ET Turns 40: Why Steven Spielberg’s Children’s Classic Is Still A Unique Movie

This wonderful production by Steven Spielberg made history in the cinema of the 1980s. This 2022 celebrates 40 years since its premiere in 1982, but we can assure you that it continues to delight children and adults.

Much of the filmography of steven spielberg is associated with youth. Above all, because when the director began his career he was barely 24 years old. At this age, his first feature film was released, the American television movie “duel” (1971).

The film gave him a reputation as a boy genius. Since then, much of his work has focused on youth culture: from the heroic adventures of the old youth and teen comics that inspired the saga of “Indiana Jones”until “Hook”, from 1991, a revisionist version of Peter Pan, the boy who did not want to grow up.

References to amusement parks from the movies”jurassic-park” also follow this line of his filmography, as well as other works such as “The BFG” (2016) and “tin tin” (2011).

But before all these films came ET the Extraterrestrial, which premiered in US theaters 40 years ago a week like today.

It was the first film to examine his childhood directly, and its influence is still felt in a film culture that increasingly tends to deal with youth issues.

an instant hit

ET the Extra-Terrestrial was launched at the Cannes Film Festival on May 26, 1982, a couple of weeks before its US premiere. It had been chosen to close the 35th edition of the prestigious event.

Spielberg was not – and is not – an independent director, so the release was not certain. Nevertheless, the film was devotedly acclaimed from the start. The director received a standing ovation at a time when this did not commonly happen, a fact that added to his figure as a legend.

ET was applauded at its premiere in 1982, at the Cannes film festival

The buzz caused by the festival earned it massive box office receipts, reaching nearly $360 million during its first season in US theaters.

To date, ET has amassed more than $800 million worldwide (a figure that includes several of the new releases that have been made, such as a controversial one from 2002, in which Spielberg digitally changed the weapons of the film by walkie-talkies).

ET was the highest grossing movie of the 1980s.

Childhood as an influence

ET is not an autobiographical film – in part because it stars a lovable little alien who crash lands on earth – but it clearly borrows elements from Spielberg’s youth, as the director has said on several occasions.

Elliot represents some facets of Spielberg’s childhood. The main aspect of that upbringing that carried over to the screen was the divorce of the director’s parents. In the film, protagonist Elliot (Henry Thomas) and his siblings, Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and Michael (Robert MacNaughton), live with their single mother (Dee Wallace), and the father’s absence is keenly felt, particularly in one of the first scenes.

Spielberg, the person, almost splits into the two childhood characters of Elliot and Michaelsimultaneously being the boy who yearns for friendship (which in the film takes shape with the bond he develops with the alien), and the protective older brother (the director had two younger sisters).

A child’s point of view

Spielberg was still relatively close in age to his characters when he shot the film: he was in his mid-30s.

This allowed him to influence psychologically, something that is reflected both in the intense emotional impact of the film and in the Spielberg’s dynamic cinematography, particularly in the way the camera is held at the height of a child’s head.

ET keeps his eye on a child’s level, and gives importance to children’s problems. ET felt like the birth of youth entertainment of the future, one that truly understands its audience.

The success of the film lies in the fact that it not only dares to speak at the level of children, but also he refuses to cheapen them in his language: these are children who rebel, who respond to their environment, who make decisions in their own world, one in which their pain has the same value that they themselves give it.

The legacy

Its influence resonates today, and not just in its most direct descendants like the Netflix series Stranger Things.

It’s not hard to see his legacy in the way he pixar has taken over the children’s entertainment market: from “ToyStory”in which toys can be seen as a representation of children, to “Turning Red”.

ET has inspired a whole generation of teen movies. It maintains an indelible mark on the cinema that came later, promoting a reinvention of youth cinema starring the young people themselves.

ET ushered in a new kind of cinema, but it also issued a long farewell cry to its own kind of movies: those primarily governed by emotion, and in which action, fantasy, and the extra-planetary are only taken into account. account if they can reveal something about real human lives.


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