Growing up, I really wasn’t interested in films unless they featured dinosaurs or singing Cockney orphans. At an absolute push you could probably get me to sit through a Disney film, under the promise that it wasn’t one of the princess ones (non-princesses have much better adventures), but apart from that, unless it was Jurassic Park or Oliver!, it wasn’t going to happen.
I’ve always known that E.T. is one of these massive films that is routinely cited as a massive part of people’s childhoods, but it’s just never really drawn me in. In my experience, E.T. is the film that people are almost most shocked about me never having seen, followed swiftly by Home Alone (which I actually watched for the first time last year). People seem to take personal offence at showing such disinterest in something that has often helped form their impressions of film, and left a lasting imprint on them from such a young age.
So, some 35 years after it was presented to the world, I can finally say I’ve seen E.T., and I’d just like to apologise to everyone in advance.
Hate is a really strong word for how I feel about E.T., but I definitely didn’t like it. I spent most of the film waiting for it to get going, only for it to reach a peak and fritter out. I don’t need 20 odd minutes of waiting for Elliott to figure out if E.T. is good or not, I know he is. I’ve seen the countless parodies, and the clip shows featuring E.T as one of the most lovable film characters ever.
I think herein lies the trouble with having avoided a piece of popular media for so long. I could probably have written a summary of the plot before watching the film, which would have been pretty accurate, just as someone who hasn’t seen Star Wars can probably tell you that Vader is Luke’s father, and it turns out him and Leia are twins. Going into E.T I knew enough vague details about the plot of the film to make watching it entirely predictable and boring. I know he phones home, I know Elliott ends up riding a flying bicycle (granted, I didn’t know this happens twice).
Between all the scenes of things I already knew happened, I just wanted some plot, some reason to tie Elliott and E.T. together to make their inevitable separation remotely emotional, but I felt like I was let down. Apart from taking E.T. in and subjecting him to having to live in his closet, Elliott doesn’t really seem to form an emotional connection with him. Sure, there are the obvious moments where the two can feel each other’s feelings, but for me, that felt like it was shoehorned in just to prove the link between the two. I felt like there was something missing. Perhaps if Elliott had been noticeably alone, then I could understand why he had latched onto E.T. so much, but he has a family he seems to get on well with, and none of his classmates seem to hate him, so I’m left feeling unsure as to why he was so desperate for a friend.
Am I glad I’ve seen E.T? Yes. Would I ever watch it again? No. It’s nice to be able to have a bit more context to the references, and to see first hand the influence it has had on other films and TV shows, like the recent Netflix hit Stranger Things, but for me, that’s where it ends. Had I seen it as a child, as most people seem to have done, then maybe I’d feel more strongly about it. I don’t think it’s a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it just didn’t do for me what it does for other people. I’m sure people look at the way I feel about Spielberg’s far superior film, Jurassic Park and wonder why I feel so strongly about it, but for me it just evokes memories of my childhood. It’s more about the feelings it conjures up rather than it being an amazing film (which, coincidentally, it also is), which I think is why I might have left it a bit late to watch E.T. I don’t have that connection with E.T., that shared wonderment with Elliott as we discover things about his new roommate at the same time.
Though it seems like I thoroughly disliked E.T., I didn’t totally. There were enjoyable moments peppered throughout, and it gave me a few laughs. It’s a perfectly okay film, I just don’t understand why everyone rates it so highly.