Henry Thomas stars in E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, directed by Steven Spielberg for Universal Pictures.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982, Steven Spielberg)

For E.T., Spielberg takes an incredible approach–every scene has to be iconic, every scene has to create a sense of nostalgia for it. It requires absolute control of the viewer and Spielberg’s only able to accomplish that control thanks to John Williams’s score. Every note in the score–and its corresponding image on screen–is perfect.

As a narrative, E.T. is a complicated proposition. It’s about a highly advanced alien stranded on Earth with no one to rely upon except a kid–Henry Thomas. E.T. must know Thomas isn’t the most able person to help him, but Thomas and his siblings (Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore) are the best choices because of their sincerity. Or so one would think, because Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison offer very little insight into what E.T. is thinking.

Except beer is good.

But there’s also no perspective on the federal agents investigating the alien landing. Spielberg goes with shots out of a “Twilight Zone” episode but as a way of avoiding the traditional science fiction approach to the story. It’s one of his few highly stylized moves in the film.

Instead of stylization, Spielberg instead relies on that Williams score and Allen Daviau’s moody photography. Daviau makes the suburban setting either mundane and discreet or full of mystery and magic. The magic moments in E.T. are the most difficult but also the most successful.

E.T. is patently unambitious as far as narrative metaphors go; Spielberg smartly eschews symbolism in favor of wonderment.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Melissa Mathison; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by Carol Littleton; music by John Williams; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Spielberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Henry Thomas (Elliott), Robert MacNaughton (Michael), Drew Barrymore (Gertie), Dee Wallace (Mary), K.C. Martel (Greg), Sean Frye (Steve), C. Thomas Howell (Tyler) and Peter Coyote (Keys).

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