Casablanca. Lawrence of Arabia. The Godfather. Cinematic classics, right? All Oscar winners. All important enough to be preserved by the National Film Registry. Usually get solid props on whatever “Top 100” list is released every few months. I get it. They’re decent films. I’ve got no qualms with them.
I don’t love any of them either. Sure, I respect them. There’s no denying the amazing acting, excellent camera work and compelling storylines, but an Oscar-worthy performance isn’t going to comfort me when I’m down and out with a cold. A well-shot film won’t see me through a bad day. Even if it’s not a bad day – maybe I just need a little background noise during a Saturday afternoon of cleaning and doing laundry – On the Waterfront won’t be the film I’m reaching for.
The Goonies. Footloose. Anything by John Hughes. These are the movies I love. The DVDs I would grab if fleeing a house fire. Perhaps none of them have a “Best Picture” stamp of approval, but who really cares? When I’m hating everything about the world, all I have to do is watch ten minutes of This Is Spinal Tap to make me feel human again. If asked to choose between Citizen Kane and Strange Brew, I would promptly reply, “Hand me a beer, eh?”
Yet while my devotion to Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Better Off Dead remains resolute, I have never been able to muster that same nostalgic love for one particular film, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the very first movie I ever saw in a theatre. Long story short, it was a horrifyingly traumatic experience. E.T. completely freaked me out; I refused to even look at the screen. I just sat in my dad’s lap, my little arms strangling his neck while staring at the projection window the entire time. Especially terrifying was that opening scene in the forest. I can’t really tell you anything else about it since I wasn’t actually watching the movie, but it was hella scary. I remember that much.
Multiple times my dad tried to undo my death grip and convince me that E.T. was really a good guy. No need to be afraid. He was just a pudgy alien who loved little kids (just like me!) and liked to kick back with a Coors every once in a while. Regardless, something about those huge bug eyes, spindly fingers and extendable neck totally creeped me out.
For years afterwards I had an E.T. complex. He was such a little dude that hypothetically speaking, he could be anywhere in our house. Upon entering the bathroom, I automatically would pull back the shower curtain. Just in case. Upon entering the living room, I would look behind the chairs. Just in case. I sometimes even checked under the bed. (This complex was probably somewhat complicated by the clown in Poltergeist as well; yet another film my father let me watch way too young. Thanks, Dad. A special shout-out also goes to Mr. Spielberg.) Needless to say, I never watched E.T. again.
So a few weeks ago, my friends tell me about some screenings around town featuring some of my favorite flicks: Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off… and E.T. “Okay,” I thought, “this is a good thing. I’m an adult now. I’ll be with my friends. There’s nothing to be scared of.”
The evening started out iffy. Within moments of the opening credits, I involuntarily grabbed my friend’s arm. Hard. But now that a few decades have gone by, I can conclusively say that the forest scene is scary. The music. The shadows. That weird creature fleeing from those ominous-looking strangers. Little kid or not, that part of the movie is freaky. However, I’m happy to report that I successfully restrained myself from climbing into my friend’s lap.
As the movie progressed, my emotions eventually evolved from fear to happiness to full-on waterworks. Holy cow. Maybe that’s why I hated E.T. so much as a kid. It’s so sad when he gets sick. I couldn’t take it when I saw him lying in that stream. Poor little guy. And when the mom leaves him all alone in the bathroom? You’re a monster if you didn’t shed at least a few tears when he reached out for Elliot.
*SPOILER ALERT* But has anyone really not seen this movie yet? Anyway. The worst is the goodbye scene. I once read that Spielberg shot the film in chronological order to evoke authentic responses at the end from the child actors. Knowing this only made me cry harder. So sad! (Though I was somewhat distracted by the number of times they felt the need to show Dee Wallace kneeling and then standing up again during that sequence. What was that about?)
Okay, so I’m officially an E.T. fan, which means that I now love every single movie ever made during the 1980s. (Notable exception: Never Cry Wolf.) However, can’t say that I’ll ever buy the DVD. Or watch that movie alone. E.T. may be cute and cuddly, but he can easily hide in several of my closets. Not about to take that chance.