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E.T. – THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL(director: Steven Spielberg; screenwriter: Melissa Mathison; cinematographer: Allen Daviau; editor: Carol Littleton; music: John Williams; cast: Henry Thomas (Elliott), Drew Barrymore (Gertie), Robert MacNaughton (Michael), Dee Wallace-Stone (Mary), Peter Coyote (Keys), K.C. Martel (Greg), Sean Frye (Steve); Runtime: 115; Universal; 1982)
“If you liked the 1982 film, then you’ll still like the revised edition.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A retelling of E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial from 20 years after its release. The director, Steven Spielberg, in this 20th anniversary reissue, has made use of modern CGI effects and added some digitally mixed sound updates and made some inconsequential changes to the classic such as adding two new scenes (an alien now digitally enhanced is taking a bath and the hero’s mom is in search of her kids during Halloween), as the film basically remains intact from its original. In a PC move Spielberg replaces the fed guns, exhibited when they are chasing the aliens in the final scene, with walkie-talkies. If you liked the 1982 film, then you’ll still like the revised edition.

It’s a mushy feel-good fantasy about a harmless alien and his contact with a harmless kid from the ‘burbs, as the kid helps the stranded alien return home. The realism part of the film tells about unsupervised kids in suburbia and how lonely they can get, how much they yearn for a nuclear home, and how unhappy and harried a mother can get who is trying to raise a family without a father in the house.

“E.T.” became one of the biggest hits in box-office history. I doubt if the public that fell so much in love with this cute Disney-like tale had looked too deeply at this religious parable and examined how overwrought and crude it really is. The film dumbs everything down sitcom style, and even reduces the alien mystery to the vulgar lovable relationship between two children from different cultures. It’s geared for the kids and those who are nostalgic about so-called old-fashioned values. The suburban teens rebel by ordering a pizza without mom’s permission and later help the alien escape. When they’re not called on to rebel, we see the teens act obnoxious and play board games like Dungeons and Dragons.

Lonely Elliott (Henry Thomas, he was 9-years-old at the time) finds an alien in his suburban house, where he lives with his recently separated mom Mary (Dee Wallace-Stone). She tries to keep her family functioning despite being alone. Elliott’s initial problem, is that no one believes him when he sees an alien. Also at home are Elliott’s high school student brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and Elliott’s precocious younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore, she was a six-year old at the time). Gertie is the film’s source of comic relief as she innocently mimics Elliott, who is intent on keeping mom from knowing his secret visitor.

“E.T.”, as the alien is called, has been left behind accidentally by visitors from outer space who were in a rush to escape government agents. The cute looking creature just wants to get home (wanting to be secure at home is what the alien has in common with the suburban kids). Elliott can relate to that and confides in his brother and sister to keep his visit a secret and protect the alien until it can make that magical call to his people and get them to pick him up in the chosen desolate forest spot of a California suburb. Elliott bonds with the alien and he not only becomes his best friend, but is on the same brain-wave.

The alien invades the refrigerator and gets drunk on beer, this causes Elliott to also get drunk as his science class is about to dissect frogs. Elliott gets sent home from school when he springs the frogs loose in the class, he does it so that they won’t be used as part of the anatomy lesson.

The creature was created by Carlo Rambaldi to sparkle with childlike gifts for communication and also to sprinkle in some supernatural powers such as, flying when on a bike.

Beginning to get sick because of the Earth’s atmosphere, the alien uses household items to build an interplanetary phone-like device that allows him to signal into space for help. He then must get the help of Elliott and his brother’s teenager friends to escape from the government agents.

This film like all Spielberg films, shows off his skills as a great storyteller. And to prove that the director made this film primarily for kids, it is interesting to note that Mary and the government agent Keys (Peter Coyote) are the only two adults whose faces are shown. The film is about children learning how to deal with the loss of their father and learning how to love someone who is completely different from them, and it’s a film about growing up in the safety of the suburbs. But, there’s also a dark spot to be found in suburbia where anything could happen to kids who are not supervised properly.

Seeing the film again in 2002 has not changed my mind about it, I still thought it was mawkish but appealing to children. The ‘Man’ is a master at pulling the public’s heartstrings and giving them what they want, and the youngsters in the audience seemed especially enthralled by it all.

REVIEWED ON 3/27/2002 GRADE: C +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”