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E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) Review

Filling in the gaps of classic films I missed out on as a kid has been a somewhat rewarding time. Getting myself up to speed with the films audiences around the globe have enjoyed has been a resoundingly interesting project, not just because of the variety of films on offer, but also because of how mediocre most of them have turned out to be. Nostalgia is the biggest weapon of all in audiences, and I’m no stranger to such a feeling, but with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, I feel nothing at all for it. No nostalgia, no praise, no criticism. Just a hollow, empty vacuum as to where some thoughts on a film from the 1980s should go. 

It’s not my fault that the film is so boring. Steven Spielberg’s take on aliens coming to Earth is a path already trodden. The palpable mediocrity of Close Encounters of the Third Kind made for conventional and entertaining enough viewing, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial feels like a watered-down version of ideas and visions that didn’t make the cut the first time around. I’m starting to feel Spielberg falling out of my favour, the charms of his direction in a filmography littered with classics has paved the way to his nostalgia flicks and lesser-known movies. Nothing inherently interesting comes to mind when thinking back on this film, one so full of absolutely nothing of interest. There are no real camera tricks or stylish choices that could even offer up a semblance of attentiveness to the world beyond Elliott (Henry Thomas) and his encounter with an alien species. 

Most of the performances exude a barely minimal interest. They capture the starry-eyed wonders of childhood rather well, and it’s one of the few films around where the child actors don’t make me want to tear my ears off, but they’re stifled by a completely bland and cliché script. An alien lost on Earth, a couple of kids happen upon him, showcase a couple of objects that seem redundant and commonplace to us but extraordinary to an alien, cue a twenty-minute chase scene on a bicycle and slap in a scene that will become iconic because of how eye-watering and brilliant it looked forty years ago. It’s not a film that brings out anything unique or interesting, a storyline that has been done better elsewhere, or in this case, done better by its own director a few years prior.  

Somehow making extra-terrestrial life seem boring rather than eye-catching and bountiful, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a film that looks to tug your heartstrings so much you can’t see the mediocrity on display through the abundantly strained tears when the shrivelled raisin alien creature sticks a podgy, oversized finger on the ribcage of a child and says he’ll be right there. Ineffective storytelling at the best of times, complacent in its vision of science fiction in the 1980s culture, a film so overblown by nostalgia crazed lunatics that you begin to wonder why nostalgic trips are worth it in the first place. A trip down memory lane for those that have seen it before, but going in with a fresh set of reality bring E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial down to the grim mediocrity of Earth.  

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Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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