Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Eleven

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Eleven: Favorite Children’s Film

E.T. (1982)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace

One of my most random memories from childhood involves E.T. It’s the first thing I think about. When I was a kid the best place in Lake Cowichan, British Columbia to get comic books and magazines was a little Chinese restaurant that also doubled as a convenience store. It was a good place for such essentials as those stupid plastic paratroopers, designer chopsticks dusty children’s books. It was a small store, so going inside could be an overwhelming, claustrophobic experience. I wondered for years if anyone ever threw anything in the store away. It was a good place to get egg rolls, and censored copies of “Hustler”, but the trinkets never really caught on. I lived in Lake Cowichan for seven years. I can’t remember a time when I would go in, and everything around and behind the counter wasn’t exactly where it had been before. I have no idea if the store is still there, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it was, and not a single thing had changed.

The first things I’d look for would be the E.T. key chains that were sold right next to the condoms, and expired Chinese bikini calendars. I didn’t have the faintest desire to buy them, but they remained in their place, from around age three to when I moved away in 1995.

E.T. was released in 1982, so it had been already a part of the culture for three years, by the time I came along. I can’t remember the first time I saw it. I just know it was a movie I watched constantly, and this goes back as far as memory will allow. It was a lot like Ghostbusters. I just can’t imagine it not being a part of our VHS library.

It’s not hard for me to get pulled into a kid’s movies, and I’ll still go out of my way to see the ones, that I think are capable of being something special. That’s not a claim that looks really fits a single, childless man in his mid-twenties, but people would think I’m desperately strange whether or not I watched them. I may as well watch whatever the hell I want. If you want to blame anything, then you can blame having four younger siblings over a ten-year-period. Living with them meant living alongside their own childhoods.

Now, I have godchildren, so I may be watching this stuff (whether I want to or not) until roughly 2021, 2022.

That’s a scary thought. I already look like I slept a three-day bender in a bad Halloween costume. Time isn’t going to be kind to that image.

Children find me soothing. The reason for this remains a mystery to me.

A couple of things put E.T. above all the others. I firstly wanted to try and go out of my way to pick something that wasn’t animated. That thins out the list a bit. E.T. came to mind more than once, because it was the only one that really didn’t feel like a children’s movie. Of course, that’s the movie’s first and most obvious audience. Look it up on Netflix, and it’ll be under Children and Family. I’m not saying it isn’t foremost that kind of movie. It just never felt that way to me. When I was little I was aware that there were films distinctly for children, and others that were clearly meant for an older crowd (I tried to watch them all). E.T. never felt like it belonged in either group but rather somewhere in the middle. It’s one of those rare movies that can claim to have a shot at appealing to anyone, and actually have history and monstrous success to back that claim up.

My response to the movie has naturally changed through the years. It doesn’t mean the same thing to me now as it did when I was three. The last time I saw E.T. was late last year, and it never felt like a nostalgia trip, or as something that can only be enjoyed within the context of its decade. Timeless is not a word I’m terribly fond of using in any context, but I think we’re stuck with it in this case. It’s the easiest way to explain why this is still the movie it was in 1982. Some movies can both represent their era, and tell a story that doesn’t favor one decade over the other. E.T. can be as significant a viewing experience the first time around (and I do know people who haven’t seen it) as it is for someone like me who has seen it more than a couple of times. Not every single Spielberg movie has pulled this off, but the ones that have are going to be around a lot longer than any of us will be. That won’t make everyone happy, but it works for me.

In any other movie this wouldn’t end well for the lad.

The story is something anyone reading this should already know. I think part of E.T.’s enduring charm is that it’s not so much the story itself (In fact Spielberg has been accused in the past of lifting much of E.T. from an unpublished screenplay called The Alien), but in the way it’s told. Spielberg knows how to open a movie, and his best films are the ones that are beautifully, perfectly paced across their running time. E.T. has a time of almost two hours, and not one second of that slows down the forward moment that is established within seconds of the opening. We’re almost immediately introduced to everyone, and everything we’re going to need to decide if we’re going to stick around. I still think the movie has some of the best child actors I’ve ever seen. Henry Thomas delivers a simple, effective performance over the course of his developing friendship with the stranded alien. He’s not precocious, smug or so sickeningly cute hat he rots the movie from the inside-out. As Elliot his friendship with E.T. is what the film lives and dies on above all else. Through Thomas it’s doing a pretty good job of continuing to live. The entire cast provides the human element that connects with the special effects and science fiction story of an alien getting stuck on earth and trying to find his way home. It remains an example that a Hollywood film can also have some genuine personality behind it.

Cynicism comes easily to me at this point in my life. I wish it didn’t. That kind of thing is cute (to you) when you’re sixteen, but it’s a little more disheartening when you’re closing in on thirty. E.T. is one of the few things that have endured that feeling. I can still be pulled in by the beginning, in which E.T. barely escapes the faceless, cold U.S Government. I still laugh when the physic connection between E.T. and Elliot is revealed when both E.T. gets him drunk while Elliot is at school dissecting a frog. I remain capable of greeting the U.S. Government finally tracking E.T. with dread.

I still love the hell out of the escape sequence that brings us to one of the most satisfying conclusions to a movie I can think of. John Williams’ legendary score enhances it so beautifully that I can’t imagine any of the film without it.

Great movies under the Children and Family banner are still being made. I’ve catch them here and there, and I’d even go so far as to say that the best ones are proving how well-written, and well-acted these films can be. That’s good, but for me E.T. remains an entity separate from anything else in its intended genre. I’d measure it against anything coming out today. I might enjoy it, but it doesn’t have the slightest chance, of having the impact on me that E.T. had when I saw it for the first time. I think one of the reasons why I can still watch it is because I like to remember that I used to be a much more hopeful person. There was plenty of room for a movie like E.T. to grab me. I miss that.

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