Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #6

6. E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

One of my earliest childhood memories is getting in the car with Mom, Dad and my brother and heading to our town's local drive-in (which was later torn down and turned into a strip mall with a 25 screen movie theater, but I digress!). Steven Spielberg's phenomenal alien drama was the first film I remember seeing at that drive-in. I basically grew up with this movie, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. So many of the iconic moments that define this film are a large part of my childhood: the alien dressed for Halloween, the glowing finger, the flying bicycle and, of course, the phrase "Phone Home!" (which I repeated endlessly after seeing the movie, probably driving my family crazy!). I think its also the movie that made me fall in love with a candy known as Reese's Pieces (who doesn't like a little product placement?). But Spielberg's masterpiece is more than just moments and memories. It is a turning point in the director's amazing career that put him on a path to more dramatic fare that would define him professionally just as much as the blockbusters he perfected.

The concept for the movie came from a potential sequel to Spielberg's 1977 hit Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The plot of that abandoned sequel was darker and dealt with more hostile aliens, but a subplot about a young boy's relationship with an alien fascinated the filmmaker. While working on his 1981 film #49: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg began work on the concept and story with screenwriter Melissa Mathison (who was on-set visting the film's star Harrison Ford, her then-husband). The most important feeling the director wanted to get across in the movie was the childlike innocence of both the lead characters: the boy Elliot and the stranded alien. Originally to be produced by Columbia Pictures (who let it go to put their money behind 1984's Starman instead), the large budget, spent mostly on the creation of the titular alien and his species, was taken up by Universal Pictures. The film was a massive success at the box-office, receiving a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival (where it was an unofficial entry) and receiving great praise from critics.

The story is of a young boy, named Elliot (played by Henry Thomas), who doesn't quite fit in with other kids. He finds a stranded alien, whom he nicknames E.T., and decides to hide him from others, except his siblings: older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister Gertie (five-year-old Drew Barrymore near the beginning of her "storied" career). The relationship between Elliot and E.T. is a touching and heartwarming force that becomes jeopardized when the adults begin to find out about the alien's presence. In addition to the charm of the children's roles, there are supporting character performances from the adults in the film like Dee Wallace as the children's mother and Peter Coyote as the government agent determined to find E.T. at all costs. And, of course, what Spielberg film would be complete without John Williams and his hauntingly beautiful score? The theme from the movie has been conisdered one of the greatest and most memorable of all-time. The film brought Spielberg great audience acclaim as well as award recognition winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture (Drama) and receiving 9 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. It is a masterful science-fiction drama that I will remember forever as a special part of my childhood. Spielberg also notes it as the film that pushed him towards more emotionally powerful and resonant dramas, some of which have been mentioned previously on this list (and one more soon to be discussed!).

Next Post: #5

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