E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: 40 Years Later

Hundreds of movies get made each and every year, and this has been the norm since the earliest days of Hollywood. When you add in world cinema, that is thousands of films each year. Many movies are forgettable, but there are some that manage to stand the test of time. Certain movies have a never-ending re-watch potential; viewer fatigue never sets in and each and every viewing can feel like the first time. Steven Spielberg is one filmmaker that has many of these types of films in his filmography, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial may just be his immortal classic. On June 11, 2022, E.T. officially turns the big 4-0, and if that makes you feel old yet also still young-at-heart, you are not alone as my 40th birthday is just one month later. Throughout my childhood, E.T. was that one film that never lost its sense of wonder, imagination, and heartfelt themes about the pains of growing up and learning to let go. I laughed and cried obviously with each viewing, but there was also something spellbinding about watching this film, and that certain something is a feeling that many viewers all share. Whether it’s the infamous quotes from the script’s dialogues, E.T.’s love of Reese’s Pieces, E.T and Elliot’s unique friendship, John Williams’ majestic score, or the superb practical effects, E.T. is just as immaculate of a film at 40 as it was upon its premiere.

Is E.T. One of the Best Coming-of-Age Films?

If you ask many people what the best coming-0f-age movie of the 1980s was, the answer will undoubtedly be Stand by Me (1986). It is hard to argue with that, but E.T. is also very close in terms of providing audiences a believable display of what it means to be young and innocent. E.T. is a movie that can be enjoyed strictly as a piece of pure entertainment, but the film’s themes and structure are filled with multiple examples of metaphors, symbols, and poignant messages. Of these themes, coming-of-age and the bonds of friendship are easily the most recognizable. The fact that Elliot befriends a stranded alien can be simply dismissed as an example of creative imagination, but E.T.’s loneliness, frustration, and fear of now existing in a world where his very identity will be analyzed, scrutinized, and potentially harmed, Elliot and his family’s protective welcoming of their new friend from another world is a shining example of positive open communication and compassion. But E.T.’s presence also transforms Elliot, and his eventual departure allows Elliot to experience one of life’s most bittersweet certainties: loss. Whether it’s a pet, a family member, or the drifting apart of childhood friends, being young and coming to terms with loss is something we all experience at a young age, and learning to focus on the good times is what’s most important. The poignancy of E.T. is perhaps its most enduring legacy to repeat viewers and new generations of audiences.

Is the 20th Anniversary Altered Edition Worth Seeing?

In celebration of the film’s 20th anniversary in 2002, Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment decided to add some scenes to the original cut of the film and alter some footage with CGI. The results of this new tweaked version that hit theaters and DVD 20 years ago were mixed, even though a few minutes of additional footage was also added to the film. The mixed reactions to the cosmetic changes applied to the film were mostly complaints surrounding the necessity to alter such minor scenes, which was a similar complaint that has long plagued the DVD releases of the Star Wars Trilogy. We do not really need to see a 21st-century upgrade to E.T., especially since the changes are silly anyway. The police now have walkie-talkies instead of rifles, making E.T.’s lips match his words, and several other CGI upgrades added nothing of any substance to the film and merely became distractions that took away from the story. The 2002 reissue of E.T. is now long out of print, but the 2012 reissue on Blu-Ray and DVD for the film’s 30th anniversary does include some of the alterations from the 2002 edition as a bonus feature. As far as if the 20th anniversary E.T. is worth seeing? Only as a curiosity and a relic from the film’s overall legacy.

How Does E.T. Hold Up 40 Years Later?

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is consistently lauded as one of the greatest films ever made.  The film was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1994 in only its second year of eligibility. Its loss of the 1982 Best Picture Academy Award is still ranked as one of the biggest oversights in Academy Awards history, and practically anybody and everybody has at least heard of the film no matter their current age. This movie is an example of what can be achieved in terms of iconic reputation similar to many of the Golden Age of Hollywood classics from the early to the mid-20th century. Even writing an opinion piece like this is ultimately pointless because of the film’s eternal saturation within the popular imagination. But that is the main point surrounding E.T.’s legacy in the past 40 years; simply recording your thoughts about this special movie is an effortless and joyous pastime. There have been many classic films released since that summer of ’82, but E.T. is the one that manages to sit above all the rest–and it holds this achievement by being nothing more than a simple story about a young boy and his small friend from another world.

Will There Ever Be a Sequel?

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is reboot/remake proof—at least as long as Steven Spielberg draws breath. The acclaimed director has also long stood firm that there will never under any circumstances be a sequel to E.T. And when you think about it, this decision makes perfect sense. You cannot recapture a classic of this magnitude, and the film’s ending is what gives it its unmistakable power and impact. I am not an anti-reboot purist–except in circumstances like this. E.T. is a singular moment in film history.


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