E.T. at 20: Ugly little alien still draws box office crowds

By Jennifer Walker

Can anyone forget the epitome of modern cinema, the image of a ten-year-old boy named Elliott riding his bike through the air with the help of the infamous little brown extra-terrestrial on the energy of John Williams’ theme song?

It is a moment in the history of the cinema that defined a generation, and one that lives on in the hearts of any red-blooded, breathing, 30-something today.

It was 20 years ago that the world fell in love with the waddly, mischievous, ugly little space munchkin, E.T., and with its recent anniversary re-release, audiences world-wide are running to revisit the movie magic of the early 1980s.

But what is it about this late 20th century fairy tale that still has audiences entranced?

The story of the relationship between Elliott, a lonely school-aged boy longing for attention and companionship, and the cuddly little space-creature E.T., set in concrete suburban California, is one most people are familiar with. It is a huge piece of movie history, and an artistic icon for an entire generation.

But 20 years later, the special effects have aged in the shadows of modern technology, and audiences have become more demanding of the visual accuracy and reality of cinema.

Children are more accustomed to the world of digital and computer animation, and films which are so close to being real that not even the most critical skeptic can draw distinctions between filmmakers’ creations and actual events or characters. And yet, men, women and children of all ages are lining up to see Spielberg’s legendary production again.

Could the attraction be sentimental?

A remnant of days gone by?

An intimate affair between a film and its audience that has lasted two decades and continues to evolve through the re-release?

Audiences around the world appear to feel a connection to Elliott and E.T. in ways more profound than any other throughout movie history. They are connected to the young boy, who befriends this creature from another world, and whose relationship with E.T. evolves from one of a prankish secret to one of love.

The audience spends the whole film watching this character become best friends with a special effect that, in many ways, is more profound and expressive in feelings than any actor.

Such is the creative genius of Spielberg, that he creates a world in which an otherworldly creature steals the hearts of generations of movie-goers.

Never before has a movie had such an emotional and dedicated response by audiences 20 years after its release.

Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman sums up the sentiments of moviegoers in stating that “In E.T. Spielberg proved a herald of the age when moviegoers would make full-time friends with fantasy, but his most special effect was taking us into ourselves.”