ET reaches 40: the alien who came from space to revolutionize cinema

“I did not ET with tremendous visions of grandeur. He just wanted to do it. I carried her in my heart. It is a cliché to say that this film is for the child in us. No, this film is for the people we are, the ones we have been and the ones we want to be again.” This is how he summed up American director, producer and screenwriter Steven Spielbergtheir claims with ET the alien, one of the most transcendental films of his filmography and that marked the imagination of an entire generation forever.

And while Spielberg didn’t have a hit in mind, the story of a lonely boy from divorced parents who befriends a creature from space broke all records at the time: its premiere was positioned as the highest grossing until then -dethroning Star Wars–, a title he held for 11 years. This, despite the doubts that the studios had when it came to financing it, convinced that stories of alien invaders were the formula that worked best on the big screen and that children’s films did not have good results.

From the day of its premiere at the Cannes festival on May 26, 1982, the film received all the praise of specialized critics.

ET It is a perfectly balanced mix of sweet comedy and ten-speed melodrama, of death and resurrection, of a friendship so pure and powerful that it seems like an idealized love, ”critic Richard Corliss commented at the time in Time magazine. But the most important thing came with its arrival in US theaters on June 11 of the same year, when the positive reception of the public in theaters around the world ratified its success and spectacular nature.

The Academy also recognized its virtues: it won four of its nine nominations, including the statuette for Best Soundtrack for composer John Williams, who made the scene of the bicycle crossing the sky one of the most epic in the history of cinema. .

The plot of the film has a lot to do with the story of Spielberg, who twenty years ago reaffirmed that ET It is, in short, his most personal film. Like Elliot (Henry Thomas), the filmmaker’s childhood was marked by loneliness and his parents’ divorce.

That is why he decided to create a film narrated through the perspective of children. The phrase that Elliot says to his brothers Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and Michael (Robert MacNaughton) when he reveals the presence of ET condenses that intention perfectly: “Only children can see it”, because adults will want to take it away and experiment with it. the. He is also reflected in the way the camera is positioned, almost always level with Elliot and ET and showing most of the adults up to their torsos. It is, in the words of the director, a film so that children do not feel alone. He talked about that idea that he had going around in his head several years ago with the screenwriter Melissa Mathison, which had the script ready in eight weeks. That first draft was enough for Spielberg to start filming.

Steven Spielberg with ET, extraterrestrial protagonist of his homonymous film
Steven Spielberg with ET, extraterrestrial protagonist of his homonymous film

The construction of the creature also took a lot of work. The director wanted it to have an appearance that would stand out from all the existing alien imaginary and with such a special anatomy that it would make the public think “it is impossible for it to be a person with a suit with a zipper on the back”. That is why the thin and extensive neck that characterizes ET

The artist Carlo Rambaldi was in charge of creating the dolls, which had various ways of being executed: the head was robotized and controlled by 12 technicians at the same time, with a rail on the ground that hid the cables of the visible spectrum of the camera; while at times when it was necessary to show his full body, a plastic suit was worn by Tammy and Pat Bilon, two people with dwarfism who had to support the six kilos that their heads weighed, and a young man without legs who moved using his arms, which starred in the iconic scene where ET falls drunk after drinking several beers.

Still from ET, the extraterrestrial, film by Steven Spielberg
Still from ET, the extraterrestrial, film by Steven Spielberg

In addition, he was working on another important theme for Spielberg’s cinema: the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, which he had already developed a few years ago in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The complement of these elements combined a true milestone in the history of cinema.

In the commemorative DVD of the 20 years, Mathison says that his popularity is explained because “It was for everyone. The adults liked it as much as the children. Adults shared it with their children. This film is a community experience, That is why it was so successful, because you shared it with everyone around you because for two hours everyone was friends”

For her part, producer Kathleen Kenedy said, “I think ET It’s hugely important because just like the movies that Steven has made over the years, starting somehow with ET., explore the theme of tolerance. In a way, that’s the soul of ET. There’s the issue of abandonment, which I think ironically and symbolically, is a very pervasive feeling in the world right now. And I think there’s the issue of tolerance that’s tremendously important in terms of the world moving forward with some kind of coexistence.”

The first 20 years were celebrated with a reissue, which included digital refinements and the release of a behind-the-scenes documentary. Last Thursday, May 26, the Cannes Film Festival commemorated 40 years of ET projecting it on the screen located on the Macé beach. Undoubtedly, it is a transcendental film for the history of cinema, which delivered a message of tolerance, compassion and friendship through an affable alien, and in the midst of the crisis that the cold war implied in the world.

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