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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Steven Spielberg's classic, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is an outstanding family movie -- one of the all-time best. Its themes of loyalty, trust, and caring are both affecting and easy to understand, and Elliott and E.T.'s extraordinary friendship is one of cinema's most enduring. Some scenes of peril and danger may be too intense for very young children, and a key character's apparent death will be emotional for just about everyone. Brief strong language includes "s--t" and "son of a bitch," as well as an insult that includes "penis." There's a bit of squabbling among siblings, and E.T. and Elliott both get/act tipsy in one comically memorable scene. A newer edition replaced guns with walkie-talkies, though that sparked a fair bit of backlash. The film was also criticized for having a complete absence of non-white characters. But when Elliott's bicycle lifts up into the sky and soars across the moon, all you'll remember is the joy of movie magic done right.
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What's the story?
In E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas) discovers an extraterrestrial that had been left behind by his fellow aliens hiding near his house. After he brings E.T. home, it becomes clear that the benevolent otherworldly creature Elliott dubs E.T. can't survive in Earth's atmosphere and must return to his home planet. While hiding E.T., Elliott develops a close friendship and a connection that binds them to each other. With the help of Elliott, his siblings, and their pals, E.T. sends a rescue message to his planet, but Elliott all of a sudden finds himself facing government scientists who want to capture and study E.T. instead of allowing him to return home. The 2012 Anniversary Edition includes interviews with director Steven Spielberg as well as some on-set production footage.
Is it any good?
This film is such a beautiful exploration of a unique friendship; the special connection Elliott shares with the little extraterrestrial is precious. It's difficult to review a movie that was a cultural touchstone of one's childhood, because there are personal memories enmeshed with the movie itself. Although kids no longer dress as E.T. for Halloween or recite his famous line, "E.T. phone home," the kind extraterrestrial remains one of the most recognizable creatures in movie history, and that is due to director Steven Spielberg's genius. Not only is the movie a fantastic sci-fi adventure with unforgettable images (the flying bicycle scene alone is worth the cost of a rental), but it's also a touching family drama (divorced mother trying to raise three kids without her ex's help; children who are wary of trusting adults).
The performances, especially the kids -- Thomas, 6-year-old Drew Barrymore as Elliott's baby sister Gertie, and Robert Macnaughton as his older brother Michael -- are exceptional and genuine. Dee Wallace, who a year later also played a besieged mother in Cujo, perfectly captured the frustration and at-times insanity of single parenting, which in the early '80s was an unconventional family structure in movies. John Williams' score soars, and the special effects are still dazzling, even if younger audiences are used to much slicker by now. After more than 25 years, E.T. continues to tug at heartstrings and prove Spielberg is a master storyteller.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way that the adults and the kids in the movie see things differently and have a hard time understanding each other's perspective. Why do Elliott and his siblings understand E.T. in a way the adults in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial can't?
How does the movie portray parent-child relationships? Could Elliott have talked to his mother about E.T.?
Compare E.T. to other movies featuring aliens. Why are aliens usually scary and dangerous rather than peaceful?
- In theaters: June 11, 1982
- On DVD or streaming: October 9, 2012
- Cast: Dee Wallace, Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Space and Aliens
- Character strengths: Communication, Compassion, Empathy, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: language and mild thematic elements
- Last updated: December 8, 2020
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