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The Hollywood Insider E.T. 40th Anniversary, Steven Spielberg Movies

Photo: ‘E.T.’ 

When ‘E.T. The Extra Terrestrial’ made its debut on the big screen in 1982, Steven Spielberg had still been figuring out his footing as a director and, more importantly, as a storyteller.  ‘Jaws’ was the project that catapulted Spielberg into the spotlight as an up-and-coming filmmaker worth paying attention to.  The only caveat was that ‘Jaws’ was a thriller.  Can this young storyteller with a keen eye for the camera replicate such a level of success with other genres.  The answer was ultimately a resounding “Yes”.  Spielberg followed up ‘Jaws’ with ‘Close Encounters of The Third Kind’, a science fiction drama that also yielded critical praise for the young director. 

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Spielberg then went on to make the film ‘1941’, a less-than-beloved comedy that did not live up to the standards set by his previous films, however, no director has an entirely spotless portfolio nor are they able to master every genre of storytelling.  Immediately after that setback, Spielberg made headlines again for all the right reasons with the inception of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ which saw the director taking a whip (pun intended) at the action-adventure genre with his long-time friend and fellow filmmaker George Lucas.  And thus, with a small yet remarkable resume such as Spielberg’s, a family film about a boy befriending a lost alien may not have been beyond his reach to formulate.

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 To this day, ‘E.T.’ remains one of Steven Spielberg’s finest films to date.  To commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary this summer, ‘E.T’ has returned to select theaters with an IMAX refurbishing, allowing modern audiences to appreciate the classic as if it were being introduced to the world for the first time.  This IMAX re-release of the film has done just that.  

‘E.T.’  – A Film Which Appears Far Younger Than 40 In IMAX

With a forty-year-old film returning to theaters, it only makes sense for it to be given an IMAX remastering in order to appreciate in a similar fashion to how audiences originally experienced it when it was first released.  This look of the film was a much bigger payoff than expected.  Seen through the IMAX format, ‘E.T.’ hardly feels forty years old, and sounds like something that could not have come out earlier than the 2000s.  A viewer watching this film can’t help but wonder if this is identical to what it felt like for audiences who experienced this film in theaters in 1982.  

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Some shots, most notably those in the iconic flying bike, effectively demonstrate why this film must have resonated with an entire generation that grew up watching this movie after seeing this scene for the first time on the big screen.  But the quality of the picture itself is actually the second biggest contribution the IMAX format has to bring to the film.  The strongest feature that IMAX brings to the film comes in the form of sound, particularly in the enhancement of the musical score.  John Williams’ musical talent is well established in 2022. 

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By the time of the film’s original release, Williams had already collaborated with Spielberg on ‘Jaws’, ‘Close Encounters of The Third Kind’, ‘1941’, and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, so one could assume that by the production of ‘E.T.’, the two were able to speak the same creative language and know exactly what the other wants.  At this point, Williams had previous experience crafting musical pieces for scenes centered around flying as he had also composed the now iconic theme for ‘Superman’ in 1978.  With the refurbishing of IMAX sound quality, his piece for the now memorable flight scene in ‘E.T.’ was an experience worthy of remembrance itself.  It felt almost akin to a theme park attraction like ‘Soarin’ at Disney California Adventure when put together with the mesmerizing shots of Elliot and E.T. flying over the forest.

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A Story, Characters, and Performances That Have Also Hardly Aged

All that being said, the quality of the picture and the sound can only mean so much if the fundamental components of the film (story, characters, etc.) don’t hold up or were just as poor forty years ago.  Thankfully, this is not the case with this movie.  The story simply follows a boy named Elliot befriending an alien whom he names E.T. while trying to get him back home.  In the process, Elliot becomes in sync with E.T’s feelings and hence, we have a story centered around themes like understanding, loneliness, and broken families.  The performances of Henry Thomas as Elliot, Robert MacNaughton as his older brother Michael, and Drew Barrymore as his little sister Gurtie, still stand to this day as some of the best performances from child actors in any major motion picture.  This was achieved largely in part to Spielberg’s child-like imagination and creativity.  He knew how to think like a child and therefore knew how to communicate with one in order to get the best possible performance.  

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But the standout performance in the film came not from the animatronic E.T., but the only adult throughout the first two acts of the film: Elliot’s mother played by Dee Wallace.  Wallace’s role in the film is that of a single mom recently divorced whose priority is raising three kids on her own.  Despite being able to be summed up in a single sentence, this may actually be one of the most difficult types of roles for an actor or actress to play.  Given how familiar and relatable it is to so many viewers, a character like this could easily come off as phony or one-dimensional to audiences if not portrayed believably.  However, Wallace brought every emotional tool available in an actor’s toolkit to bring this character to life.  Her character may even be one of the best movie moms in the history of Cinema.  

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A Tale That Will Stand For Another 40 Years

Re-releasing classic films theatrically are important for historical purposes, as they recreate the original experience for modern audiences to appreciate and to understand why certain films stand the test of time more successfully than others.  ‘E.T.’ is one of those films.  This should absolutely not be its last return to theaters as it should regularly find its way to local multiplexes every few years so audiences can continue to admire this film as it was given to us forty years ago.  

Cast: Henry Thomas, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace

Written by: Melissa Mathison

Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

By Nader Chamas

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.

I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV, media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.

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