On this day, three decades ago, Universal Pictures released E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the then-latest film from super director Steven Spielberg. It’s a date I’ve had committed to memory for years – a moment in time where everything changed for filmmakers, sci-fi enthusiasts, dreamers, and me. And like nearly everything I’ve ever waxed nostalgic on for Popdose, it’s kind of an extreme thing to laud, as the release date predated my own birth by five years.
But before I allowed myself to be consumed by outdated cultural touchstones from Duran Duran to Indiana Jones, E.T. was the subject of a brilliant singular focus in my young life. I remember finding the videocassette of the film in my grandparents’ house one evening, and pestering the family to watch it. The first six minutes were pure nightmare fuel – for me, the shrieking of our title character as he attempts in vain to chase after his departing spaceship was far worse than anything else anyone has ever feared about the film – but I eventually warmed up to the film and then some. That cassette, along with two others and three DVD sets of the film, is part of my film library. The film’s Oscar-winning soundtrack was the first CD I ever bought; I now own three separate editions of that music on disc. Three posters and at least three plastic replicas of the smiling, telescope-necked space creature are in my field of vision as I type this. Put bluntly, I am obsessed.
I’ve rarely thought to put my love of the film in perspective, even after an ill-received 20th anniversary reissue bought the movie back into the public eye in 2002 and the film’s impending Blu-Ray release this coming fall. I mean, what’s the point? The film made some $300 million – for a time, the most money ever earned by a film in America – without my help. Its place in pop-cultural history – four Oscars, a place in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and countless other accolades – is sealed. And the film, for whatever reason, has entered that silvery chestnut phase where it’s OK to love it, but nobody expresses it. Television broadcasts of the film are no longer events for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but lazy Sunday afternoon retreats. And try getting a kid to watch the film today, with its muted textures, calculated scares and placid action totally outdated in a world full of comic-book superheroes on film.
And yet, the film is directly responsible for many of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. When I realized it was OK to cry with the brilliant Henry Thomas as Elliott, when E.T. struggled against the prodding of government agents (and the implied rigors of our planet’s environment), I made a conscious decision to live life with my heart on my sleeve – a decision that may have earned plenty of teasing in school but today commands a respect among the company I choose to keep. My captivation with the film led me toward a path of fine arts – a deep appreciation of telling stories through sight and sound. It sparked a desire to create, or at least be a part of the process of artistic creation, that manifests itself on the pages of sites like this, or this, or this. People listen to my words from time to time, because I figured it was a worthy idea to hone those words in a way that could inform and entertain – all because I saw a movie about a lonely kid and his pet alien.
Then there’s those feelings. Steven Spielberg is a master of nudging you toward emotions almost without realizing. E.T. may be his most emotionally manipulative film, but that’s a cynical way of looking at it. The E.T. formula, which has been copied infinitely by everything from Free Willy to Mac & Me, really hides deep valleys of pain for a “kid’s movie.” Elliott’s journey is colored by divorce, depression, loss and loneliness – not all of which are things I’ve experienced firsthand, but can empathize with thanks to the literally hundreds of times I’ve sat down for an hour and 55 minutes to watch this movie. It is a film that hides multiple interpretations (even that silly Christian metaphor) that could take even a seasoned viewer like me some time to untangle. I dig that intellectual reward, something I can’t say about all modern film.
E.T. may have put me on a path of looking back for a living, but it still unlocks a world of dreams before me. At a month away from 25, I look forward to the days where I can introduce this special work in my life to new friends, a potential soulmate, possibly an eager child of my own creation. And I hope that such a shared experience inspires others to feel and dream, the way Spielberg and I would want it. Happy 30th birthday, E.T.; no matter where you are, it appears you’ll always be right here. And I’ve got no complaints.