Author Charlie Jane Anders is more in love with ET than ever
where writers and opinions collide
Recently i was sitting with some friends and their kids, and we wound up rewatching ET: The
Extra-Terrestrial. I hadn’t seen ET all the way through in years, and I was struck by how weird, yet captivating, it is. ET himself is an unsettling creation at first. We’ve seen so many photorealistic creatures now that his puppet features and sometimes-jerky movements make him look creepily unreal.
But after watching for a while, those huge expressive eyes, and the subtlety of ET’s movements in the film’s more intimate scenes started to work their magic.
His key characteristic is his vulnerability, along with his eagerness to connect with the children he meets. He’s not a world-beating powerhouse, but a fragile creature whose only powers are a mild healing ability, and a few other odds and ends. Yet by the end of the movie, he’s actually died and come back, and you’re pretty much bound to be rooting for him to get rescued and escape from a weird, brutal world that wants to wreck him. ET still has it, even after all this time.
The thing is, when you try and list the best science fiction films of all time you start to notice a pattern. From The Day The Earth
Stood Still to Ex_Machina, the genre’s best are very often the ones that make you see the “other” more vividly, and force you to sympathise with, or understand, a non-human perspective. From this standpoint, the ever-advancing march of visual effects can be seen as a series of small victories in making non-human creatures appear more believable or relatable. At the same time, the best sci-fi movies provide either a major dose of excitement, or a brush with wonder and a glimpse of something transcendent.
By those standards, ET is a high mark that hasn’t been matched since 1982. Spielberg’s crowning achievement is a film that leaves you with no choice but to identify with an alien and clamour for him to reach the safety of his own kind – and the balance between pure excitement and wonder has seldom been so perfect.
Some aliens deserve a kiss.