Monday, June 11, 2007

"How Do You Explain School To Higher Intelligence?" - 25 Years Of E.T.

Last night, at around 10:30pm EST, I did something that I don't do very often: I sat in front of the TV and cried my eyes out. No, I wasn't watching THE SOPRANOS, but rather, it was my bi-decade viewing of E.T. - THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL. Very, very few movies have the power to make me cry, but E.T. gets me every single time, which I why I only watch it once every five years. I watched it last night because the film celebrates its 25th anniversary today, which is strangely going unnoticed. I suppose the big brough-ha-ha for the film's 20th anniversary back in '02 might be the reason why, but there are no celebratory screenings, no new DVD, not even a posting on Ain't It Cool News to help mark the occasion. I may very well be a lone voice in the wilderness (doubt it, but work with me here), but I thought that there would be something out there to say, "Thanks, E.T.", but I guess not. I have no problem picking up this baton and running with it, so off we go.

E.T. is easily one of my very favorite movies, always has been, always will be. It came along at the right time in my life, a friend of a movie when I sure as hell needed one and remains so. I think I've seen it around 13 times, about 9 times theatrically and four times on video (this was my first DVD viewing, and yes, I opted for the 1982 cut). Of course, the film was been written about so endlessly throughout the years that there really isn't much I can bring to the table other than personal recollections that, I suspect, I am not alone in. I was a fat, unpopular little brat 25 years ago, obsessed with movies and with very few friends in the world, living in a home where I felt distant from the rest of my family, so I related to Elliott's need for E.T. like you wouldn't believe. The belief that somewhere out there exist the perfect friend or companion for all of us is a wish, a hope or a dream that we all share and E.T. captures that perfectly. I can honestly say that it's the best film about friendship that I've ever seen and that it really has lost none of its power to move me in all these years. Perhaps it's because I do keep a certain distance from it, as opposed to many of my other favorite films, that I'm still able to be impressed, but this one simply gets me every time. It also takes me back to 1982, to being a kid and living in that world and that time and because of it E.T. always gives me great joy. I feel like I can't really give an honest opinion about E.T. because I'm so predisposed to liking it, so I'll just say that it's a film that I really can't imagine life without. Like a dear lifelong friend, E.T. will always be with me, and no, I don't mind sounding like a total wuss by saying that. It spoke to me. It still does.

But what I'm finding interesting, today, on June 11, 2007, is how the film's once massive audience has shrunk. Like I said before, I'm not seeing any kind of tribute out there, and you'd figure that somebody out there would come up with something, right? I just looked the film up on the IMDB and found it currently has no ranking on their Top 250 rankings (then again, if BLOOD DIAMOND is in the Top 250, you know something's wrong there). No Top 250 ranking for E.T.? For one of the most popular films ever made? How weird is that? I suspect it has less to do with E.T. becoming unpopular than it does with a lack of exposure, if such a thing where possible. Spielberg has long been very controlling of the film's distribution and the video releases have been a lot more scattershot than most films. E.T. has often spent long periods of time out of print, although the current DVD (of the 2002 cut, unfortunately) has been in circulation for about 2 years. It doesn't air on TV much (it's never been broadcast on HBO) and theatrical screenings (really the best place to see it) are rare. I'm actually fine with all this, simply because E.T. was all over the place in '82, so much so that people were sick of seeing him, so perhaps it's better to just let the film settle for a while and bring it back out again for the 30th anniversary or something. Maybe it's better to let the film become a word-of-mouth picture amongst the young and see how it goes.

And maybe that's what will happen. My 8 year-old nephew recently became intrigued by one of my old E.T. action figures at my folk's place and asked my Mom who it was. She started to tell him a bit about the story of E.T. and he became hooked; she dug out my old VHS tape and showed it to him and another fan was born. I gave him a spare copy of the 2002 2-disc set (the one with both cuts of the film and, yes, I had two copies of it) as a first communion gift and he was extremely pleased. A friend of his asked what it was and Thomas (my nephew) started to tell him a bit about the story and that he should see the film. As you can guess, this did my heart proud. Will E.T. mean as much to them as it did to me? I can't say. But it's a film to love and a film that, strange as it sounds, loves back, and I know it will bring them a lot of joy. It's the only film I know of that not only "speaks to the kid in all of us", but that actually defines that otherwise trite cliche. Every five years, I treat myself to a vision of my childhood for at least two hours. Those days weren't always fun or pleasant, but the feelings of joy and elation you have as a child are impossible to re-create as an adult, but when I watch E.T., I get that feeling back. No other film can do that for me.

Happy Birthday, E.T.

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