Original Score for composer John Williams.
William’s E.T. theme song, is one of those instantly recognizable pieces of film music. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’re likely familiar with its theme, woven throughout the story.
What’s remarkable is how sparingly that music is used.
Williams’s agile score has a timeless feel. It is music that believes in magic and impossible solutions, yet it quickly slides into sinister territory when, for instance, a government vehicle spies on the family home.
In our opinion, the best scene in the movie, both visually and audibly, is when Elliot rides with E.T. on his bicycle, with government officials in Hot Pursuit. This was a scene Williams had trouble scoring.
According to Wikipedia: “One of the known anecdotes from the recording is that Williams had problems with timing of the music…which made Spielberg shut off the projector and [tell] Williams to record the music as he wanted it. Spielberg later edited the scenes around the recorded music.”1
E.T. is a film with humour and much sadness, but Williams’s score is never despondent. Many say it is the best work of his career, and when we watch the climactic chase scene, we have to agree.
This post is part of The John Williams Blogathon, hosted by Taking Up Room.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: starring Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Melissa Matheson. Universal Pictures, 1982, Colour, 115 mins.