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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

I'm so pleased to finally be able to share this year.  Back on October 27, 2012, when I'd finished writing this entry of Fishing in the Discount Bin, I took a step back and though, "Wow.  This is the bitterest thing I've ever written."   Today, for my weekly peek at one one of the movies in my video library, we get to Steven Spielberg's magnum opus, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

My earliest memory of E.T. is shoes.

I remember seeing these TV commercials for E.T. shoes.  I remember wanting those shoes because it include a derivative of the "flying bike" scene and I thought the shoes would make me fly.

After that, it would have to be the commercial for the infamous E.T. Atari game.  It opens, again, like a scene in the movie.  The kid throws a baseball into the tool shed, but instead of the ball being thrown back, E.T. throws out the video game.  And rather than be intrigued by this, the kid picks up the game and starts playing.  When I finally saw the movie and saw that scene, I was very disappointed that there was no Atari game.

I've described other movies as being part of the background noise of my childhood, and E.T. really does fit that description.  That movie was merchandised to death.  "E.T. Phone Home" was a catchphrase that dominated the first half of the 1980s.  A good part of my earliest years has some kind of E.T. merchandise in the background. 

The date October 26, 1986 is still drilled into my brain.  Why?  That's the day that E.T. came out on VHS.  The video store over in Evansburg was selling it.  They were taking pre-orders for it.  That was the first time I'd ever heard of the concept of a pre-order.  Every time I went over there with the family to rent a movie or with my friends to play some video games (it was also the local arcade), I'd see the posters saying "October 26, 1986."  I remember tons and tons of TV commercials letting me know that E.T. was available on October 26. 1986.  I see I write this the day after the 26th anniversary of its VHS release.  I celebrated by watching it on Blu-Ray.  How did you celebrate?  What, you didn't celebrate?  All the commercials at the time made it clear that October 26, 1986 would be a date that would live forever because that's the day E.T. came home!

Seriously.  whenever there's some great analysis of E.T., how come they never talk about how heavily it was merchandised?  About the only thing we ever hear is how sales of Reese's Pieces went through the roof because Elliot fed them to E.T. and it pretty much invented product placement as we know it today. 

Spielberg likes to say that it's his most personal film, because his parents divorced when he was a kid, and at it's core, E.T. is a film about kids dealing with divorce.  What lesson was he trying to teach, that you can get through it easier with your own little alien buddy, and you can buy him at Toys R Us for $19.99?

Yeah, I'm a little bit cynical about E.T. 

I remember those final days of 1986, when it was finally out on video, and my Mom finally rented it, and we finally saw it.  I remember thinking then, "This is it?"  I didn't have the big emotional connection with the film.  I didn't cry at the end like, apparently, 95% of all 80s kids did.  Maybe because, thanks to all the merchandise and storybooks and such, it felt like I'd already seen the film.

The last time I sat down and watched E.T. was I rented the 20th anniversary special edition 10 years ago.  The special edition of E.T. was considered a bomb.  There was a lot of backlash at the time.  As we all remember, the entertainment industry was kind of jumpy in 2002.  We had Columbine, followed by 9/11, and there was a bit of movement to tone down the violence in movies.  Hence, Spielberg's most controversial change to E.T.:  digitally removing the guns and replacing them with walkie-talkies.  The Blu-Ray contains the original theatrical version, and Spielberg likes to tell folks that he considers that the true version of the film.  It's funny...he almost seems embarrassed that he made the special edition.  Maybe the fact that it bombed at the theatres made him realize that the wheels had finally come off this gravy train.

There are many things where people are stunned that I'm not a fan of them.  I knew one guy who was shocked that I'm not a Degrassi fan...I just told him that, I was about a year too young for Degrassi Junior High and that I was always looking for cartoons when it was on.  Maybe it's the same with E.T.  I'm a little too young.  Folks who are a shade older than me -- who were, say, 10 years old in 1982 -- always talk about E.T. as a life changing film.  But I was 5.  So maybe I was too young.

But still, I find myself buying all kinds of strange movies in order to maintain my geek cred.  And when the big 30th anniversary Blu-Ray of E.T. was announced, I figured, "Yeah, I'll be buying this."  Besides, members of E.T.'s race were in Episode I, so I guess, technically, that makes this a Star Wars movie.

I'm sure you remember the plot.  The film opens with a mysterious spaceship and mysterious beings in the woods collecting plants.  Some mysterious government agents show up, and the spaceship flies away, leaving one of their own behind.  Meanwhile, in the neighbouring suburb, we meet Elliot.  Elliot's from a broken home, with his father having recently walked on his family.  His mother is doing her best to put on a brave face, but she has her moments of weakness.  Elliot is a middle child, ocassionally harrassed by his older brother Michael and putting up with his annoying little sister Gertie.  Elliot soon stumbles across E.T. hiding in his tool shed, and the two become fast friends as Elliot gives E.T. food and shelter.  Inspired by a Buck Rogers comic, E.T. gets Elliot's help to build a communications device to contact his ship.  As this goes on, E.T. and Elliot soon start to form a telepathic bond, that creeps out Michael.  Once the communicator is built, though, E.T. wanders off.  He's getting very sick and is dying.  The kids bring him home, and needing help, finally tell their Mom about E.T..  But before the Mom can do anything, the government agents burst in and begin studying E.T.  It looks like all hope is lost, and E.T. dies.  But PSYCH!  He's really still alive, and his people are coming for him.  One madcap chase with flying bicycles back out to the woods, and E.T. goes home.  And now Elliot is all well adjusted from his parents' divorce because HOLY FUCK, ALIENS!!

When I sat down to watch this tonight, one thing I was keeping an ear on was the score.  The last time I watched this, the one thing I really noticed was John Williams' score.  It just...didn't...stop.  Every moment had music behind it, and I found it annoying as hell.  But, this time out, I either didn't notice it, or the constant music was one of Spielberg's special edition touches, because it wasn't as annoying as it was the last time.

Don't get me wrong, there's lots of classic stuff in this film.  My favourite scene is always the one where Elliot is at school, and E.T. is at home and discovers beer.  So E.T. samples, and Elliot starts getting drunk at school, thanks to their telepathic bond.  And as Elliot starts drunkenly freeing the frogs and finds the courage to kiss the pretty girl...it's just funny.

And then there's the scene where the house is invaded by the government agents, and they're all wearing space suits.  That still stands out as a terrifying scene.  The first time I watched it, I remembered being very scared by it.  It's probably still scares me, because as I was watching it, a buddy texted me and my text alert made me jump.

In a way, E.T. has the opposite problem of Jaws.  When I was writing about Jaws, I shared how I was amazed to find that Jaws has this massive fandom.  However, with E.T., I keep getting told that there's this massive fandom, but I have yet to see any trace of it.  Maybe that's the source of my cynisism in this entry.  A glut of merchandise does not create a fandom.  Or, maybe I'm bitter that I don't have the emotional connect to this film that a lot of others have.

But most likely, it's probably just because I never got those damn shoes that make me fly.

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