Our first experience at the midnight Friday showing at the Del Mar Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz was the priceless Dr. Strangelove. Our second was this past weekend, and it was E.T. We even claimed two of the three prizes awarded in the pre-show raffle. We came out of it with two DVDs (Hook and E.T.), two bumper stickers, two boxes of Reece’s Pieces, and a pass good for two tickets to each of the next four midnight showings. Pretty cool. Then came the movie.
Steven Spielberg was largely responsible, along with George Lucas, for the modern blockbuster film (e.g., Jaws, Star Wars). And that’s what he does best. I don’t know how you couldn’t like E.T. It’s sentimental in all the right ways. The kids are symbols of purity and innocence (even the bad kids, in the end), while the adults are better kept in the dark about earth’s first contact with extra terrestrials. Even as a 5-year-old, I remember the most frightening part of the film: when those NASA astronauts start invading the house. It was genius of Spielberg to make the film this way. It’s also devoid of that cynicism that has come to define kids of subsequent generations. Elliott’s door has a sign on it saying, “ENTER”. Granted, once E.T. moves in, Elliott adds “DO NOT” to the top, but that’s to protect his new friend. It’s become cliche nowadays for doors to kid’s rooms to say things like, “STAY OUT!” Elliott and his siblings get along and grow closer through E.T. Imagination is valued above education. Etc. It just feels good where it should. And the only scientist who turns out to be a good guy is a good guy by virtue of not letting go of his childhood, telling Elliott that he, too, had been waiting for E.T. to come since he was a boy.
The idea is that aliens aren’t the ones we should fear. Human beings are the real troublemakers. It’s this thought that Spielberg held close in the early days (also see Close Encounters), but that he discarded when he ran out of ideas and decided to film War of the Worlds. Though he included children in that story, the camera was more focused on Tom Cruise than Dakota Fanning. He was the hero in that film, and Dakota was naive and foolish. I have heard that, early in Spielberg’s career, he insisted that he would never film H.G. Welles’ book, because he was against the idea that extra terrestrials should be considered evil and malicious. Even when Spielberg broke character and did Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, he showed that, while human beings were capable of saving the day, they were also the ones that could really ruin it.
So I find it best to forget about Spielberg’s recent work (am already nervous at the implication that the new Indiana Jones will feature aliens, probably bad ones), and wallow in the nostalgia of those glorious old ones. And one last random thought: another thing that allows E.T. to retain its status of “classic” is that the only face from this movie that we’ve seen outside of it is Drew Barrymore’s. He went with unknowns, and they stayed unknowns, aside from their roles in this film. Too bad for them, but great for us.