GCSPrank Is Here

For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Its impact has faded under the weight of other successful movies, the expanding career of its director and the melodrama lived by one of its tiny stars. It stands alone as a rarity: a blockbuster movie sans sequel. If you’re less than 15 years old, you may not have ever seen it because it just doesn’t seem dazzling enough. If that is the case, then you won’t know what you have missed.

More so than any other classic, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial was a “you had to be there experience.” Great movies transcend time, but what constitutes greatness in a movie is debatable. Sometimes it’s great actors, stars whose personality leaps off the screen and into the minds and hearts of moviegoers. In E.T., an expensive puppet with soulful eyes (based on Albert Einstein’s) is the star. Sometimes it’s a great story, filled with passion, angst and truth. In E.T., the story is of a lost alien who wants to go home. And more recently, technical excellence (special effects, costumes) can elevate a movie to greatness, but E.T. broke no new ground, going so far as to have a “little person” in a costume for many scenes.

What made E.T. great was not only the movie itself, but its timing. It was the first urban fantasy that children and adults could believe. It presented a world slightly-removed, viewed by children and where children were the heroes, not by imitating adults, but by being children.

I waited until the final week of its local theater run to see the movie. I picked a weekday matinee, thinking the crowd would be sparse. Not to be. The theater was almost full when I walked in, a crowd made up almost entirely by children. I also noticed that, counting me, there were only eight adults.

I figured I was in for a miserably noisy experience, but decided to stick it out. From the movie’s opening scene, the kids were enraptured. They gasped when Elliot’s ball returns from the shed. They laughed uproariously at a drunken E.T. and giggled when he hid in the closet. His apparent death had many of them in tears, but the cheering, stomping and waving were delirious as Elliot and E.T. made their escape on a bike.

Throughout the film, I watched the other adults. Every emotion expressed by the children was mirrored in their reactions. They laughed, giggled, teared up and cheered, sharing every moment. And when the movie ended, everyone was clapping. Even me.

As the mass walked out, I could see the same light in young eyes and old. The snippets of conversation had the same feel, as no matter who spoke about a scene, they expressed vivid wonder. Whatever barrier separates an adult from believing the fantasy story he or she watches with the children simply did not exist. And instead of being cynical about it, I quietly cheered.

Time passes and what was once unique becomes jaded, especially in Hollywood. Sheer repetition, in the form of sequels and crass merchandising, can push the enchantment of fantasy into the mire of mainstream. E.T. stands alone, more a product of memory than of commercialism. It captured magic, before that magic was drained to banality. If only we could hold on to—or find more of—that magic.


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