Freespeak

Au­thor Char­lie Jane An­ders is more in love with ET than ever

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Opinion - Char­lie Jane An­ders is the au­thor of All The Birds In The Sky, a science fic­tion AND fan­tasy novel com­ing in late Jan­uary.

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.

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