Friday, August 17, 2012

Flashback Friday: E.T.

One of my favourite annual Portland traditions is "Flicks on the Bricks." Each summer at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, known as "Portland's Living Room", they have a giant inflatable screen to show a classic film every Friday for a month. This year's line up included Karate Kid (from 1984), Clueless, A League of Their Own, and E.T. I've been to at least one each year since 2006, the summer I moved to Portland. I wanted to see all of them this summer, but due to the Olympics and my not living downtown, I decided that I could only make it to the final one: E.T., which plays tonight.

This classic from 1982 has been on my Top Ten Favourite Films of All Time since I first saw it in theaters as a child. I'm the same age as Henry Thomas, who played Elliott, so this film has some personal relevance to me (it was easy to imagine myself as Elliott, because like him, I had an older brother, and a cute younger sister). I remember when the film came out, there was an article in one of the news weekly magazines that my dad subscribed to. The article talked about Steven Spielberg's two films: E.T. and Poltergeist. There were photos from both movies and I think the photo from Poltergeist looked scary, plus E.T. looked pretty scary to an 10 year old. I thought they were the same movie, though. When dad took the family to see E.T., I thought it was going to be a scary movie, based on that article and the photo of E.T.

While there are some scary moments for a kid, it was hard not to love E.T. The film is brilliant in getting the audience to see past the strange grotesqueness of the alien species and realize that in its own way, E.T. actually is a cute looking alien. Like millions of other people, I loved the movie and saw it a few times in the theater. My dad is a big science fiction guy, so I have him to thank for taking the family to see movies like E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the Star Wars films, as well as duds like The Black Hole, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It was an inspiring film and really touched me.

In 2002, Spielberg released a "Special Edition" for theaters to mark the film's 20th anniversary, and possibly return the film to the top of the box office charts as the highest grossing film of all time, which it had enjoyed from the time it was released (surpassing Star Wars) until Titanic came along in 1997. Spielberg might have been inspired by his friend George Lucas' "special edition" re-releases of the original trilogy, but it turned out to be a dud. There were a few new scenes added into the film (E.T. playing in the bathroom, particularly almost drowning in the tub) and the ridiculous "political correctness" that changed the word "terrorist" to "hippie" (what the mother says to her eldest son regarding his Halloween costume: "You can't wear that. You look like a hippie!" Yeah, right. "Terrorist" worked. Why change it? Because of 9/11?). Also, Spielberg changed the guns in the hands of the police officers into walkie talkies. It looks silly, because from the way the fingers are formed, you can tell that they were holding guns (with fingers on the trigger). It was lame. Why mess with a movie that proved its perfection? It would not have been such a huge phenomenon if there were flaws in the film. It worked. The film resonated with audiences.

Around the time of the 20th anniversary re-release, I ran into controversy at work. I was working at the Atlanta Area Council, and still 7 months into the job. I was thinking about why the movie resonated with people at a deep level and then it hit me. E.T.'s storyline is similar to Jesus! Without realizing it, people were affected by the story and its a story that nearly everyone who grew up in a country with a Christian heritage ought to be familiar with. Think about it: Like Jesus, E.T. heals the wounded, he is popular with children, he dies, he resurrects, and then he ascends into the heavens. Before he departs the planet, he tells Elliott that he will always be with him. All those are things that Jesus was reported to have done. When I told co-workers: "E.T. is a metaphor for Jesus," I got laughed at and made fun of. I explained my rationale why and they still thought it absurd. What that told me, though, is that people are too literal in their thinking. They don't know what a "metaphor" means. And it's not as though Jesus originated the whole "healer who dies, resurrects, and ascends into the heavens" idea. There have been quite a few gods in ancient history who had similar trajectories. That's what studying mythologies, or reading Joseph Campbell will do to you. So laugh all you want, but I believe it is true. E.T.'s storyline was taken straight from the New Testament. Think of it as a spiritual tale for the modern age.

I have this film on DVD, but it has been awhile since I've seen it, so I look forward to enjoying it with an audience again tonight. It is interesting that of all the actors in the film, Drew Barrymore became the most successful. Especially when you consider how wild her childhood and adolescent years were. She nearly self-destructed but has become an adorable lady who has an interesting track record as actress and producer. Henry Thomas has been in a few roles, but not enough to keep him in the spotlight. It would be interesting to meet him. From the little that I know about him, I think he and I might've been natural friends as children. Other kids made fun of him for being in the movie (I'm sure the joke about Uranus was repeated to him endlessly by classmates who were likely to be acting out their jealousy in a nasty way). It would be cool to see him have a major role in a mainstream and successful film. C'mon, Hollywood. Give the guy a chance to make a major comeback!

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