A deliberate simplicity makes Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) his most magical movie. The story of a young boy who befriends an alien creature sticks to a child’s view of the world, and avoids veering too deeply into wider, more adult themes. This allows the child actors, including a very young Drew Barrymore, space to focus on their relationships with each other. The result is an unusually thoughtful expression of the sense of wonder – and adventure – that’s an integral part of being a kid.
E.T. takes place in a suburban town in California. Elliot (Henry Thomas), a bit of a misfit, finds a scrawny alien botanist who’s been accidentally left on Earth. He names the friendly alien “E.T.” and takes him home, introducing him to his brother, Michael (Robert MacNaughton), and sister, Gertie (Barrymore). E.T is an empath who can make Elliot feel what he feels. Elliot realises that E.T. wants to communicate with his spaceship and tell his fellow aliens to return for him – thus the famous “E.T. call home” line – so he helps his new friend rig up a communication device. But the authorities are close to tracking the alien down.
E.T. is certainly Spielberg’s purest film. He doesn’t flaunt his knowledge of the mechanics of action cinema; it’s restrained – especially considering it followed the epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and the frantic Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – the special effects are minimal, and it avoids melodrama. Much of the movie takes place in Elliot’s house.
“It seemed to me that with the making of E.T., I wasn’t interested in showing off. I wasn’t interested in spinning out entertaining things you’ve never seen before, although that does happen in E.T.,” the director told the Steven Spielberg Fan Club. “I was more interested in collecting myself through some of the feelings I had developed via Close Encounters and via my personal relationships and my family life, my social life and me being a person who is looking for self-fulfillment.”
Spielberg says E.T., the character, had its origins in an imaginary friend he created as a child, when his parents split up. He suggested the idea to screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who wrote the script in eight weeks. The creature was designed by Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, who had worked with Spielberg on Close Encounters. Spielberg didn’t want E.T. to look cute – he described its face as one only a mother could love. Two dwarves operated the alien, which was voiced by radio soap-opera actress Pat Welsh, who achieved the creature’s raspy voice by smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial will be screened on Tuesday and Friday at The Grand Cinema, in West Kowloon, as part of the Hong Kong Kids International Film Festival.