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Has a more perfect family film ever been made? In less than two hours, Spielberg’s storytelling (helped by a beautifully written script) manages to not only teach us how to build an interstellar communications device but also blends sci-fi, difficult family relationships, discovery, acceptance, escapism, friendship and loss into one of the most iconic films every committed to celluloid.
While visiting the Earth to collect samples of flora, a team of alien botanists is disturbed by government agents and in their haste to escape, they leave one behind. Elliott, played magnificently by Henry Thomas – using a trail of Reese’s Pieces – lures the alien out of hiding and there starts one of cinema’s most enchanting love stories.
The story unfolds with Elliott, Michael and Gertie on a difficult quest to get ET home. Watching Sesame Street, ET learns rudimentary communication skills and after reading a Buck Rogers comic where he calls for help after becoming stranded, Elliott and ET build a ‘phone’ using a Speak & Spell.
After some famously comedic scenes – Gertie dressing ET up as a little girl and Elliott and Michael taking ET out trick-or-treating on Halloween – ET falls sick. There then ensues the classic Hollywood race against time – will he recover? Will the agents get their hands on the creature from another world? Will Elliott and his friends get ET back to the landing site? While the action takes place (mainly on BMXs), we are reminded that Spielberg has tapped into the complex emotions of a 10-year old– while Elliott understands that ET has to return home, he is also wracked with the impending loss he knows he must face.
Alongside Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park and perhaps to a lesser extent Jaws, Spielberg effortlessly manages to convert the unknowable to the lovable and in the process of creating one of the most iconic films of an iconic decade, he also packs a massive emotional punch.
Some of our favourite ET quotes…
E.T.: E.T. phone home…
Gertie: I don’t like his feet.
Elliott: They’re only feet, you little twerp.
(This line wasn’t in the script. Drew Barrymore simply didn’t like E.T’s feet and voiced her displeasure!)
Elliott: He’s a man from outer space and we’re taking him to his spaceship.
Greg: Well, can’t he just beam up?
Elliott: This is ‘reality’ Greg.
Elliott: You could be happy here, I could take care of you. I wouldn’t let anybody hurt you. We could grow up together, E.T.
In the scene where Elliott frees the frogs in the science class, Harrison Ford (whose then partner Melissa Mathison wrote the script) filmed a scene as the school’s Principal but Spielberg thought his presence was too distracting and the scene was cut.
Composer John Williams won the 1982 Oscar for the Best Original Score.
The majority of the film was shot from a child’s eye-level. Spielberg thought it would add to the connection between Elliott and E.T.
During the auditions to convey sadness, Henry Thomas thought about the day his dog died. Spielberg cried and offered him the part there and then!
Before settling on ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’, working titles included ‘A Boy’s Life’, ‘Night Skies’ and ‘ET & Me’.
The original concept was much darker, with the family being terrorised by aliens in their home. Spielberg decided on a more benevolent alien and the resulting treatment was recycled as Poltergeist!
In the scene where Elliott lures E.T. out with sweets, the producers had wanted to use M&Ms but Mars denied the request. The sales of Reese’s Pieces exploded and corporates started asking Hollywood to use their products in films, and there starts product placement.
The little blond girl Elliott kisses in class was played by Erika Eleniak, later of Baywatch fame!
**SPOILER AERT** Unlike most major productions, Spielberg shot the film in sequence in order to get a real emotional response at the end of the film when E.T. departs. It worked.
Have you got any random E.T trivia? Let us know on Twitter @homeofretro or comment on our Facebook page!
The Stars of E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial – Where Are They Now?
Sometimes you just want to know what your childhood heroes are up to…
Henry went back to school after E.T. and did occasional film and TV work through the 80s and 90s. He had parts in Legends of the Fall (1994), Gangs of New York (2002) and as leading man Hank Williams in the 2011 production of The Last Ride. He’s also in the LA-based band Farspeaker.
Robert took some small theatre roles after E.T. as well as appearing in a few HBO ‘made for TV’ movies. In the early naughties, he gave up acting and started his new life as a postman in Arizona. He’s now a postman in New Jersey.
After battling quite publicly with drink and drugs as a teenager, she found her feet with mainstream movies The Wedding Singer (1998), Never Been Kissed (1999), Charlie’s Angels (2000), 50 First Dates (2004) and 2009’s He’s Just Not That Into You. She has produced and directed films and she married art dealer Will Kopelman in 2012.
Dee made her name in the horror-flick genre and since her husband Christopher Stone (her co-star in 1983 film Cujo) died in 1995, she has written a series of self-help books and tours as a motivational speaker.