E.T. The Extraterrestrial.

I was just entering high school when it came out. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extraterrestrial.

I saw it. We all did. It was almost an obligation, I remember.

But I still can’t figure out, what was the big deal about it?

It supposedly made grown men cry. And Neil Diamond even wrote an impromptu song about it.


I thought the movie was even a little silly. Or maybe it was for the most part okay. I don’t know. But what was the big hubbub?


I just re-watched it recently. I think it was a zeitgeist thing. At the time Speilberg was gigantic, so anything he put out was going to be hailed. That and there was a general wonderous feeling around all things interspace, so a Speilberg, family-friendly, alien-themed movie had a lot going for it. Outside of that, it is a really well-made movie. The kid performances are pretty amazing, the writing is good, not too tropey, for it’s time the effects and cinematography is great, and then there’s the whole Spielberg, “dealing with the loss of one’s father/father-figure” theme that runs through pretty much all of his movies.

So, I don’t know. Block-buster, family friendly movie, with solid performances dealing with one of the overriding zeitgeist topics of the day directed by the biggest name in movies. It was bound to be hailed, if not good.

I don’t know about grown men crying, but the 2 or 3 times I saw it in the theater as a child, my mother cried every time.

As implied more than once in the above posts, it’s attraction has an adult component and that is FAMILY. That’s what the movie was about. I still think it’s his best movie.

The greatest appeal for me was that it was something I could share with my children. Taking them to see it (and watching their reactions) was one of my great pleasures of being a parent.

It was also a wonderful childhood fantasy come to life. I still choke up during the scene where Eliot and ET are secretly watching Mom read bedtime stories to Gertie.

I wish to hell I could have grown up in a house and a neighborhood like theirs.

Because most kids with a bike will pretend to be flying sometimes.

I didn’t see many movies at that point in my life, but we did see that one. It was a well crafted film, and certainly made us all “feel things” in a way that TV didn’t. However, the puppet effects left the grown-ups cold – “It’s ugly” and “What was the point of that” was what I recall.

The whole grown men crying is a trope that’s been applied to* E.T.* and Old Yeller since the internet began. They’re typical responses, but they don’t have to be ubiquitous. Sometimes, to paraphrase the wise man, a film “insists upon itself” – tries too hard to make you feel things, while being so spectacularly crafted, that it just pulls someone one out and they go – “No way, I’m not feeling what you want me to feel.”

However, objectively, the film is still good, if you think about it.

The plot is a little hackney, IMHO. I follow the aliens from another planet, Elliot’s loneliness, E.T’s need to be safe in a hazardous alien environment and get a message home – then …

“Strangers, break in … up and down the boulevard, shadows, burst in in the niiiight… Whoh-hah-woah”

Ahem Sorry, tropes melt together in my mind.

As an adult, even as a kid to some extent, I get the concept of government agents swooping in. Am I supposed to hate them? They’re just doing their job, and the job they’re doing is important. Its scary for E.T and Elliot, but they’re not hurting them … much …

Nah, mahn, naw. See … see … E.T and Elliot just want to be free from recession, man. Bubble.bubble.bubble You wanna hit?

No thanks, I’m eight years old. And I think you mean repression.

I think the big difference with ET is that, at the time, he was the first alien in a big-production movie who was objectively innocent, but was still being treated as some sort of existential threat. In the 50s and 60s, lots of aliens were either outright hostile, or doing the whole Day the Earth Stood Still thing of sitting in judgement over the human race. Even in other late 70s and 80s movies, with the “humans were the real monsters all along” themes, like Close Encounters or Starman, you had the aliens doing things that could be objectively seen as a threat, like kidnapping people.

But what did ET and his compatriots do? They landed, walked around a bit, collected a few plant samples. And for that, we sent armed men after them, and then chased down the lone alien that got stranded because the ship had to flee as a result of our actions. ET never harmed anyone, and never did anything that, objectively speaking, could have been misinterpreted as harm. But he was treated no better than the “Mars Needs Women” kind of aliens.

I always thought that Dee Wallace was one of the more realistic movie moms of her era.

Anyway, my ET story:

We (the family) were driving to see my wife’s family up in New Jersey one Thanksgiving. Sophia, our six year-old, was in the back with a little DVD video player, so Daddy fired up a couple of favorites from when he was younger.

The first wasRoger Rabbit. Oops! There’s a lot of innuendo in this one… might be a while before we pull it off the shelf again.

Well, the next wasET: The Extra-Terrestrial, which she adored from the get-go. She was all happy and “look, momma” and excited about ET. Momma was sitting beside her.

So we’re driving up I-81 throughHarrisburgand I hear GASP! “What’s wrong with ET? Oh no!” “He’s going to be OK, isn’t he?” “No!” … comments like that throughout the sickness/army scenes.

Then ET dies. My little girl is highly upset, her hands clenched around the DVD player, holding it tightly (she has it in her lap this entire time). “This is a bad movie! This is a BAD movie!”

“Sophie, do you want to stop watching it?”

“No!” (shakes head furiously, in a way only small children can).

So ET comes back to life. And she is thrilled, her emotional high as deep and meaningful as her low of 5 minutes earlier. And it’s back to the “Look, momma”'s and “Awwwwwww!”'s, and Sophia is happy, cheering Eliot and ET on as they escaped the “astronaut guys”, flying up in the air on their bikes, landing in front of the spaceship.

“Momma? What’s happening? ET isn’t leaving is he? I don’t want him to go!” And she was upset again, but not nearly as upset as earlier.

“I’ll… be… right… here…”

The spaceship flies off, the music swells, and the credits start to roll. Sophia does two things:

  1. Refuses to turn off the credits, watching them the whole way through.
  2. When they are done, and the DVD is at the menu, she looks up…

“Can I see it again?”

That’s definitely part of the story. And there’s also the ominous way in which the government scientists are first portrayed. We see them first, as I remember, coming over the hill, pushing that plastic tube down the road. And when they enter the house, it’s in full hazmat suits, which look pretty much like spacesuits. There’s the hilarious bit with Elliott at school, and ET at home getting drunk, which gets Elliott drunk, after which he releases all the frogs and kisses the pretty girl. (Trivia bit: the unseen teacher is Harrison Ford.)

It could have been just an OK movie, but Spielberg’s skills make it much better than that. It was even nominated for the Best Picture Oscar along with Tootsie, but both lost to Gandhi. Honestly, though, I’ve rewatched both ET and Tootsie far more times than I have Gandhi.

It’s the story of Jesus. That’s why it affected people so deeply, even if subconsciously. A peaceful visitor is arrested, dies, comes back to life, and ascends into heaven/space. The mom’s name is Mary, remember?

And the pretty girl went on to be a Baywatch star and Playboy Playmate.

Damn, there are a lot of Japanese Christians!

I did not know that. That’s pretty cool.
Here’s a deleted scene with Ford; interestingly the camerawork avoids his face completely and he overdoes the gestures as a part of it. His voice sounds different, but it does sound like Ford.

I saw E.T. at the Pacific Cinerama Dome. I probably had the best seat in the house; on the balcony right in the middle of the screen, and in the middle seat. Perfect. I watched the movie.

I was… underwhelmed.

I’d like to give it another chance, but I refuse to watch it because of Spielberg’s meddling with it (e.g., replacing guns with radios).

That’s been removed from subsequent editions. He acknowledged that was a mistake on his part.

I agree with the OP for the most part. I was a little older than his experience, seeing when I was in college. I was probably a bit of a movie snob at that point, but I also failed to see what the big deal was.

I was already tired of the trope of alien can do magic. Make people fly? Sure. Cure people of injuries? Sure, why not. Does it make any scientific sense? Not really.

That was also the first time that I noticed that Spielberg can’t let well enough alone with emotional parts of a film. When ET finally leaves, it is a very sad and emotional scene. Many people would probably tear up a bit at that point. Does Spielberg let it play out organically? Not really. He focuses on the family, sniffling, and fighting back tears. Oh thank you, I didn’t realize that I was supposed to feel sad, thanks for hitting me repeatedly over the head with a 2x4 board.

Not a bad movie, just not all that great, and in my opinion highly overrated.

I only saw it for the first time maybe a year or two ago (I think I was catching up on Stranger Things references.) I had a very meh reaction as well. I didn’t find it terribly well written or interesting and hamfistedly trying to be heart-tugging, but I chalked it up to not seeing it when it first came out. Maybe I needed to see it in its time, or in my (young) time.

I didn’t like it enough to buy it. I wonder if the version they show on the movie channel is the original version?