A small boy saves a stranded extraterrestrial from the clutches of government agents and helps it return home. [Dir: Steven Spielberg/ Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton/ 115 min/ Family, SciFi-Fantasy/ Bureaucratic Abuse of Power-Excessive Force]
It’s elementary school versus the against the state as a small boy and his friends try to save a likewise youthful extraterrestrial (ET) from the authorities. ET is a childlike alien, accidentally left behind on Earth when the ship in which he arrived had to depart suddenly. He is discovered by a small boy, who secretly hides him from mysterious government agents in hot pursuit. Subsequently, the two manage to communicate a little, learn about each other, and become friends. The situation is obviously unsustainable, however. ET needs to return to his own planet. And meanwhile, the authorities are gradually tracking him down. The government apparently wants to catch, inspect, and possibly dissect this innocent alien creature. After menacing government agents capture the seemingly helpless ET and hand it over to scientists, in whose cold hands it appears to die but then returns to life, the boy and his friends rescue it. This involves a chase scene with kids on the bike and the (gun-wielding) agents in cars, marked simply and anonymously “United States Government.” Happily, with the help of extraterrestrial magic, the kids manage to elude the agents, and ET’s spaceship ultimately arrives and takes him home. Children love this film! John William’s remarkable musical score adds emotional resonance to every scene, and original special effects make it believable. The story also has the kinds of themes to which children respond: overcoming fear of the unknown, having a friend with special powers, smart kids vs. naïve adults, ect. There are many commendable child performances here, especially that of Henry Thomas as the plucky child who initially finds and befriends ET. At Thomas’s audition for the part, director Steven Spielberg was reportedly so moved by his performance that he was reduced to tears and hired Thomas on the spot. Indeed, Thomas’s performance when ET “dies” is so touching there wasn’t a dry eye in the theater when I saw it the first time. This is a sweet, tremendously entertaining, and moving film, geared to the young and young-at-heart, and a terrific video pick for the kids. It won four Academy Awards. My favorite quote from the film: “How do you explain school to a higher intelligence?”
This article was reprinted from Jon Osborne's Miss Liberty's Guide to Film and Video: Movies for the Libertarian Millenium, available in the Advocates Liberty Store.