Elliott: He’s a man from outer space and we’re taking him to his spaceship.
R: Only the odd scene.
F: We mentioned the child performances in last time’s film and there’s plenty here. What do you think of the kids here?
R: They’re really strong performances, and need to be in a film that’s all about the kids knowing better than the adults. Henry Thomas as Elliot in the lead role has a lot resting on his shoulders but does well considering how young he is; Robert MacNoughton is pretty convincing as the know-it-all big brother; and Drew Barrymore is just super cute. So yeah, I think the child performances here are considerably better than we saw in To Kill A Mockingbird. Do you?
F: Yes and I think a lot of credit has to go to the director. Getting good performances out of child actors is something which Spielberg has done many times. And as you say, they really do carry the film here so need to be believable. What about the other key character in this? E.T!
R: I guess we have E.T. to thank for the avalanche of 80s kids films with an animatonic / puppet co-star (although Yoda must also take some of the credit/blame). Personally I find E.T. a bit unconvincing, certainly when you get into the second act and you get a brightly lit look at him. He looks too much like something you’d see at a Theme Park, instead of something that’s truly come from out of space. But he undoubtedly suffers from becoming so ubiquitous in the 35 years since the film was released, and would surely have had a lot more impact on a big screen in 1982, particularly for the younger target audience.
F: He (is it definitely a he though?) looks unthreatening too which is key, otherwise the kids would be too scared of him. I’m also a bit unsure of the bad guys here. Yes they will want to keep E.T here and examine him but when we finally see the faces of the scientists I don’t think they’re particularly villainous. Is the lack of a real bad guy a problem?
R: There is a constant implied threat of the guys tracking E.T., but I definitely feel like the stakes could be made to feel higher. It’s probably a deliberate decision to ensure that even very young children can watch the film (it is U-rated), but I think it leaves the film lacking a hook for the adults watching. This doesn’t work for both a young and grown-up audience in the clever way the children’s film at 99 on the list does. Is that a problem?
F: Not necessarily. Kids films should be for kids first and foremost. And if it entertains adults as well then that’s a bonus. Sometimes I feel kids’ films try too hard to entertain parents by adding innuendo, jokes, etc, but if it’s a good story then it should appeal to both. For me this was a nostalgic film, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I remembered. It is sad though.
R: It is emotional, although the scene where E.T.’s life is hanging in the balance is undermined for me by how totally implausibly the adults behave. I also couldn’t ever completely shake off the voice in my head saying “get over it kid, it’s just a puppet”. But when it comes to nostalgia, I now appreciate just how much of Stranger Things is ripped straight from E.T.! And more broadly the film has obviously had a massive cultural impact. But for all that, it now feels a little bit dull, doesn’t it?
F: I’d agree with that. Hard to see the original without knowing everything it inspired (which are arguably better/more exciting). And I don’t think it deserves to be this high up the list (especially ahead of Jaws!)
R: Exactly. The only “children’s” films rated higher on the list than this are The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. This is more recent and much less ambitious than both of those, but still manages to feel a lot more dated.
Is it worthy?
F: No. There are better kids films and better Spielberg films.
R: No. Too dull.