Thirty years ago today, Earthlings were introduced to a lost little alien and the boy who loved him. The rest, as they say, is history. ---
Universal Pictures released Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on June 11, 1982, into a summer that would wind up one of the greatest ever for beloved, influential and otherwise celebrated fantasy/science-fiction films: Blade Runner; Poltergeist; John Carpenter's The Thing; TRON; The Road Warrior. Yet the funky-looking alien scientist became the phenomenon that would take the title of highest-grossing film of all time from Star Wars, and hold on to it for a remarkable 15 years until the re-release of Star Wars and Titanic both topped it.
Plenty of legendary trivia has emerged around the film: M&M/Mars refusal to allow M&Ms to be used in the film because they considered the creature too scary-looking to be embraced by children, leading to the famous inclusion of Reese's Pieces; Elliott kissing the girl in his class who would grow up to be Baywatch babe Erika Eleniak; Debra Winger serving as one half of the team that wound up providing E.T.'s voice (the other being Pat Welsh, paid a whopping $380 initially for uttering some of the most famous lines of dialogue in movie history); Spielberg's controversial tweaks for the 20th-anniversary re-release, including editing out guns and adding scenes of a digitally created E.T. that were dropped from the original movie because they couldn't be made to work with the animatronic puppet.
But the stuff of DVD commentary tracks isn't what made the film so remarkable, so beloved and so enduring. There simply has never been a child performance in movie history as miraculous as Henry Thomas's work as Elliott -- utterly convincing when jubilant, angry or grieving. And that weird little beast came to life in part because he wasn't traditionally adorable, and in a way that it's hard to imagine would happen in an era of digital effects. If thinking about E.T. and Elliott's soaring bicycle ride (and John Williams' transcendent theme) and Elliott's profession of love to his dying friend don't bring a lump to your throat just thinking about them, movies have no power to move you. Or you've never seen it before -- in which case, this birthday would be a perfect occasion to pop open a Coors (21 and over only, please) and a bag of Reese's Pieces (all-ages appropriate) and experience the wonder for the first time.