Not very many of the aliens depicted in movies lend themselves to children’s doll or stuffed animal status. As this column continues its look at popular movie aliens, one stands out as capturing the hearts of children of all ages. Arguably the most popular movie ever to feature a benevolent alien as the hero is Steven Spielberg’s now classic family movie “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial,” from 1982.
“E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” begins with a spaceship landing near a southern California suburban enclave. The spacecraft departs undetected, but inadvertently leaves behind a small creature, who is found by a thoughtful young boy, Elliot (played by Henry Thomas). Elliot names the alien E.T. (for extra terrestrial), and they learn to communicate with each other and become friends. Eventually, E.T. meets Elliot’s sister, Gertie (played by Drew Barrymore), and brother, Michael (played by Robert MacNaughton). The three siblings share an affection for E.T., treating him like a member of their family while trying to keep the creature hidden from their mother (played by Dee Wallace). E.T. works with the kids to build a device to communicate with his home world so the spaceship will come back to rescue him. Eventually, U.S. government agents discover their activities and sequester the scared and lonely E.T. The children and their friends unite to help their beloved friend escape so he can recover his now failing health and make his way to his home planet.
“E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” works because the title character is memorable and he brings out the best in the family that protects him. Like most movie aliens, he has a lot of special powers, but none of them are destructive. For example, when he rides in a bike, the bike can fly. Also, he learns to speak English and becomes better at it as the story moves on.
The cast is quite good. Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, and Robert MacNaughton are all strong as the siblings, who come to love E.T. and their connections with each other is intensified by their combined goal of helping their new friend. Dee Wallace is also strong as their devoted mom, who faces the familiar challenges of middle class single parenthood.
“E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” is one of Steven Spielberg’s best films.