“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Notes on E.T. after seeing it in 70mm

We all live on the planet Earth, we all know Steven Spielberg’s E.T. – THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL is a great fucking movie. I don’t have to tell you that. I was gonna point you to what I wrote about it in 2002 in case I did, but it turns out that was mostly a collection of jokes about walkie talkies and the dog shitting all over the place if he had run all the way into the space ship. So maybe try googling “is e.t. good” or something. I don’t know. You can figure it out.

Like anybody I’ve loved that pudgy little rascal since he first introduced himself to us in 1982, but I’ve managed to be pretty disciplined about waiting years between viewings so I don’t wear it out. I think last time was when it came out on Blu-Ray (six years ago), with at most one DVD viewing between that and when the special edition played in theaters (sixteen years ago).

But on Tuesday I saw it in the 70mm Film Festival that the Cinerama has here in Seattle every year, and I wanted to share a few new thoughts.

There’s been much discussion of Spielberg’s technique of hiding the faces of adults for most of the movie, like Peanuts or Muppet Babies. Elliott’s mom (Dee Wallace, RED CHRISTMAS), according to Spielberg, is a kid at heart, so we get to see her. But the teacher, the people chasing E.T., etc., are shown from the shoulders down or from the back until the point in the movie where E.T. is dying and they’re trying to help him.

One thing I don’t remember thinking about before is his use of keys as a symbol of authority. When the men with flashlights approach the space ship in the opening scene the camera’s not gonna focus on the ringleader’s face, so instead it settles on a set of keys hanging from his belt. And as they chase E.T. the sound of the keys jangling is very prominent. I associate keys on the belt with janitors and handymen, but here I think it represents access to resources. These are people with the authority to enter many different buildings, probly off limits to others. Of course, if they don’t have a key they’ll just put on astronaut suits and storm through the doors and windows.

I’m not sure if the guy with the keys is Peter Coyote (SLAYGROUND)’s character, or if that guy only shows up in that later scene where Elliott finds him in “the forest” (as I noticed Elliott always calls what regionally I learned to call “the woods”). We don’t see his face at first, but we do later, and he definitely is meant to be an adult parallel to Elliott. I don’t really understand his proclamation that he’s been waiting for something like this to happen since he was ten years old. Does that mean he’s been some obsessive seeker of alien life, or that the experience of meeting E.T. has reminded him of what he dreamed about as a kid, reawakening the ol’ childhood wonder?

I wouldn’t change a thing on E.T. but it’s funny because I think the one part that might hold up the least is actually the most famous, literally iconic scene of the movie, the first time he flies on the bicycle. At the time the effects were so new and magical, now they’re kind of adorably crude. And I think I said in my other review that as an adult I start having more pain-in-the-ass questions about E.T. being able to do this specific thing. This time might be the first time that I thought wait a minute, the E.T. we see in all the other scenes is way bigger, he wouldn’t fit in that basket and he would tip over the bicycle.

I think 70mm also made me very aware of a bunch of shots where I’m pretty sure it’s an adult woman in that red hoodie riding the bike. Sometimes I miss being able to spot stunt doubles. It can be distracting but it also reminds you there is real danger.

I’ve thought alot about H.R. Giger’s ALIEN design being powerful because it’s so literally alien, so unlike any movie monster we’d seen before, with its bizarre head shape, elegantly shiny surface and unrelatable lack of facial expression. It’s funny the E.T. is great for similar reasons even though he’s not here to scare us with the unknown. He has big friendly eyes and he screams in terror when he sees humans, but that weird extending neck? The lightly humming sound of his heart glowing as he seems to telepathically communicate with his friends? I wonder if the reason we didn’t see other movies ripping these things off all the time is because they were such difficult effects to pull off.

We know from books and from the plant samples they take that E.T. and his colleagues are botanists. But also E.T. knows how to MacGyver together that communicator thing using earth tech. That’s incredible! He doesn’t need a crew of scientists at home giving him instructions of what to do like in APOLLO 13 or THE MARTIAN. My question is, is this a specific talent of E.T.’s, or do they all have those types of skills? If so they have a very impressive education system. E.T. also has a pretty good capacity for learning language and communicating through symbols. The E.T.s are a proud culture.

But they’re not too uptight. John Carpenter’s THE THING is also a perfect movie, but it was a flop, and people always blame that on the success of heartwarming/lighting E.T. But I think it’s understandable. America doesn’t want an alien that murders you and mimics your form so it can murder your friends. America wants an alien it can have a beer with.

I think we as a society all share a gratitude for Spielberg for insisting on never making a sequel. Even with him having been so insistent about this for so many years there’s a small part of me that shudders when imagining the possibility of him changing his mind to make some HOOK type bullshit where grown Elliot is separated from his wife and E.T. comes back to help.

God damn they better not do that but I’m okay with spin-offs to fill in the backgrounds of the other characters, as people want these days. Here are my top choices:

DAD AND SALLY IN MEXICO: AN E.T. STORY

THE PLANT CREATURE YOU SEE OPENING ITS MOUTH ON THE SHIP AT THE BEGINNING: AN E.T. STORY

THE RACCOON THAT FINDS E.T. DYING IN THE RIVER: AN E.T. STORY

And I don’t know what this one would be called, but what about the events told through the perspective of one of the other botanists on the ship? They go back and one of them insists that they left a man behind and he’s still alive but nobody believes him and he has to put together a team to plan a rescue mission, like UNCOMMON VALOR.

I don’t think that’ll happen though, and luckily Spielberg has even disavowed the special edition he made with an extra scene and some censorship. I have an idea for a new scene he could’ve added. In the actual movie Elliott tearfully tells E.T. “We could grow up together!” And then E.T. touches his face and did Spielberg ever consider adding in a vision of what it would be like if Elliott and E.T. went to high school together and then were college roommates and were in a fraternity and stuff?

Honestly though I was left wondering at the end what the hell life would be like for Elliott growing up. How often would he think about E.T.? Would the memory start to fade away, seem unreal? I guess he has his whole family and some of the neighborhood to remind him. But then he grows up and has friends and is in relationships and surely there are times when he’s dealing with things and it’s relevant to talk about the formational events in his childhood, but what’s he gonna say? It must be weird.

And even the immediate aftermath could potentially have a major effect on his life. After that frog business I bet he was transferred to an alternative school. And man, Michael dragged two government employees from a vehicle and Elliott disconnected them. Those guys could’ve been maimed or killed. That’s kinda fucked up. Were there any legal repercussions?

E.T. is such a perfect “family movie” because it’s about kids and has a kid’s perspective of the world, but it’s hard to imagine the asshole who would see it as something to plop the kids down in front of to distract them. The performances that Spielberg got out of Henry Thomas (FEVER) and Drew Barrymore (FIRESTARTER) feel so natural and authentic, none of that usual Hollywood precocious kid bullshit. I like that the dissolution of their parents’ marriage is a backdrop for the whole thing and we all draw a line between the separation and Elliott’s need for a friend like E.T., yet they never directly talk about it, it’s never really underlined, and Elliott doesn’t even outwardly seem as concerned about the situation as his siblings. It’s sweet and beautiful and humane but without being condescending or heavy-handed.

Maybe it helps that the kids aren’t perfect. They swear a little, they fight a little (not at GOONIES level, thankfully). But they come together over this alien business.

It doesn’t pretend the world isn’t scary. I heard a father in the row behind me trying to explain frog dissection to his little girl. The sight of E.T. face down in the water, or in the medical unit with his skin turning white, is horrifying. And it’s hard not to feel the trauma of the kids seeing it (Barrymore says she really believed E.T. was real and had died). Even the feel good message is bittersweet. Yeah, E.T. comes back to life, but then he has to hit the road. Nothing lasts forever. Appreciate it while you can. Cherish the memories. I’ll be right here. In the middle of a young boy’s dream. etc.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen me talk about my DJing stint at Scarecrow Video last International Video Store Day. I agreed to do it because I had a good enough collection of soundtracks and disco versions of movie themes and shit. I had a great time so I’m doing it again this year and I got a little too excited and have done a good amount of research and buying to improve the set this year.

I bring it up because I have a disco 12″ of the E.T. theme by Denny Randell and the Rockophonic Orchestra, and I was considering trying to get Neil Diamond’s “Heartlight” to lead into it when I suddenly noticed a listing for a single called “E.T. Boogie” by Extra T’s.

Don’t tell anybody but that’s my secret weapon for this year’s set. I assumed it was gonna be some cheesy novelty thing like “Pac-Man Fever” (or the other song on the Denny Randell record, “Extra-Terrestrial Brother”). But I swear, under and in between the guy imitating E.T.’s various catch phrases is a legitimately good electro-funk song.

I’m far from the first person to dig this up, as I realized on the first listen when I recognized it as the main sample for a hit rap song from 1997 that had a video directed by Hype Williams and had the same title as a Michael Jackson album. But it’s new to me and I’m glad I found it so in honor of me getting to see this great movie in 70mm please enjoy this boogie.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, September 14th, 2018 at 6:57 pm and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

54 Responses to “Notes on E.T. after seeing it in 70mm”

  1. I guess I’m alone in the world in that the design for E.T. kind of creeps me out. I don’t find him endearing. Sure he’s got the big eyes, but his head is so flat, and neck so long, and those ribs are so visible under the skin. I never really thought about it before, but I relaize that when I first read The Hobbit as a kid, I based my mental image of Gollum on E.T., just with glowing eyes and flippers instead of feet. That we first meet him at night in a toolshed, as scary a location as anything, sure didn’t help. I think he scared me back then.

    The sequence with the astronauts invading Elliott’s house also scared the living daylights out of me. Granted it’s supposed to, I guess, but in the end the Spielberg Schmaltz just never connected with me on this one. Maybe I was too young, I don’t know.

    Props to you if you love it though. Most people do.

  2. Ironically I am seeing The Thing on 70mm tonight.

  3. Yep… I had that exact costume for Halloween when I was 7. And even at the time it bothered me that it had (like some many of the costumes of that style/age) a picture of the character on the front. “What the hell… ET doesn’t have a picture of himself on his chest!” Man, I have nostalgic affection for those old plastic costumes- but kids costumes today are 1000x better designed and made. I’m currently working a second part time job at the seasonal SPIRIT HALLOWEEN store here and am constantly amazed by how badass some of the kids costumes are.

  4. Hell yeah E.T. Boogie! I found that one reading the songwriting credits on my 12” single of the Busta song. Wish I could come up for your DJ set, I’m sure it will be major.

  5. I also belong to the people who never really understood the appeal of that movie. E.T. doesn’t creep me out, but in every other movie he would probably play an evil alien. (Which can probably be counted as a pro. Every other director would’ve probably used something cute and furry, that reminds people more of their own cats and dogs.)

    But the kid adventure part never appealed to me (not even as a kid) and in the last act Spielberg really overdoes it with the emotion, to the point where it becomes even for me too corny. I don’t have any hard feelings against the movie, but it just makes me shrug.

  6. I can’t remember the last time I watch ET. Maybe the anniversery, or maybe even before. I don’t remember how much I like it.

    On another note, I hope Vern is going to watch FINAL SCORE this weekend. Looks like Dave Bautista’s SUDDEN DEATH. I love Die Hard-like movies, and with The Predator getting terrible to mixed reviews, I’m kinda more excited to watch FINAL SCORE if it was showing in my country.

  7. Man, you people are cold hearted. I last watched ET a year and a half or two years ago, and I was struck by how well it lets us onto the world of these kids.

    Not only are they preternaturally good actors for kids, but the dynamic also true to life. They don’t act like little adults, and they’re not overly cynical teens. They don’t fit simple archetypes. And their characters come through without overly obvious establishing scenes telling us who these kids are.

  8. Peter Coyote’s character is billed as “Keys” in the end credits, so I’m pretty sure the keys guy was him the whole movie.

  9. Unlike Vern, I stand by what I said on the last review so I’m just gonna cut and paste and call it a day. Like Spielberg learned with his “special” edition, you can’t fuck with perfection.

    “I don’t want to get too controversial here, but I think this is a pretty good movie. You guys should watch it.

    This is fucking filmmaking, man. I seriously think this might be the best-directed movie ever. it just plays you like a fucking fiddle. It’s got so many little shots that just have so much meaning burned into them. You look at it and you get it. You get it so easily and obviously that you don’t even realize that it was the result of somebody making a million little decisions that weren’t easy and obvious, just so this shot could fucking nail you. Because the filmmaking is so on point there’s no need for big speeches telling you what to think, except for the Keymaster’s one about how he’s glad E.T. met Elliot first and he did as good a job as anyone could have. And that’s a great speech for a little boy who’s father doesn’t give a shit about him to hear. That was the part that really got me this time, seeing how even a fucking government stooge could see that this little boy is a better representative of the human race than himself and all these scientists and soldiers and agents he hangs around with. I mean, christ, I’m not made of stone.

    Anyway, other than that, it gets it all across with images and music and gestures and little bits of behavior. Like how the mom laughs when Elliot says “penis-breath” even though she knows she shouldn’t. Says so much about her as a person and the family dynamic. And how the older brother is trying to grow up too fast (He’s eager to back his mom’s car out of the driveway, using her keys, now that you mention it, which are seen as the symbol of adult authority in the movie) but when shit gets too real he goes and hides with all the stuffed animals so he can be a kid again.

    (Speaking of the older brother, please do not watch his interviews on the 2002 DVD. He’s like 36 and he has blond dreadlocks like he’s Vanilla Ice in his net-metal phase. Also do not watch the behind-the-scenes because it will show how in some scenes E.T. was a kid with no legs in a rubber suit. Kinda makes it less funny when the mom smacks him in the face with the fridge door.)

    I also love how the other kids rally around Elliott with no explanation. He’s got the feds on his ass but he’s just like “Get the bikes” and they get the fucking bikes, no question. It’s like the kid version of the “I’ll get my gear” scene in ROLLING THUNDER. Fucking brothers in arms.

    Shit, man, I’m as cold and dead inside as the next guy, but this fucking movie… This fucking movie is fucking magical.”

  10. E.T. is the best. Strangely, I think it plays best when you’re a little kid and when you’re an adult. The way Spielberg connects us with our childhood memory and feelings is less meaningful when you’re 15 than when you’re 30.

    Gepard, I also have friends who think E.T. is too creepy. But I think that’s a desired effect. The first encounter between Elliott and E.T. scared me when I was four. The process of the movie is to move us beyond that initial response, and I’m surprised it doesn’t work on everyone.

  11. When I saw it as a kid when it first came out, I liked it but didnt love it. (Not enough lasers).

    27 years later I see it on cable, and I unabashedly love it. Such a good film.

    3 years later I see John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl, and his big piece that year, in honor of the 30th anniversary, was the last reel with just the sound fx and the orchestra providing live music. Worked liked gangbusters, assuming that’s a good thing. But I definitely was moved by just the power of the music alone. Good stuff.

    But its no Mac & Me…

  12. That’s funny, I really don’t remember ever picking up on the keys thing before, but Majestyk already went into it more than I did in his old comment.

  13. Just curious Vern, but did you see the 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY re-release at all? I am still kicking myself for not checking it out when it played at the IMAX in my city.

  14. After caspering it (Not in 70mm, but in whatever mm a HD stream has) it’s clear, that I will never become a fan of this movie. Sorry. I know it’s a shitty thing to say, especially after praising YOGA HOSERS on Letterboxd last night, but the whole thing moves so slow and uneventful before it punishes the audience with something like 20 minutes of E.T. slowly dying and Elliot crying his eyes out and screaming for his best friend. The following escape is fun and makes me wish the whole movie would be like that.

    But what do I know? It’s fucking E.T., one of the most beloved classics of all time.

    Random observations: They really don’t waste time in the beginning. The movie starts, BAM, spaceship is already there. They don’t even show it approaching earth and landing. We don’t spend much time with the family either. Within the first 15 minutes we see a bunch of aliens being chased away by government agents and E.T. meeting Elliot for the first time.

    The classroom scene doesn’t get enough credit. Everything in it is so fucking perfect. Drunken Elliot, several reaction shots, the freaked out girl in a pile of frogs, the last shot of the other girl’s shoes who twists her foot in an obvious old-school-Hollywood-body-language way of saying “Damn, I like that boy” while we see him getting dragged away by the teacher and the frogs hop into frame and of course the absolutely horrifying narration by the teacher. I’m so glad that we don’t murder frogs in German schools. Is this why there are so many serial killers in the US?

    Do you think they tried to set up a relationship between Keys and Elliot’s mom? He obviously wasn’t evil and there is this one, short moment where it looks like the two are flirting (which, considering what happened only minutes earlier, is totally inappropriate, doesn’t matter who started it).

  15. Also do you think E.T. would have killed the brother, if he had healed the fake knive in his head?

  16. ET is fantastic. I saw it a couple year backs in a theater, and parts near the end still make me tear up a bit. I’m not sure it cracks my Spielberg top 5, but it’s an undeniable achievement that’s a great cross-section of an excellent movie on it’s own artistic terms and hugely popular and culturally significant. The family dynamics and relationships between the kids are so well done. Far better done than in almost all the movies centered around kids that are influenced by Spielberg. It’s funny how that part of Spielberg’s filmography holds up so well to his imitators and those he influenced (the same is true with how he’d utilize special effects imo).

    I don’t have kids. But it seems like the people I know who really loved this movie and now have kids still really, really like it and love to see their own kids watch it and get mesmerized. The fact that the movie doesn’t just have a generational appeal, like say EASY RIDER, I think speaks to its greatness. I think it’s a unique for a “kids movie” too because even with the sci-fi elements and suspense parts it’s very much a disguised drama, and not many movies targeting kids are like that.

  17. I don’t really like ET that much now but I discovered while listening to the 80s All Over podcast is that ET is my earliest movie going memory. So that’s pretty cool.

  18. CJ:

    “Also do you think E.T. would have killed the brother, if he had healed the fake knive in his head?”

    Mrs. renfield and I laughed hard and long at this, thank you my friend

  19. It would’ve been pretty sweet if Elliott went on the ship with E.T. back to his planet, and they just dumped him in the same zoo enclosure where Roy Neary resides.

  20. I couldn’t watch it very frequently as a kid because it gets so intense at the end, the astronauts was one of the most terrifying things I saw in any movie, just the bizarreness of someone in a spacesuit in the middle of a suburban home, it would be creepy on it’s own without any context.

    And of course when E.T. is dying, it just looks so real.

    It’s a great fucking movie of course and I respect the fact that it was willing to give kids a dose of reality, the world can indeed be a scary place.

    Personally I lean towards CLOSE ENCOUNTERS being the better Spielberg alien movie, it has the wonder and mystery but with a more cynical ’70s style edge that feels a little more true to life, of course it’s been a while since I’ve seen either (and both are still great)

  21. Griff, I think (let me go out on a limb here) that E.T. and Close Encounters are two of the greatest movies ever made, and two of my own favorite all-time movies. And both stand the test of time for me too. However, whereas watching E.T. as an adult was an amazing, beautiful experience, I found that watching the Close Encounters rerelease last year freaked me out a little.

    Like Spielberg, having kids of my own made Close Encounters play so differently. WTF, Roy? Are you kidding me? I know going to space with these aliens might be pretty sweet, and I know maybe you’ve already irreparably destroyed your family life, but WTF? Shouldn’t you at least give your wives and kids a phone call? Write em a goodbye note? Leave em a bag of Doritos as a parting gift?

  22. I haven’t seen Close Encounters in a while, but looking back on it, it’s a pretty fucked up movie. That scene where the son walks in on Richard Dreyfuss freaking out and then starts yelling and slamming the door is pretty bleak, and it just seems all too real. (Were people just better actors in the 70s?).

  23. I don’t think so, but the scripts tended to be more character oriented, especially for male characters, and more frank about dysfunctional families. Close Encounters is about as dark as Spielberg gets–at least in terms of obsession. Spielberg himself has said that he couldn’t end the movie the way he did if he made it later in life because having kids changed his perspective. Close Encounters is thematically pretty interesting and just as, if not more, personal than ET. Close Encounters is not as rewatchable though because it’s pacing doesn’t hold up as well as other Spielberg classics imo, but there’s plenty to unpack and talk about.

  24. Yeah, I also have a hard time sticking with CLOSE ENCOUNTERS for the duration. It boasts some truly amazing sequences but also some epic doldrums. I think a lot of it has to do with the overuse of Altman-esque overlapping sound. In small doses, such as the scene with Brody on the beach in JAWS, it can add a layer of naturalism to a scene that is sorely missing from today’s cinema, but too much of it and it starts to feel like you’re trying to watch a movie in a crowded restaurant. It all turns into white noise. For whatever reason, I always zone out somewhere in the middle. It gets me back at the end but it still ends up being a movie I admire more than I like.

  25. Watched ET earlier this year with daughter due to her interest in Stranger Things. I’m 43; saw ET when it came out in 1982. I swear I hadn’t seen it since. Man oh man, it was a very powerful time capsule experience, helped by Spielberg at the height, or last the upward trajectory, of his filmatistic powers. I often fall prey to nostalgia, but I believe in pointing out a work’s virtues in addition to my sentimental attachment to it.

    As a side note, I said I think I hadn’t seen it since it was released – wasn’t it hard to get on VHS, and it was not on TV? Compared to Star Wars, Close Encounters, Indiana Jones, et al. I seem to remember the VHS release being a super big deal. Is that right?

    Side note #2: Daughter and friends watched Jurassic Park last night. It seems to me the culmination of classic Spielberg at the height of his powers and he has since moved on.

  26. As I recall, it didn’t come out on VHS until ’88, probably because it was still playing theatrically somewhere in the world for years after it came out. (I remember seeing it again in the theater in ’85 when it was re-released.) The tape itself had a bunch of design flair on it to try and combat bootlegging. It must have worked because the tape alone made more money than most blockbusters made theatrically at the time.

  27. Ah yes, the good old days when it took YEARS for some movies to come out on home video or even premiere on TV. (At least in Germany) I mean, the first time I saw E.T. was during its German free TV premiere, which must have been 1990 or 91. That was a huge, heavily advertised TV event! (Also around that time GHOSTBUSTERS, GREMLINS and FLASH GORDON appeared for the first time on TV.)

  28. For me both CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and JAWS are great in that you kind of feel rewarded with the third act. The moment you see Brody and crew set off and when Roy sees the mountain are really when they kick into high gear.

  29. I left seeing ET a few … decades too late – and I still thought it was very good, which just goes to show how good a film it was. The scene which shows us as the aliens and how terrifying that could be from the point of view of ET as the scientists burst into the house in spacesuits was excellent work.

    Supposed trivia, if I have this right, the house Drew Barrymore ends up in with the couple of kids after falling down a hill or something in Charlie’s Angels was the ET house, apparently.

  30. What a year 1982 was for science fiction. It gave us not just ET but:

    Blade Runner, The Thing, Tron and Star Trek 2 just for starters. Remarkable how many films which are regarded as classics nowadays were underperformers at the time due to the ET juggernaut.

  31. 1982 rules.

    As somebody who isn’t having kids I find it so interesting to hear how films play differently for parents than those who don’t.

  32. Did ET really crowd those movies out? Maybe it did to a few, but I don’t know. There’s a certain knee jerk reaction to Spielberg movies that I don’t understand exactly, especially pre-1993 ones.

    Right, I’m with you Mr. M, though the ending does go on a little long (I see why, similar to why I see why this movie’s ending goes on, but both are a tad long imo.)

    I take it kids still love ET then? I really don’t get the people that shit on this movie. I like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK more than this movie, but for some reason E.T. backlash bothers me more. (I initially thought of a JAWS comparison, but then decided no…somebody shitting on JAWS would get me as mad if not more mad than shitting on E.T.) So even people that are lukewarm on this movie, help me understand why you don’t like this movie.

  33. Yeah, I don’t think it crowded them out.

    WRATH OF KHAN came out a week before ET and ended up #6 overall for the year. All of those movies are classics, but I think it’s oversimplifying to boil things down to one movie took up all the oxygen and killed other movies, especially back in the day where there wasn’t as much income inequality and ticket prices weren’t as high.

    THE THING and BLADE RUNNER might’ve been crowded out since they had to compete vs. both Star Trek and ET, and were released the same week, but that’s stupid management from the studios, as well as how both movies are more niche than people probably want to admit (although both are still classics).

  34. I never said they were ‘crowded out’. I just meant they probably made less money than they otherwise would have. I will concede I meant to say ‘may have underperformed’ as opposed to ‘definitely underperformed’. Definitely knew Star Trek 2 was the one that was least likely to have taken a hit and if it did, it would have been less than most if not all of the others.

    I’ve read Future Noir about the making of Blade Runner and how its problems were legion and that The Thing’s reception was … probably less enthusiastic on average than it is today and its case, especially given the release schedule but also the contrasts people drew about their respective contents at the time since they came out so close together, ET … didn’t help in that department.

  35. onthewall – No, I have not seen the re-release of 2001. It played as part of this festival and I chose E.T. over it since I had seen a 70mm print of 2001 before. But I will definitely try to see it if it comes around again.

    BrianB – Isn’t it amazing that you refer to your top 5 Spielberg and I can’t even assume which ones you would include? I figure most lists would have JAWs, RAIDERs, E.T., possibly CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, likely SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and/or SCHINDLER’S LIST, but younger people would have JURASSIC PARK and there are any number of oddball ones that could be someone’s personal favorite.

    Which is why it was so funny that Kanye recently tweeted a picture of himself walking up to Spielberg and it said “You know we had to talk about Ready Player One.”

  36. Controversial opinion, 2001 is like 90 mins too long.

  37. ET and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS wouldn’t even be on my Top 10 Spielberg list.

  38. I just watched ET over the weekend, so nice surprise to see a VERN review on Monday morning. This watch was because the wife and I have been working through the AFI 100 list along with the Unspooled podcast. In the podcast, Paul Sheer had a theory that I love – that ET is a representation of their deadbeat dad. While they’re at school he lays around the house all day in a bathrobe watching tv and drinking beer, then at the end he’s basically “hey sport, me and Sally gotta go to Mexico so you might not see me for a while but remember, I’ll always be in your heart”.

    I also love how this movie (which, I think, was my first cinematic memory – either that or Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn) has changed for me over the years as I’ve grown from identifying with Elliot and his little kid problems to identifying with Dee Wallace’s backgrounded grown-ass person problems.

  39. Larry Sternshein:

    Wwhaaaa??????? Holy crow, my man! Why would you cut 90 minutes from 2001? Wouldn’t it suck? Or, if you think it sucks now, wouldn’t it suck worse if 90 minutes shorter? Controversial indeed!

  40. That Kanye tweet is great. I just watched Ready Player One recently, and I did wonder how this film landed with its target audience. Did teenagers see themselves in the characters? I, of course, couldn’t, but clearly it spoke to Kanye and he’s older than me. I’ve felt that Spielberg’s bigger films of late have been more or less excuses for him to play around with technology rather than movies he’s emotionally invested in. But maybe I’m just less emotionally invested because I’m older.

    Someone mentioned that Close Encounters and ET have great third acts, which got me thinking about how crappy third acts are today. It seems like so many blockbusters devolve into uninteresting globs of CGI. Again, this might just be the result of me aging, but I’ve heard this complaint from at least one other film critic. So maybe filmmakers have lost the ability to fashion a satisfying and exciting third act.

  41. I hate Kanye so much that even that harmless quote enrages me. Of course this fucking toddler who smears his shit on the wall just to get a reaction would pass up the chance to talk about any of Spielberg’s legendary works. He just wants to talk about the shiny new thing that got waved in front of his face.

    I feel like Kanye needs to be sacrificed Wicker Man-style so that America can be released from the worship of self-aggrandizing mediocrity that he represents. Put him on a pyre with all the clothes from his stupid attention-seeking clothing line and tapes of his garbage troll-baiting interview clips and vow to the gods of Meritocracy and Humility that we will never again validate someone who talks so loud and says so little.

    Obviously he would not be my first choice in that regard. But he would do in a pinch.

  42. Vern – Absolutely, and it’s a credit to the depth and strength of Spielberg’s filmography. I was pretty stunned when my initial list was radically different than my friend’s, so we both went and re-watched various ones. (100% JURASSIC PARK is in my top 5 btw.) I will say that post-SCHINDLER’S Spielberg is overlooked a lot imo, which my buddy’s list made me appreciate. A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, MINORITY REPORT, and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN are some of the more underrated movies in Spielberg’s filmography–CATCH ME IF YOU CAN in particular. After revisiting it, I checked out some behind the scenes clips on youtube. There’s interesting parallels there with another Leo and a great director movie–WOLF OF WALL STREET. Both movies were Leo pet projects and star vehicles, but the directors came in later and put their stamp on it while still collaborating.

  43. @Geoffreyjar – Thank you.

    @Johnny Utah – The dark edge to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is precisely what makes it so interesting, a lesser movie would have had him reconnect with his family instead of going off with the aliens and we all go “awwwwww” but instead he leaves them behind, that’s dark, but a lot more messy and interesting, more movies should avoid taking the easy way out.

    @RBatty024 – Yup, that scene of Roy crying and his son angrily calling him a crybaby feels so real, that’s part of what makes the fantastical elements of the movie so believable is how grounded the drama and characters are.

  44. @BrianB – A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, MINORITY REPORT, and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN are indeed some sorely underrated movies.

    A.I. especially is badly in need of reappraisal, I hate that people still can’t wrap their heads around the ending, it’s a great fucking movie.

    And MINORITY REPORT is still my favorite Spielberg movie of the 21st century so far.

  45. I didn’t like Minority Report anywhere near as much as I wanted to as I thought it completely and utterly missed the point of the book and how Philip K Dick portrayed mutants generally. It’s also interesting as to how much of that opening scene has been rendered obsolete by actual technology (but obviously not in a seeing actual potential futures kind of way).

  46. I try to catch up on a bunch of Spielbergs that I haven’t seen yet and I really didn’t like MINORITY REPORT. Especially on a visual level, but I try to not hold it against the movie, that its back then fresh and unique look now seems straightly taken out of a YouTube tutorial of some open source FX software. Technology is changing, y’all! I’m sure in a few years we get an app to make our own TINTIN movie!

    However, there are five minutes in MR, that are legitimately great. (When Cruise enters the hotel room and we learn why he would kill that guy, plus the short aftermath where we realize “Oh yeah, that can’t be the end, someone must have started all this”. Unfortunately then they blow it by revealing the most obvious character as the man behind all this.)

    Also I love the whole scene with the eye surgery. It’s tonally so completely different from the rest of the movie, but everything, from Peter Stormare’s snot, to him and his nurse (who played Cheech Marin’s wife on NASH BRIDGES) singing a quak quak song, to Cruise eating and drinking all the stuff in the fridge that he shouldn’t eat and drink, made me laugh too hard to not like this completely misplaced comedy moment.

  47. Griff —

    A couple of things. First, I love pretty much everything about Close Encounters, including the entire finale sequence, so I don’t mean to suggest the movie is diminished by Roy flying away without saying goodbye. I think I’m trying to express how differently that scene plays for me now as a father than it did for me then as a child, and I can totally understand where Spielberg is coming from if he regrets writing and filming it that way. So I still enjoy watching Roy go, and I suspect I wouldn’t like it as well any other way, but I do have different, pained thoughts about it now.

    Second, I think I disagree that this is precisely what makes that scene so interesting. The scene is already so grand, so vast, so incredible, that I suspect it (not necessarily the movie; just the scene) might work just as well if Roy had been a single, childless dude. Or maybe just catch the end of a phone call where he’s got a tear and a smile when he’s saying see ya later to his wife and/or kids?

    I don’t know, I guess that’s just the equivalent of a walkie talkie instead of a gun. I totally see what you’re saying when you consider this precisely the most interesting part of the scene. Maybe I’m just alarmed to see now what I couldn’t see then. As a youngster I thought everyone else was just wrong, and Roy was ultimately vindicated. Now, I see that everyone else was right all along — even though he’s vindicated, it turns out Roy is kinda crazy!

    And that IS really interesting, now that I’m seeing it that way. Freaky, but interesting!

  48. You see people trying to apply the Sick Boy theory of artistic decline to Spielberg. But his 21st century output has been absolutely fascinating, even if he’s not making the unimpeachable classics he used to. In fact, I think the vast majority of directors today would kill to have the kind of filmography Spielberg has developed over the last eighteen years.

  49. Spielberg in the first half of the ’00s was so unappreciated, an absolute embarrassment of riches. It’s a peak of his career, but critics seemed to shower more praise on stuff like CAPOTE and THE CONSTANT GARDNER. At least it felt that way.

  50. And look at how prolific he is. I don’t know any director who works with the budgets he’s regularly given who can crank out one film a year or even more. We’ve gotten a Spielberg film every year for the past four years. He put out two films in 2002, 2005, and 2011. That’s nuts.

  51. @ CJ Holden

    In the book, John Anderton is put in one of those terrible dilemmas characters Philip K Dick used quite frequently, which was he had two choices. One don’t kill the guy – save himself but as a result destroy the Minority Report system and the greater good, alternatively, kill the guy and save the system but doom himself. I didn’t like how the movie either didn’t do that or fumbled the ball very badly with the concept.

    As for kids, in the book he didn’t have any.

  52. PS

    When I said didn’t have any kids, as in never had any kids.

    As for Peter Stomare’s scene, I always took that as waiting and waiting for this shoe to drop as he just keep talking more and more about how Cruise’s character had ruined his life by arresting him and you’re wondering what terrible thing he’s going to do to him as he has him at his mercy and maybe it’s going to be more and more terrible the longer the scene goes on and then … nothing. I kind of thought that was great actually as that seemed to be an increasingly unlikely outcome the longer it went on for a while there at least.

  53. I watched ET at an Alamo Drafthouse event a while back where some local comedians talk over the movie and say funny stuff, kinda like MST3K. It only took about 15 minutes before I wished they would STFU so I could rewatch the movie for the first time in a decade. No such luck.

    I was a lot less impressed by ET as a kid than later in life. I first saw it at the age of 15 or so I think, long after the initial buzz wore off and the story had been common knowledge for years, and I wanted STAR WARS space battles. I am wiser now and love it unconditionally.

    Keys is also the name of Coyote’s character in ET: the novelization. Which I read several times before I even saw the movie. We were poor growing up and I got a lot of 10 cent outdated library books for presents. My most vivid memory of it was that ET thought human noses looked like a “bashed in Brussels sprout”. There were a lot of gardening metaphors in the book.

    I saw SCHINDLERS LIST when it came out, was bored, and never have had the desire to revisit it ever again. Change my mind.

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